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Review: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is a game-changer with serious range

Food for thought: America's president-elect is on a mission to bring manufacturing jobs back to America. But also on Donald Trump's to-do list is to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.

In which case, how long before he loosens fuel-economy mandates and cancels the $7,500 (U.S.) federal tax credit for electric cars? Then "Pfft!" go those American manufacturing jobs in Orion City, Mich., where Chevrolet's new electric car is being built.

The Bolt's billing as an "affordable" electric car is largely predicated on the U.S. tax credit (plus assorted state and provincial incentives both sides of the border). Remove it and the Bolt just looks like an expensive small hatchback. True, it will qualify for an even bigger rebate in Ontario, but Canadian sales alone won't keep Bolt production lines running.

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But let's put the Trump nightmare aside for a minute. Globe Drive's original Bolt initiation involved little more than a twirl around a parking lot. This time around though, we got some real-world testing in, um, Hell, Mich. – for the North American Car of the Year award, of which I am a juror.

The 30-kilometre test loop comprised rural roads passing through a couple of small hamlets, at speeds up to about 100 km/h. No freeway, no stop-and-go traffic, mild fall weather, but enough wheel time to get a feel for the drive.

But what about the range? Thirty kilometres isn't much of a test.

Well, I was the second juror to drive the Bolt that day, and between us we put 48 kilometres on it, at which point the car showed a predicted range remaining of 338 kilometres. That adds up to 386 kilometres, which almost matches the 383-kilometre range predicted by the EPA.

Still skeptical, I grabbed the Bolt's keys again late in the day for another look at the gauges. Total mileage was now 228 kilometres – already far more than I've ever achieved in any other BEV – and the gauge was still showing 151 kilometres remaining (that's with the HVAC system in use; 161 kilometres with it off). That converts to 379 kilometres total range with HVAC, or 389 without.

Those range figures are based on the car's long-term consumption history. The display also predicted worst and best range-remaining, based on recent driving patterns: a minimum of 352 kilometres and a maximum of 416.

Either of which would go a long way for routine daily driving. But it won't do the 540 kilometres from Toronto to Montreal without a stop to recharge. And, at 240 volts, the quoted recharging rate of about 40 kilometres of range per hour of plug-in time is not viable.

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However, in Canada the Bolt comes standard with a DC fast charger that will get you 145 kilometres worth of recharge in 30 minutes.

In theory, that makes long-haul drives do-able; after all, you'd probably want to take a break every couple of hours anyway. Then again, good luck finding suitable 480-volt charging stations along the road in Ontario. Tesla Superchargers are not compatible with the Bolt's SAE Combo/CCS connector.

The Bolt is a game-changer. It will be in showrooms early next year. But gasoline-level long-haul capability will take a little longer. And don't count on any help from America's next president.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $42,795 (less provincial rebates in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec)
  • Motor: 150-kW electric motor, 60-kWh Li-Ion battery pack.
  • Drive: FWD, single-speed automatic
  • Fuel economy (Le/100 km): 1.8/2.1 city/highway (16/19 kWh/100 km)
  • Alternatives: BMW i3, Ford Focus BEV, Kia Soul EV, Mitsubishi iMiev, Nissan Leaf

RATINGS

  • Looks: Chevrolet pitches the Bolt as a crossover. The EPA classifies it as a small wagon, in company with the Honda Fit and the Kia Soul (the latter is also available as an EV). However, the Bolt simply looks like a small hatchback – admittedly a little longer and taller than most subcompacts, but not large enough (on the outside) to be considered a compact.
  • Interior: Rear-seat legroom compares well with larger cars, ditto front and rear headroom, and kids will like the lofty sitting position out back. Cabin width, however, is closer to what you’d expect in a subcompact. The driver faces a dashboard that’s modern and edgy without being weird.
  • Performance: The Bolt is everything you’d hope for in a small EV: quick, quiet and agile. GM claims 0-96 km/h in less than 7 seconds – not Tesla territory, but spunky for an “econobox.”
  • Technology: The 10.2-inch centre-dash screen can provide eco-geeks with even more information about energy usage and replenishment. Connectivity assets include CarPlay, Android Auto, OnStar and available 4G LTE WI-Fi. Wireless phone charging is available too, and Bluetooth. Most of the usual warning and/or autonomous active-safety aids are on the menu, plus Surround Vision and rear-camera mirror. EV-specific navigation picks routes to maximize range and charging-station availability.
  • Cargo: The Bolt has competitive subcompact cargo volume with 478 litres behind the rear seats when the detachable cargo-deck floor is removed. Or leave the floor in place for hidden space below and an upper deck that is now flush with the folded seat-backs.

THE VERDICT

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8.5

Quick, quiet, functional fun – plus a powerful dose of Prozac for EV range anxiety.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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