2020 Chevy Bolt review: A good EV that's showing its age
When the Chevrolet Bolt EV debuted in 2016 it was, shall we say, the shit. With more than 200 miles of range and a sub-$40,000 price tag, nobody cared that it looked like a wedge of cheese and had an interior full of cheap plastics. It was all about that range, man. But here we are in 2020, and wow, the world sure has changed. The Bolt has more competitors now than it ever has, and from a wide range of automakers. Does Chevy's compact hatch still stand out?
The 2020 Bolt EV has a larger, 66-kilowatt-hour battery pack, which gives the hatchback an extra 21 miles of range. Its 259-mile beats the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Niro EV and Nissan Leaf Plus, though the Tesla Model 3 still leads the way. The Bolt's charging times remain largely the same as before: 10 hours on a Level 2 home charger or about 100 miles of range in 30 minutes with its optional fast-charging capabilities. The Leaf Plus, meanwhile, offers a fast-charging connection standard.
The electric powerplant pushes out 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. That's great for driving around town, merging onto the highway or racing to beat that yellow light. By shifting into Low I can make the most of one-pedal driving and regenerative braking, lifting my right foot for maximum regen while slowing the car down. I can also activate more regen using a paddle on the left side of the steering wheel that'll slow the car quickly. Or, you know, I can just use the brake pedal. The traditional brakes feel pretty good and there's no obvious transition between electronic and mechanical stopping. There are plenty of EV pages in the Bolt's infotainment system, too, which will show you the battery level and remaining range, which is helpful when you need to run errands on a Saturday after forgetting to plug the car in on Friday night.
I know most Bolt owners aren't looking for corner-carving athletics, but a torque-tastic electric powertrain is inherently fun -- quick off the line, and instantly. Sadly, the Bolt's chassis and tires aren't up to the challenge. The hatchback is easy to upset over bumpy pavement and the Michelin Energy Saver all-season tires offer very little grip for the sake of maximum efficiency. The steering is nicely weighted, however, and the low center of gravity keeps the Bolt mostly flat while cornering. A Mini Cooper SE is way more fun to drive, though with a range of only 110 miles, it definitely isn't for everyone.
There aren't many driver-assistance aids, which is a shame. The Bolt can't be had with adaptive cruise control, and both blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are only standard on the top-level Premier trim. Other niceties like automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, forward collision alert and front pedestrian braking are optional, too. If you're looking for more advanced tech, the Nissan Leaf Plus offers the automaker's ProPilot Assist tech, to say nothing of Tesla's Autopilot. On top of that, the Bolt isn't available with embedded navigation. This isn't a huge problem, since Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and owners can take advantage of the MyChevy app to find local charging stations.
However, I'm finding a lot of success with the Chargeway app. It divides stations into colors for different charging types, and numbers for charging speed. All I have to do is tell the app I'm in a Chevy Bolt with the optional fast-charging setup and I know I can go to any station labeled green with the numbers 1 through 4. Easy peasy. The app also gives me the physical address and brand of charger, plus local amenities and customer reviews.
The Bolt's infotainment system is housed on a 10.2-inch color screen, and while the graphics and interface are crisp and clean, the response times are really laggy, enough that I find myself stabbing an icon twice, thinking that it hasn't received my tap. There is a standard 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot for connectivity and device charging is handled by a 12-volt outlet and two USB-A ports up front. An optional infotainment package on the Premier trim adds wireless charging and two more charge-only USB-A ports for rear passengers.
Inside, the Bolt has some cool, space-age-looking white trim on the dash, and the cabin certainly feels very open and airy. Overall, however, the materials are bad. What was not so great in 2016 now just seems cheap when viewed against the competition. However, my Premier trim comes with heated front and rear seats as well as a heated steering wheel. My tester also has the rear camera mirror, which uses a video feed from the backup camera. I can flip the view from video to standard mirror at any time and I really enjoy having a wider field of vision.
The Bolt offers plenty of small storage options like a little cubby for my cell phone and an open center console. Cargo room behind the rear seats is just shy of 17 cubic feet, which is on the small side for the class, but it opens up to a very generous 56.6 cubes when the rear seats are folded.
The 2020 Chevy Bolt starts at $37,495, including $875 for destination, and before any federal or local incentives are factored in. If it were my money on the line I'd stick with the lower LT trim and skip the available infotainment package and heated rear seats. Instead I'd outfit my base Bolt with the $555 comfort package to get heated front seats and the $495 confidence package to get blind-spot monitoring. DC fast charging is $750 and is a must if you expect to go on any road trips. Oh, and I'd also pick the new Oasis Blue paint color. The bright aqua brings a bit of personality to the Bolt. All in, my ideal Bolt costs $39,295 including destination. Meanwhile, my fully loaded tester costs $43,735.
The Bolt may have been the bees' knees when it debuted, but the competition has done a hell of a job keeping up and even surpassing Chevy's EV. The Kia Niro starts around $40,000 including destination, and while it offers less range, it's got more style and features, including navigation and adaptive cruise control. The Hyundai Kona gets about the same amount of range and starts at around $38,000 with destination, but some may be put off by its weird face. Finally, you can get the brand cache of driving a Tesla Model 3, but it's more expensive with options, and no matter how good Autopilot is, the car absolutely does not drive itself.
It's great that Chevrolet is still innovating battery technology and gave the Bolt a few more miles for 2020. And it's no secret that GM has an onslaught of electric vehicles on the way. In the meantime, though, the Bolt lags behind its electric rivals in too many big ways.