2020 Chevy Bolt EV first drive review: More of what you need

Electric vehicles are the ideal personal transportation solution. In theory, at least.

Just think about it from a parts-count standpoint: By running a car or truck like this Chevrolet Bolt EV on electrons rather than hydrocarbons, you eliminate scores of components. There are no valves to contend with or any of their associated parts like guides, seals, seats and retainers. Camshafts get the heave-ho. Bearing inserts are unnecessary, as are pistons, rings and connecting rods. Fuel delivery, exhaust, pollution-control and ignition systems are not required, nor is a crankcase full of lubricant.

EVs are also nearly silent in their operation, have lower maintenance requirements, individually produce no emissions and provide instant torque for speedy off-the-line acceleration. There are more upsides to electric cars than you can shake a proverbial tree branch at, it's just too bad they still aren't necessarily ready for prime time. There's always a caveat, isn't there?

Moving from theory to reality, the biggest thing holding EVs back is the state of today's energy storage technology. Batteries that provide decent driving range are physically massive and incredibly costly, and are adversely affected by temperature extremes. To manufacture, they typically also require materials like lithium and cobalt, which are getting ever harder to come by. For motorists who routinely drive long distances or haul heavy loads, today's batteries often simply don't provide enough juice for the job.

Fortunately, these electron reservoirs are constantly improving, and the updated Chevrolet Bolt EV is receiving a noteworthy boost for model year 2020.

The 2020 Bolt now offers 259 miles of driving range.

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What could you do with 21 miles?

Introduced back in 2016, the Bowtie brand's all-electric five-door is getting slightly longer legs. Battery capacity and range have both increased. The car's new 66-kilowatt-hour pack (up from 60 kWh) provides an EPA-estimated 259 miles of driving on a single charge. That's 21 more than before, a not-insignificant figure.

Engineers worked their magic, altering the ratios of various elements inside this liquid-cooled battery and lowering its internal resistance to produce a pack that's no larger or heavier than before, though still appreciably more energy-dense. This gives the Bolt an edge over the Leaf Plus, Nissan's extended-range EV offering, which maxes out at 226 miles. In comparison, the standard Leaf is even less impressive, with an advertised range of just 150.

Hyundai's sprightly Kona EV crossover is another prime Bolt competitor. With a 64-kWh battery onboard, it essentially ties the Chevy, offering a claimed driving range of 258 miles. Its fraternal twin, the Kia Niro EV, offers 239 miles of range, and Kia's upcoming Soul EV offers funky style with an impressive 243-mile range.

No, it's hardly a direct rival, but since everyone seems to love Tesla, why not bring up the Model 3? It presently offers either 240 miles of driving range or 310 in upgraded form.

The Bolt is a tall, narrow hatchback, and gets a few new color options for 2020.

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Charging ahead

Replenishing the Bolt's battery is either a refreshingly easy task or a protracted chore; it all depends on what sort of socket you have access to. A Level 3 DC fast-charger can add up to 100 miles of range in a mere 30 minutes. If you tap into a 240-volt, Level 2 outlet, the car can gain 25 miles of capacity per hour. Unfortunately, plugging the Bolt into a standard, 120-volt household outlet, so-called Level 1 charging, adds a paltry 4 miles per hour. At that rate, you're probably better off walking.

The Bolt has two separate systems to help recuperate energy while on the road. A regen-on-demand paddle behind the left steering-wheel spoke allows you to use regenerative braking to slow the vehicle down. Done carefully, you can recover loads of electrons that would normally be wasted. This is useful, though the Bolt has another trick up its sleeve.

So-called one-pedal driving is easily accessed by putting the car in low range. When in Drive, just pull back on the ungainly electronic shifter, which looks like an old Nokia cellphone from 2003. Either a rotary knob or push-button gear selector would be a welcome upgrade over this fiddly contraption, which takes up unnecessary space on the center console. Back on task, in low mode, you can speed up and slow down by just varying accelerator inputs. Back off that skinny pedal and the Bolt aggressively sheds speed, efficiently putting energy back in the battery. Tip in and it accelerates just as you'd expect. If all this sounds a little awkward, well, it is, though the feature is surprisingly easy to get used to.

