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years ago, Nissan Leaf pioneered the market for affordable electric
cars. 3 years ago, BMW i3 lifted the game to another level with
advanced lightweight construction, desirable design and a premium feel.
However, it is perhaps a bit too premium to most buyers. Moreover,
neither Nissan nor BMW have completely eliminated “range anxiety” with
their moderate size batteries (the i3 can be equipped with
range-extender engine, but that violates the intent of EV). This leaves
a good opportunity to General Motors. The American giant has a great
deal of experience in electrification with two generations of Volt, Spark EV and, if you still
remember, EV1. When it decides to commit
to EV development, the outcome should not be underestimated.
Yes, you would be very wrong to underestimate Chevrolet Bolt. It is the
world’s first affordable EV capable of a driving range of 200 miles –
more precisely, 238 miles (383 km) on a single charge according to EPA
measurement! Thanks to the use of a huge, 60 kWh battery, versus 30 kWh
on Leaf or 33 kWh on the latest i3 94Ah option. You think that must
drive up its price? No quite, GM manages to sell the car at US$37,500
so that after Federal rebate it slips under the psychologically
decisive $30,000. This means, it is a little more expensive than the
aging Nissan, but comfortably below i3 94Ah ($46K before rebate), yet
it offers double the driving range. If you are looking for a comparable
alternative, you might need to wait for Tesla Model 3 to arrive in a
couple of years’ time. The Bolt is quite ahead of its competitors.
It goes without saying the Bolt is
built on an all-new EV architecture to optimize everything. Its 60 kWh
battery, consisted of 288 lithium-ion cells, is mounted at the floorpan
like Tesla, although part of it also occupies the space under the rear
seat to realize the needed capacity. The battery is housed in a steel
and plastic protection casing and is cooled by circulating liquid
coolant. It forms a structural part of the chassis and contributes to
the overall chassis rigidity. The battery alone weighs 435 kg, but its
low mounting means lower center of gravity than conventional cars. The
Bolt is front-wheel drive, so its electric motor, single-speed
step-down gearbox, power electronics and on-board chargers are all
mounted up front. Weight distribution is 56:44 front to rear,
inevitably worse than Tesla, but still better than conventional FF
hatchbacks. The whole car tips the scale in excess of 1600 kg, an
immense figure for a C-segment family hatch. Fortunately, the permanent
magnet AC synchronous motor produces 200 horsepower and 266 pound-foot
of torque instantly, so performance is actually pretty good. 0-60 mph
takes about 6.5 seconds. Just like any EVs, it feels brisk off the line
but the sensation fades away as speed rises. Speed limiter kicks in at
93 mph to avoid draining the battery too fast. That said, the overall
performance is perhaps a shade stronger than BMW i3, which means more
than enough for family car drivers.
To keep cost down, the Bolt does not employ exotic materials and
construction like i3. Its chassis and body is made primarily of
high-strength steel, but 2 front cross-members, the bonnet, tailgate
and doors are made of aluminum.
suspensions are very conventional, with a pair of MacPherson struts
serving up front and a torsion-beam axle suspending the rear wheels.
Regardless of weight and height (it stands 150 mm taller than a VW
Golf), its low center of gravity contributes to a tidy handling, with
little body roll. The ride is European-firm without punishing. Despite
regenerative braking, the brake pedal feels natural, like the latest
Volt. In addition to the responsive overtaking power, it could have
been considered a hot hatch if not two other factors spoil the
excitement, i.e. an artificially weighted electric power steering and
weak lateral grip from the energy-saving tires. That said, the Bolt is
quite fun to drive for a small family car, especially one bearing an EV
It looks quite fun, too, if not as tasteful as BMW i3. This is a
compact monospace. It is slightly shorter and narrower than a Golf. Its
2600 mm wheelbase is shorter as well, but the space-saving electric
powertrain means more space can be spent to the cabin. You sit higher
due to the battery underneath, but both front and rear seats offer
enough room for 6-footers, which is quite brilliant for a car this
compact. Some of the rear knee room is contributed by the ultra-thin
The interior design is also fresh
enough. There’s a TFT instrument cluster to display the range
information you need, and a large touchscreen on the center console.
There’s plenty of large storage cubbies and cup holders. On the
downside, you can feel the cabin is where cost is slashed to pay for
the battery. The plastics on dashboard and door panels are cheap, hard
and poorly grained. Not only it stands no chance to match BMW i3, it
feels cheaper than many conventional compacts costing $20,000. That
said, on the move the Bolt feels more expensive due to the typical EV
refinement. There’s precious little mechanical noise from the
drivetrain, just a bit more wind noise at cruising speeds.
The only major concern about its practicality is recharging time. Using
240V, 32A charger, it will take 10 hours to fully charge up the
battery, so charging overnight is required. If you go for a multi-day
cross-country journey, you will need to find a fast charging station
offering 50kW power. Even so, it will take more than one hour to
finish. Tesla’s supercharger stations are not only more powerful
(120kW) but also more widely available in the USA, let alone overseas.
The Chevrolet Bolt might have turned a new page for affordable electric
cars, but the supporting infrastructure still has a lot more work to do
before EVs can penetrate to the majority of car buyers.