Chevrolet Bolt

Debut: 2016
Maker: General Motors
Predecessor: No

 Published on 5 Dec 2016 All rights reserved. 

6 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.

The 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 badge.

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 front seatbacks. 

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.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4165 / 1765 / 1595 mm
2600 mm
Electric motor
200 hp
266 lbft
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
1616 kg
93 mph (limited)
6.5 (c) / 6.5* / 6.3**

Performance tested by: *C&D, **MT

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