The Bolt puts 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque down to its front wheels.

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Torque with a capital T

One major advantage electric cars have over their internal-combustion counterparts is immediate torque, and the Bolt is no exception. Its single, permanent-magnet motor provides a stout 200 horsepower with 266 pound-feet of peak twist. That's enough kibbles and bits to slingshot this awkwardly tall hatchback from a standstill to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. It punches strongly off the line and its vigor scarcely fades, even as the speedometer creeps toward triple-digit territory. This Chevy is surprisingly swift.

With a small footprint, the Bolt is maneuverable in tight quarters, though toss it into a corner and this five-door feels a little tippy, even though its battery pack is mounted under the floor for a low center of gravity. Fortunately, these antics are something you're strongly discouraged from by the car's steering, which is light to the touch and nearly lifeless.

The Bolt's driving position is fairly upright, with seat cushions about chair-height above the floor. It also has miles of headroom, enough that Abe Lincoln could ratchet the left-front bucket all the way up and still be able to wear his signature stovepipe hat.

Curiously, this Chevy EV is unexpectedly narrow inside. If they're of any significant size, the driver and front passenger practically rub shoulders.

The interior is made up of hit-or-miss materials.

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It's what's inside that counts

If you've been in any General Motors vehicle over the last 15 years, the Bolt's cabin will feel plenty familiar. Most of it is constructed of hard plastic, textured with a ubiquitous fine-grain pattern. This material is neither categorically offensive nor particularly attractive. Contrasting with those large swaths of "meh" are more interesting polymers, including some sparkly white trim with an interesting triangular pattern molded in.

With its hatchback body, the Bolt is fairly practical, offering just shy of 17 cubic feet of luggage space behind the rear seats. Fold those backrests down and you're treated to more than 56 cubes. Under the rear floor there's also a hidden storage space, further enhancing versatility. Dominating the dashboard is a vibrant, 10.2-inch color touchscreen display. It's home to a variety of functions and settings. It also enables you to manipulate Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a generously sized canvas.

A welcome upgrade for 2020 is the addition of high-definition cameras for both the backup and the available surround-view systems. These should add greatly to driver confidence and look impressively crisp on that large display.

Other tech goodies include an optional Infotainment Package, which includes a seven-speaker sound system, wireless device charging and two USB ports for back-seat passengers. Headlights and taillights are of the bright and efficient LED variety.

2020 Chevrolet Bolt

The Bolt's big touchscreen supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

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The available Driver Confidence Package includes various advanced assistance features like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and more. Stepping up from there, the Driver Confidence II Package throws more technologies into the mix, things like lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warning and automatic high beams, to name a few.

Additional newness for 2020 includes two fresh exterior colors. Cayenne orange metallic and oasis blue join the palette. Each adds some visual spunk to an otherwise rather nerdy-looking machine.

Is the Bolt worth buying?

Keeping things simple, the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt is offered in two trim levels, LT and Premier. The base price for this all-electric five-door is around $37,495 before any applicable manufacturer rebates, a figure that includes $895 in destination charges as well as $1,875 in federal tax credits. If the Bolt appeals to you, it's recommended that you act fast because that government discount is going away. It started at a generous $7,500, but since GM has sold more than 200,000 eligible vehicles it's now gradually stepping down. Regrettably, after March 31 of next year, no tax credit will be available on this vehicle.

The updated Chevy Bolt competes favorably with other mass-market electric vehicles. It's more compelling than any version of the Nissan Leaf, though it's probably not quite as appealing as Hyundai's Kona EV. Will it ever sway the Tesla faithful? Probably not. Still, this 2020 model's increased driving range is welcome, as is its strong performance. However, that frumpy exterior styling and merely adequate interior could stand to be improved.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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