Chevrolet's far-roaming Bolt EV hit the ground running when it debuted in 2016 with a class-leading 238 miles of EPA estimated range. In a world where its biggest competitors included the 150-mile Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Ioniq on one side and the much more expensive Tesla Model S on the other, the Bolt shone brightly and uniquely in the sweet spot of high-tech and low-priced.
Two years later, the Bolt still shines, only now, it faces stiff competition from all directions as the rest of the electric car industry catches up. Kia, Hyundai and, of course, Tesla have all either debuted or announced affordable 200-mile electric cars with more on the radar. How does the Chevy stack up in the face of this new opposition? Let's revisit the 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV to find out.
The heart of a traditional car is the engine, but it's all about the battery when you're talking EVs. The Bolt's battery is a 960-pound, 60-kWh lithium-ion pack located in the floor beneath the seats. This configuration gives the Bolt its elevated seating position; the hatchback's passengers sit about a head taller than they would in, say, a Chevy Spark. Because of this, Chevy feels it's okay to call the Bolt a crossover. Not sure I agree.
The EV crams electricity into that battery pack via a 7.2-kW onboard charger that, when connected to a 240-volt home or public charging station, adds about 25 miles of range per hour on the plug. So, from flat, the Bolt takes a maximum of 10 hours to charge. (You could also plug the Bolt into a standard 120-volt wall outlet but, with an extremely slow charging rate of about 4 miles per hour on the plug, you'd only do that if you didn't have another option.)
If you're in a rush, an optional DC Combo Fast Charging system can rapidly juice up the battery to 90 miles of range in just 30 minutes. (After that initial boost, DC Fast chargers revert to the slower standard charging speed.) With 238 miles of range to work with, I never ran into a situation where I needed an emergency fast-charge, but I'd still recommend this $750 option as it adds a lot of convenience and flexibility for very long trips.
All those kilowatt-hours of electricity the Bolt stores are used to power its electric motor, a 200-horsepower unit that sends up to 266 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels via a single-speed reduction gear. That much instantaneous torque in a car this size gives the Bolt very responsive performance at low speeds and a peppy around-town feel. Floor it, and the 3,580-pound hatchback will do an eerily silent, sub-7-second sprint to 60 miles per hour. Of course, that's not how you want to drive to reach the full 238-mile range at an EPA-estimated 119 mpge.
Like every modern electrified car, the Bolt uses regenerative braking to recapture energy when decelerating to maximize its range. To maximize the energy recaptured, the Bolt has pretty neat feature: a "regen on demand" paddle on the steering wheel. Pulling this paddle shifter triggers maximum regenerative braking, slowing the EV significantly, as if you'd pressed the brake pedal. The brake lights even illuminate if the deceleration from regen is strong enough.
The regen paddle is a great way to make sure you get as close to the Bolt's optimal range as possible but, in practice, it's not a very good way to drive. Pulling the paddle is an all-or-nothing affair; there's no way to modulate or smooth out the regenerative braking pressure. I found this made for jerky deceleration as I attempted to feather the brakes by tapping the paddle. On top of that, the amount of deceleration you get from the paddle varies depending on the battery's charge state, which makes getting used to the already unnatural-feeling paddle even weirder.
I ended up mainly defaulting to just using the trusty foot pedals, preferring the Bolt's hidden "one-pedal driving" mode. Pull the shifter past D into L, and the Bolt's accelerator begins to operate like the Nissan Leaf's e-pedal, giving strong regeneration when the driver lifts a foot from the accelerator. In this mode, it's possible to drive without ever touching the friction brake pedal, maximizing range and control. This method is much smoother, more natural-feeling and easier to modulate than pulling the paddle.
Chevrolet should draw attention to or label this mode better, which could easily be overlooked by owners. I'd at least like the option to set "one-pedal mode" as the default.
Front and center on the Bolt's dashboard is the large, 10.2-inch color touchscreen display that is home to a unique version of Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system. The software has been stripped down to the essentials. There's satellite and terrestrial radio, Bluetooth calling and audio streaming and USB connectivity for audio playback, but no onboard navigation or even the option to add it.
