The Best Chevy Bolt Review You’ll Read This Week…

The Bay Area’s iconic hills and eclectic culture has always played home to misfits and oddities, only now the drug fiends and overzealous undergrads have given way to a different kind of strange from Silicon Valley; making it entirely fitting that General Motors decided to let media run loose between Palo Alto and San Francisco in an odd-ditty of its own, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Greasing the Lightning

Like all car companies, GM has always held fast to the belief that the cars it makes are fundamentally different, unique and definitely superior.

This one is.

The Bolt literally competes in a segment of one. Find another car offering 238 miles (383 kilometers) of pure electric driving for south of $40,000; one that’s the size of a B-segment hatchback but delivers the interior space of a C-segment hatchback, but isn’t actually a hatchback at all because technically it’s a crossover.

See what I mean?

The common trope describes Chevrolet finally offering Mom and Pop on Main St. an affordable way to stop burning that bad, bad Benzina; but early on the Bolt has attracted a slew of high end owners—there’s a commercial real estate developer with a surfing addiction, an executive or two, the other dude who founded Apple, and a science guy named Bill Nye.

There’s reason for their evangelism.

Skater Boi

At the heart of the matter is an LG Electronics built 60 kWh battery pack which feeds a single drive motor producing 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft. of immediate torque; capable of propelling the Bolt to 60 mph in six-and-a-half seconds and fire you off onramp apexes with aplomb—if you’re into that kind of thing. Despite its hatchback origins and crossover classification the Bolt can and will carve the curvy stuff courtesy of the nearly-thousand-pound battery tray mounted below the floor, serving as a stressed member of the chassis which helps drop the center of gravity as low as possible.

One pedal driving can happen in two ways; either using the regen button on the back of the steering wheel under your left hand, or dropping the electronic shifter into Low mode, which if you let off the throttle will grind the car to a halt using 0.3g of deceleration— one of the engineers told me regenerative tactics will recapture as much as 12% battery life on average.

Plug the bugger into a Level III DC Fast Charger and gain 90 miles of range in thirty minutes, with a full tank coming after just two hours. A Level II charger will top you up in just under 10 hours, while a Level I will leave you waiting until next week. GM has partnered with AeroVironment to provide 240-volt in-home charger installation, the cost of which can be rolled into your purchase price or monthly nut.

Cabin Pleasure

Slip into the Bolt’s asymmetric driver’s seat and the cockpit’s airy ambiance is immediately apparent. By yanking the wheels out to the corners Chevy was able to give its second pure EV 94 cubic feet of passenger space—matching the far larger Tesla Model S—however the battery pack does create a tall load floor, which cuts cargo capacity down to a paltry 17 cubes. It’s egg carton-esque headliner, white geometric trim and lack of a center console add to the open concept feel.

Drivers are flanked by nearly 20 inches of screen space; an eight-inch digital cluster similar to the Volt’s shows speed and battery status, while a Cadillac sized 10.2-inch touch screen handles infotainment and data display duties. Like every other Chevy on sale today, the Bolt includes Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and 4G LTE Wi-Fi capability as standard kit. Plus, Premier trim Bolts come with GM’s new-and-infuriating-to-me rear camera mirror.

The Bolt also debuts GM’s latest app based infotainment system which brings the ability to personalize themes and prioritize information with split screen and expandable display, plus handy data graphics which visualize energy consumption

Power Up

Chevy mapped out a 100-ish mile trek from Palo Alto, to Half Moon Bay and then back to Frisco, a route which wasn’t going to stress the Bolt’s range in the slightest. But Kat and I both have lead feet—me a long-haired Gilles Villenueve wannabe, and him a Kart crazed kook and autocrossing EV evangelical— so we decided to use some our excess voltage for velocity. I bounced the Bolt off it’s 93-mph speed limiter on a desolate section of California back road while giggling at how quickly it romped there from a steady state 60-mph.

Under hard acceleration and heavy regen events the Bolt makes wonderful whooshing sounds as electrons are captured and released from the 288 interlinked cells that make up the battery. Someone needs to figure out how to make that sound louder because it’s an immensely satisfying soundtrack in a hi-fi, sci-fi sort of way.

The car’s low center of gravity allowed us to chuck into corners, energy saving Michelins squawking a cacophonic symphony as we carved our way back towards San Francisco. With a bit of nuance the regen paddle can almost be used like a trail brake, scrubbing speed and settling the front end just before turn in; while throttle off in Low mode offers a downshift’s worth of deceleration.

Somewhere along the way we were led astray during a strange phase of left, right, left off ramp hopping. We were already tight for time thanks to traffic caused by a washed-out road in Portola Red Woods Park, so instead of retracing our steps, we abandoned Chevy’s route book and opted for shrill voiced navigation and the quickest way home possible.

Just as we came to the decision, we both mumbled “no native nav” in unison.

We casually cursed the decision while digging for cables, Chevy says it chose not to include native navigation because the software becomes obsolete all too quickly; but with the Bolt capable of Over the Air updates that logic doesn’t square. GM has said OTA updates would never be applied to any of the car’s core systems, instead reserving the technology for things like OnStar and infotainment tweaks. The answer sounds like a cop out.

Savage in the City

California is filled with alternatively propelled vehicles, from hybrids to hydrogen to pure electricity; which meant many opportunities for trolling as we whispered our way towards the Golden Gate bridge. We would point, laugh and shout “INFERIOR TECHNOLOGY” at every Prius and i3 that went by—Teslas just got the finger.

Finally reaching downtown San Francisco we’re hungry and hungover; staring down the very real possibility of missing our flights, and in absolutely no mood to hang around in the bump and grind of midday traffic. Luckily, we have a compact hatch dishing out more twist than an average four-cylinder family sedan, making it more than capable of scything through San Francisco’s severely slanted streets.

If You Want One, Buy One

Call it cliché, but the Bolt isn’t just a good electric vehicle, it’s a very good vehicle, period. The overarching aim of the program wasn’t just to satisfy the technofreaks and button pressing geeks, but to build a car for people who don’t want to deal with the hassle of maintenance, gasoline and the other icky bits of car ownership—the boon to Chevy’s truck and SUV CAFE numbers seemingly a fortunate side effect.

Does it change the game, from a technical standpoint not really, but from an ideological standpoint, yes absolutely. General Motors is the first of the “Detroit Dinosaurs” to not only build an electric vehicle, but to get serious about proliferating the technology and making it affordable to the average consumer.

It’s questionable if typical EV buyers are going to behave like this—gobbling 95 miles worth of juice in 80 mixed use miles— but if it can hold up to us two hooligans, it will definitely hold up to whatever most families demand, barring a cross country road trip. Should it exclusively replace something with a motor? I don’t know, your mileage may vary.

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