Fast & Fun
Chevy invited members of the media to test drive Bolt EV prototypes on an autocross-like track at this years CES show. After getting a real feel for what it’s like through the various turns and in straight lines, feedback of its performance was positive across many media outlets. As expected from a compact EV, power was great off the line with instant torque, combined with being light and agile. Raising the bar, getting from 0 to 60mph in under 7-seconds puts it ahead of the competition, making this one hot hatch!
- Computer WorldI drove the Bolt at an event in Las Vegas recently that was part of CES 2016, gliding around corners and doing jack-rabbit starts on a straightaway. It’s a fun car that reminds me of the BMW i3 electric I drove two years ago at CES, which is roughly the same size. Because an EV doesn’t need to squeeze out any gas into the engine, fire up any pistons, or even change gears as you drive, the electric motor is always “on” and ready to go, so you get a quick jump off the gate. (The Bolt uses traction control to make sure you don’t spin any tires.)
And I mean quick. We’re not talking about a Lamborghini here, but you feel a little push. The car is exceptionally light and agile, about the same as a Chevy Spark (EV or no EV). It’s not exactly ready for an autocross, since the suspension is intended for getting to work in comfort and not for taking corners at insane speeds, but there’s some serious juice. At around 42, I had to pull back and take a corner a bit slower and avoid making any of the Chevy folks panic too much.
- Auto WeekIf you’re used to more practical and efficient EVs about this size, like, say, the Spark EV or the Mitsubishi iMiEV or even the Leaf, you will be pleasantly surprised by the Bolt’s responsiveness. Off the line it, ahem, bolts. We heard one GM staffer say 60 mph arrives in “under seven seconds.” That is competitive with moderately well-performing cars of a similar size. We launched it over and over in our four or five laps of an autocross-style course in a parking lot across the street from CES and were always happy to feel the surge of acceleration.
- AutoGuideAs usual with any EV, the Bolt hardly makes a sound when put into Drive. Curiously, it creeps forward, mimicking a conventional gas powertrain. Step on the accelerator, and the car reacts quickly. There’s instant torque and the Bolt blasts off the line. Zero to 60 mph is expected in less than seven seconds, making it faster than other EVs like the Leaf and even hybrids like the Prius. The electric motor is good for 266 lb-ft of instant torque and 200 hp, making this Bolt feel like a quiet little hot hatch off the line.
Smooth and Seamless Braking
While instant power and torque makes get up and go fun, controlling speed and braking is just as important and the Bolt EV accomplishes moving from mechanical braking to regenerative so smoothly and seamlessly that you may not feel the difference. Shift into “Low” gear mode for one-pedal driving with ease in stop-and-go driving.
- ForbesBraking feels, well, normal, which is somewhat unique for an electric car. In stop-and-go traffic, you don’t even need to use the brake. Shift into low and it’s capable of one-pedal driving. Lift your foot off the accelerator and it stops. Touch the pedal again and you’re off.
- Auto WeekThe regenerative brakes came on smoothly and seamlessly, too. There wasn’t a lot of feel through the brake pedal, so you’re not going to get the same autocross response you’d want there, but neither is the pedal made of wood, with no feedback at all. We couldn’t feel the difference when it switched from regen to hydraulic braking, assuming it went into hydraulic braking on our drive. It certainly should have, as we stomped on the brakes pretty hard.
Braking is smooth, though not a solely one-pedal ordeal like the BMW i3 and Tesla Model S. There’s also a paddle on the steering wheel you can pull on that activates a stronger regenerative braking function. Chevrolet also says the “Low” gear mode will limit coasting and engage the regenerative braking quickly. There was no strange switchover feeling between mechanical braking and regenerative braking, as the whole process was very smooth.
- MotorTrendIf you drop the shift lever into low "gear," you get one-pedal driving, which summons more regenerative braking when you lift off the throttle. This is more relaxing than moving from gas to brake in stop-and-go driving. The degree of regen is considerably less than in the early Mini-e (which felt like the airbags might trigger if you jumped off the gas), and if it's not enough, you can trigger the paddle on the left side of the wheel to increase the level of regen a bit more.
