- 200-mile range, normal price
- Big interior, small footprint
- Unimpeded view in digital mirror
- Looks smaller than it is
- Options may add up
- Quick-charging costs extra
The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV could be the first electric car to break into the mainstream, thanks to its promised 200-mile driving range and high-$30,000 base price.
The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is the first mass-market electric car to offer a range of 200 miles or more, a distance so far only provided by the Tesla Model S, at $70,000 and up. It's a hatchback that packs the passenger volume of a mid-size car into the footprint of a subcompact, and it has the potential to be the first vehicle to bring electric cars into the mainstream--or at least close.
Revealed in concept form at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, the Chevy Bolt EV was developed in record time by a close partnership between Korean battery maker LG Chem and General Motors. LG developed not only the 60-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion cells and battery pack, but also the power electronics and a host of other powertrain components--and the digital dashboard displays too.
The lines of the 2017 Bolt EV are similar to those of other Chevy small cars, including the new Spark and the aging Sonic. Its blanking-plate "grille" at the front is similar to that of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, in silver or black, and it's otherwise a fairly upright and tall hatchback with a rising window line, body creases, and other design cues that give it a racier look than its basic profile indicates.
The EPA classifies the 2017 Bolt EV as a "small wagon," though most onlookers would call it a five-door hatchback. GM prefers to call it a crossover, although without any option mentioned for all-wheel drive, the Bolt would seem to lack one of the crucial qualifications for a utility vehicle. Regardless of what you call it, visually the Bolt looks smaller than its competitor the Nissan Leaf, perhaps because its wheels are pushed all the way out to the corners.
The Bolt EV has the shortest overhangs of any car GM makes, say its designers. The goal is to maximize interior volume, and at that, Chevy's engineers have excelled. The 960-pound battery is located under the cabin floor, stretching from side to side and from the front footwell to the back of the rear seat. Passenger volume is 94.4 cubic feet, against 92.4 cubic feet for a Nissan Leaf and 94 cubic feet for the much larger Tesla Model S. That volume is "two segments larger" than the car's exterior size would suggest, said a GM engineer during a test drive of development prototypes.
Inside, the Bolt EV's cabin is light and airy, with remarkably thin front seats that provide an extra inch of rear legroom. The seats are comfortable, and all occupants sit upright, and higher than they do in the more rakish Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. The flat floor and a slim dash and console make the front footwells especially wide. Four adults can sit comfortably, though the "five-passenger" description is pushing it.
From the driver's seat, the vision to the front over the short nose is exceptional, which will make the Bolt easy to park. The dashboard has both a fully digital 8-inch instrument cluster behind the steering wheel and a central 10.2-inch touchscreen display built into the top of the console. The user-configurable displays use thin fonts on a bright white background, looking more like a mobile website for swiping than old-school automotive instruments.
The Bolt EV also offers GM's new digital rearview mirror, with a rear-facing camera that gives a wide 80-degree image in the crisp digital display that replaces the mirror glass. It's uncluttered by rear-seat headrests or roof pillars, and compares to a mere 22 degrees for a conventional mirror. We did notice some glare off the highly polished surface, however.
The powertrain is relatively simple: the big flat 60-kWh battery pack sits under the floorpan, and sends power to an electric motor driving the front wheels. That motor is rated at up to 150 kilowatts (200 horsepower) and up to 266 lb-ft (360 newton-meters) of torque. GM quotes 0-60-mph acceleration of less than 7 seconds.
The Bolt accelerates confidently even with four adults in the car, and was able to chirp the inside front tire under full power out of a turn. It cornered relatively flat on its 17-inch alloy wheels, and the steering had a nice positive self-centering action. No motor or electronics whine was audible at any point, and the brake feel was consistent enough that we didn't feel any transitions between regenerative and friction braking in our two laps.
The Bolt EV's onboard charger operates at up to 7.2 kilowatts. A portable 120-volt charging cord is housed under the load bay, but Chevy expects most Bolt drivers to recharge the large battery pack using 240-volt Level 2 charging stations, mostly overnight at home. GM quotes a charging rate of "50 miles in less than 2 hours" using Level 2, while a full recharge will take about 9 hours.
The Bolt EV will also include an optional CCS fast-charging port, which GM says will provide "90 miles in 30 minutes," presumably on today's CCS charging stations, which have a maximum output of 50 kilowatts. Unlike BMW, Nissan, and Volkswagen, however, GM executives say the company has no plans to fund the installation of fast-charging infrastructure across the country.
As for safety, the Bolt EV has ended up using a dedicate electric-car platform, though it shares some suspension components and accessories with other GM vehicles. The lack of an engine and transmission up front required some innovative crash engineering in the stubby nose, its engineers said, comprised of a lower cradle holding the traction motor and driveline, plus an upper cradle that contains the power electronics. Each is attached at four different points, and multiple design iterations for both were necessary to provide the needed frontal and transverse energy transfer and absorption to allow the car to earn the highest safety ratings--which GM is confident it will.
The Bolt EV has no spare tire, but neither is there an inflator kit. Instead, the electric Bolt will be the first car on the market to use the latest development of Michelin's self-sealing tire technology. Owners will only know their tire has picked up three nails, for instance, when it's removed at the end of its life. The resulting packaging advantages and weight savings are substantial.
The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV carries a base price of $37,500 before any incentives. It qualifies for a $7,500 federal income-tax credit, and a $2,500 purchase rebate from the state of California, among other benefits. It also gets the coveted "white sticker" for single-occupancy use of California carpool lanes on freeways.
While the battery pack, motor, and drive unit are manufactured in Inchon, South Korea, all Bolts will be assembled in Orion Township, Michigan. The first Bolt EVs are expected to be delivered very late in 2016. Pricing, standard equipment, options, and trim levels will be announced closer to the Bolt EV's on-sale date.