Instead, Chevy leans heavily on the driver's smartphone to fill MyLink's functionality gaps with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. Why pay for navigation when you've already got a phone in your pocket? These smartphone-mirroring technologies bring navigation, audio streaming and messaging apps to the dashboard via a simple USB connection. Chevrolet's betting that the sort of tech-forward drivers who are the Bolt's key demographic will find this phone-centric setup preferable to more conventional upgrade models.
However, this pared-down approach to tech brings a few unexpected drawbacks. With no onboard maps, there's no way to, for example, search for or navigate to charging stations from the Bolt's dashboard, and neither Android nor Apple's software offers a solution.
If I wanted to find somewhere to charge on the road, I'd have to pull over, unplug my phone, open ChargePoint or EvGo and find a station. Then I'd have to set that station as a destination in Google Maps, plug my phone back in and resume navigation with Android Auto. That's just too much work.
You could take advantage of the onboard OnStar 4G LTE data connection to beam turn-by-turn navigation (sans maps) and concierge services into the dashboard. This connection also powers portable Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity, remote monitoring and telematics control of the EV via Chevrolet's MyLink app for smartphones and smartwatches. However, turn-by-turn navigation is part of the most expensive "Unlimited Access" subscription plan and most drivers will be better off just sticking with their phone's software after the Bolt's three-month free trial expires.
The Bolt's suite of available driver aid technology is solid, but not nearly as advanced as you'd expect from a car with such a high-tech powertrain.
In my loaded-up Premier model with all of the bells and whistles, there's a Surround Vision system. This evolution of the rear camera stitches together feeds from four strategically located cameras to provide a 360-degree view of the area around the car at low speeds. This sort of bird's-eye view is very helpful when squeezing into tight spots, but it's not as impressive as an autosteering parking system would be.
An optional Driver Confidence II package adds Lane Keeping Assist, which uses the electric power steering to help keep the Bolt between the lane markers at highway speeds. The package also brings with it a forward precollision alert system with low-speed automatic emergency braking. The system can even detect and brake for pedestrians. However, while the Following Distance Indicator can let you know when you're too close behind the car ahead, there's no adaptive cruise control option that can automatically maintain a safe cruising distance for you.
Here, the competition starts to really make up ground and surpass the Bolt. The Tesla Model 3's Autopilot suite, for example, is significantly more advanced today and promises a degree of future-proofing for tomorrow with over-the-air software updates. However, even more modest competitors like the the Hyundai Ioniq, Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 feature more full driver aid suites with available adaptive cruise control that better meet the higher tech expectations of savvy EV buyers.
The 2019 Chevrolet Bolt starts at $37,495 (including an $875 destination charge) for the base LT model, but my Premier model climbs to $41,780. Stepping up gets you blind-spot monitoring, a surround-view camera, and a helping of quality-of-life upgrades, like leather perforated seats.
While you're checking boxes, grab the $495 Driver Confidence II package to round out the safety tech suite -- that'll require also getting the $485 Infotainment package -- and don't forget the $750 DC fast-charging port; it's a lifesaver. Spec it like me and you're looking at $43,510 before subtracting any federal/state electric car tax rebates or dealer incentives.
Patient prospective EV owners have the option of waiting for Hyundai's Kona Electric, Kia's 2019 Niro EV and 2020 Soul EV, or the upcoming long-range Nissan Leaf e-Plus model, all of which are expected to fall in the same price range with similar cruising range and slightly better tech. Also on the horizon is the $35,000 "standard" Tesla Model 3, which should arrive sometime in 2019. (Of course, drivers willing to stretch the budget a bit can get in the door on a "midrange" Model 3 sooner for around $46,000 to $51,000.)
The 2019 Chevrolet Bolt is still a solid value and my of our favorite EVs in its class, but it's not as uniquely good as it used to be. Then again, a little competition is a good thing, especially for electric car consumers.