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Testing the Chevy Bolt's real range in the real world by driving it like a real car

Vehicle manufacturers can talk all they want about how the average American on an average day only needs 40 miles of range from an EV to get by. But, out in the real world, sometimes you need to go farther. Sometimes a lot farther, and EVs don't stand a chance of making inroads into the American market until they can take you there.

And this is why the Chevy Bolt, a battery-powered EV intended for the mass market, packs as much range as it does. 238 miles worth, officially according to the EPA. That's more range than a Tesla Model S 60, a car that costs over $60,000. The Bolt? Chevy's not saying, except that it'll start below $37,500 -- and that's before the $7,500 federal rebate.

But it isn't all about cost and theoretical range, it's about ride quality, comfort and, perhaps most crucially, range in the real world. The best way to get a feel for all that is to go on a road trip, and why not choose one of the best roads in the country? That would be Highway One, which scrawls a circuitous course down the California coastline.

I had 240 miles worth of that road to cover in the Bolt, only one charge to do it with, and a plane to catch on the other side. Spoiler alert: I made my flight, and I learned a lot about the Bolt along the way.

Comfort and convenience

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You'll never be short on information on where the Bolt's power is coming from.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The Bolt is an upright subcompact hatchback that very much fits in the mold of the Ford C-Max or the Honda Fit. That is to say, a car that looks much bigger on the inside than it does on the outside. This alone is not particularly notable for a modern car, but it is still a bit of a rarity for an EV.

Most battery-powered machines feature interiors vastly compromised by the need to make room for big, bulky battery packs. Not here. The pack slots in beneath the front seats and runs beneath the rear, where it doubles up beneath the rear cushions. This does result in a higher seating position than in many cars of this sort, but it also provides a nice flat floor between the rear seats and, crucially, a spacious trunk.

Headroom is generous, front and rear, as is leg- and shoulder-room. There's plenty of room, basically. There's a fair bit of tech, too, with support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a lane-keep-assist system that'll keep you from wandering.

The drive

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Tim Stevens/Roadshow

My drive started in Monterey, a town that looked remarkably quiet and calm just a few weeks after the furor of the Pebble Beach Concours had passed. My destination was Santa Barbara, 200-odd miles away per the direct route. But, of course, the direct route is no fun. Instead it'd be Highway One, which meant more miles but at a lower speed, something of a fair trade as far as an EV is concerned.

I promised myself I'd treat the Bolt like a normal car: no babying the throttle, no hypermiling, and no lifting and coasting at any opportunity. I just drove. That means I used the AC when I wanted it (most of the time), didn't glide along well beneath the speed limit and, when a rare passing opportunity appeared, I put my foot right to the floor and took it.

And the Bolt responded. It's not a fast car by any means, but it does have a prodigious amount of torque as you'd expect, enough to accelerate to 60 from a stop in less than 7 seconds. After that it runs out of steam quickly, but for zipping away from lights or ducking into gaps in traffic, it's quite rewarding.

Handling is reasonably good, too. A 3,500-pound weight means the Bolt is far heavier than most of its competing subcompacts, but that does make it lighter than many other EVs out there. That, plus the battery pack situated in the floor, means surprisingly deft handling and a reasonably fun drive.

However, push things too hard and you'll quickly find the limits of the tires, which offer about as much grip as a curling stone. Still, in a machine like this, low rolling resistance is key.

All this was done in a preproduction car, so there's still time for the Bolt to be tweaked and tuned before it starts hitting dealerships by the end of this year. But overall I was quite impressed. It's a fun little car to drive. And, most importantly, it got me where I was going.

Through the course of the day I covered 240 miles and arrived at my destination with a whole 17 miles left on the clock. Again, that was without driving conservatively. Note that this was in near ideal conditions, moderate speeds at moderate temperatures. Colder weather will mean less range, as will higher speeds, but in its element you'll be able to get plenty far in the Bolt. Far enough that you might just be be looking forward to taking a break.

And, when you do, fast DC charging will get you 90 miles more range in just a half-hour. All this in a car that could cost you less than $30,000 after rebates. That's a very appealing package -- a package that might finally bring the EV straight into the mainstream.

 

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