Incredible Amount of Space
You will not have to worry about head and legroom, even for six-foot or taller rear passengers with someone just as tall upfront. Designed with ride-sharing in mind, the exterior was “shrink-wrapped around the interior” helping to include wider door openings, capable of securing three car seats and a lower floor.
- ForbesThe Bolt is cute – it’s designed as a small crossover SUV – but there’s an incredible amount of space inside, thanks to the design of the flat battery pack mounted beneath the floor and thin, sculpted front seats that give rear passengers extra leg room. Even a six-foot-two journalist who climbed in the back had plenty of head- and legroom. Families would have no trouble buckling three car seats in the back.
In the front, a “floating” instrument panel with a huge 10.2-inch-diagonal touch screen provides more knee space for the driver and front passenger and makes the car feel wider. And there are many clever storage spaces, including a deep well under a sliding armrest for a tablet device.
Behind the rear seat, the Bolt has a surprising amount of cargo space for a small car – 16.9 cubic feet – more than the remarkably spacious Honda Fit, the current small car benchmark.
- The VergeSpace! I actually commented to the GM staff on hand that the Bolt has an optical illusory flair to it, because it's got a freakish amount of rear passenger legroom considering the compact dimensions. As near as I can tell, some of that legroom comes from thin front seats; they seemed comfortable enough to me, though you never know until you've road-tripped in them.
- Slash GearFor a compact, it's not short on space. Officially GM calls it a five seater, though the person in the middle at the rear might complain on anything longer than a scoot around town. They shouldn't have an issue with headroom, though, and at 5'8 I had knee space to spare even after a 6-footer had been in front of me.
Smart Driving Aids
Keeping tab on how much power you have, how you’re using, and learning how to better use it couldn’t be easier, although with 200-miles when fully charged the average owner won’t have range anxiety. Chevy makes driving efficiently fun and rewarding.
- Computer WorldFortunately, the digital dash provides quite a few helpful aids to make you drive a bit smarter. A gauge on the left shows the range, including an average in the middle, a max and a min. This helps with range anxiety, but at 200-miles per charge, I can see someone not thinking about the issue as much. Most of us don’t drive 100 miles one way to work. You could hop in and go to the beach across town, drive for the day, and make it back to your garage.
On the right, there’s a small leaf-like orb that goes up and down as you drive. Ham it up like Mario Andretti, and the orb will go down and sink like you are destroying the Earth. Brake evenly, glide up to speed gradually, and you’ll see a reward of “going green” and possibly a bit more range eventually. In that same section, there’s a real-time gauge that shows your power output -- say, 150kW when you drive too much like you are in a hurry.
The 10.2-inch center touchscreen is remarkably easy to use. There are sections for seeing energy flow as you drive, information about range and driving style, and even a few settings that can help you tweak the EV to get even more mileage. Everything has a bright, highly readable look without being too cartoon-like (which was a complaint I had on the Volt).
Steering was optimized for responsiveness, combining that with how light and agile get up and go is, this could be just about as fun driving a compact EV in the city can get.
- AutoGuideWhat surprised me about the Bolt was how alive the steering felt. There was an immediate response on turn-in from the steering, it was quick to return to center and the steering feel is nice and heavy. It makes the car feel serious, though heavy steering may be annoying in close-quarter situations like parking lots if that trait makes it to the production vehicle.
If heads of six-foot passengers get in the way, a rear mounted wide angle camera with feed delivered to your rear view mirror instantly solves this problem.
- The VergeAnd there's one more tech trick in the interior: the rear-view mirror is replaced with an LCD display linked to a wide-angle camera behind the car. The value, or so the story goes, is that this kind of setup eliminates obstructions like pillars and rear passengers so you get a better view of what's going on. Shockingly, it's good. I thought I'd hate it, but I immediately adapted to it and treated it like I would a standard mirror. (And if you don't like it, you can flip a lever beneath the display and it magically turns into a regular mirror.)