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Car Tech

The Chevy Bolt might be the affordable EV you've been waiting for

If you've been waiting for Tesla to release an affordable, practical EV, stop, because Chevrolet is about to beat them to the punch.

Now playing: Watch this: Hitting the road in Chevy's $30k, 200-mile Bolt EV
2:54

Specs don't make the car, but in the case of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, an all-electric compact that will enter production this year, there are a few figures that are genuinely quite important. First is range, and the Bolt is promising to deliver 200 miles on a charge -- or more, depending on how you drive it. That's impressive for a little EV, but even more important is the second number: price.

The Bolt will be available to consumers nationwide for a starting price somewhere below $30,000. Just to be clear, that's after a $7,500 federal rebate for EVs, so the MSRP will probably actually be closer to $37,500. Few would genuinely call that "cheap," but at that price the Bolt will become the best mix of cost and range for a mass-market EV.

Now playing: Watch this: Hitting the road in Chevy's $30k, 200-mile Bolt EV
2:54

Again, though, while numbers are important, they don't tell the full story. As I learned after driving a preproduction model of the Bolt here at the 2016 International CES in Las Vegas, there's a lot more to the Bolt than affordable emissions-free motoring.

The biggest surprise for me was the practicality of the thing. Chevrolet engineers have developed a flat battery pack for the car that sits in its floor, much like that found in the Tesla Model S. This means a nice, low center of gravity for handling, but it also means no transmission tunnel and nothing but a flat, clean surface for designers to build upon.

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Plenty of room in the back, and the seats fold flat.

Josh Miller/CNET

So, sliding from the left to the right of the car is easy, but open the rear hatch and you'll find a surprising amount of storage space back there. The 60/40 seats fold down flat, too, meaning this is a little EV you can fill with a lot of stuff -- without having to work around unsightly battery humps and bumps.

Another surprise is the infotainment system, a wholly new version of Chevy's MyLink that will support both Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay. But the big story is how customizable the system is. The home screen actually looks a lot like Android, is completely widget-based, and can be personalized by every driver. As your phone connects to the car, the system recognizes you and loads up your settings. It'll even remember what you were listening to last.

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A fully customizable infotainment experience is all-new.

Josh Miller/CNET

There's tons of other tech in there as well, including a trick rear-view mirror that's actually a camera, giving a wider field of view than a normal piece of glass. The car also has plenty of safety features, like lane departure detection and collision avoidance.

None of which is any use if you won't want to drive it, and while my time in the car was admittedly limited (a few times around a little autocross), I have to say I was impressed. It isn't quite as nimble as BMW's little i3, but with a 0-to-60 time of less than 7 seconds, it's a reasonably quick thing, and the handling didn't disappoint. Throttle response is, as you'd expect from an EV, very good, and the car will offer multiple driving modes so that you can tailor how much regenerative braking you'd like when you lift off the gas.

Again, Chevrolet isn't giving us a formal price, but if they hit that $30,000 price after tax rebates, that'll be a game-changer for the EV market. The Bolt will go into production before the end of the year and will be available nationwide soon thereafter. Given the cost, the range, the tech and the practicality, expect to see a lot of these on the road next year.

Check out the rest of CNET's CES 2016 coverage here.

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