CHATHAM, Mass. – Chevrolet provided prospective buyers of the 2020 Bolt battery electric vehicle (BEV or EV) with the best news an EV buyer could hear: a 21-mile increase in driving range – to 259 miles between charges – when compared to the 2019 model.
I cannot attest to this increase after my week in a 2020 Bolt EV Premier (no experience with the older model), but according to the car’s information screen, a full charge could produce between 232 and 335 miles.
I did not experience any range anxiety – even when setting out on an afternoon trip of some 180 miles on a full charge – whenever I went out in the Bolt.
My confidence in being able to run all my errands and make it home was due to both becoming familiar with the Bolt’s electricity consumption as well as keeping my drives to a reasonable length. I planned my trips, a process which becomes second nature to an EV owner.
The Chevrolet YouTube channel contains 16 short Bolt Academy videos, everything from “Can You Top off Your Charge at Any Time?” to “One-Pedal Driving and Regen on Demand” to “Home Charging Basics” to “Bolt EV: Pairing Your Phone to Bluetooth.”
One major caveat: my planning would have been different if I owned the Bolt. If I owned it, I would have made the one investment I believe mandatory for any EV owner – a Level 2 home charger to supplement the Level 1 system which comes with every Bolt.
The Level 1 charger (similar in design to a large version of the type of adapter you might use to charge your smartphone or laptop computer) plugs into any standard household 110-Volt outlet and then into a port in the front fender on the driver’s side. Recharging with the Level 1 charger is a slow process – some five-miles (or less) of driving range added for every hour or so of charging.
Installing a Level 2 charger – which can cost from $300 to $1,200 plus depending upon included features and the need to have an electrician rewire a garage for 240V – can greatly reduce the time needed to charge the Bolt. A Level 2 charger can add 25 to 30 miles of range in an hour!
Longer trips than running around town can be made comfortably, as I said, with a bit of planning. There are numerous public charging stations, especially in more populated areas in states where EV sales are more prominent, many with new DC fast chargers capable of adding 90 miles of range in 30 minutes of charging. These are easily found with simple online research.
Regenerative braking changes driving methods
EVs and hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV, having both a gasoline engine and electric motor) can recharge their batteries through regenerative braking (when a slowing electric motor becomes a generator).
The Bolt has several means of recapturing this regen energy. Simply using the brake pedal to slow the car induces regen. In addition, a paddle on the left side of the steering wheel allows you to slow the car, even bringing it to a complete stop (as if it were a brake pedal) with regen braking and no use of the standard four-wheel disc brakes.
Regenerative Braking: What is It?
Drive modes have become commonplace in today’s automotive universe as computer control of powertrains and chassis pieces allows the driver to setup the car for sport, comfort, inclement-weather conditions, and poor-road surfaces, depending upon the vehicle. The Bolt, which offers a Sport mode with more aggressive acceleration than the Normal one, has another mode for one-pedal driving.
Placing the Electric Drive Unit (console-mounted shift lever) in L allows you to drive using just the accelerator pedal. Increasing pressure on the pedal increases speed while decreasing pressure on the accelerator increases the amount of regen braking slowing the vehicle.
And it works! It takes a bit of practice to get familiar with these alternate ways to drive, but not as much as you might think.
Driver-assistance features (ADAS) and safety
Standard on all Bolts is a rearview camera; Premier models add a rearview camera mirror (allowing for rear vision even if backseat occupants block the standard mirror’s view) and Surround Vision camera. The Premier’s standard Driver Convenience Package brings advance driver-assist systems (ADAS) like Lane Change Alert with Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Park Assist.
The Premier I drove included the optional Driver Convenience Package II which upped the ADAS roster with Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Alert, Following Distance Indicator, Front Pedestrian Braking and IntelliBeam headlamps.
The standard 10-airbag system covers frontal and knee airbags for driver and front passenger, includes Passenger Sensing System; roof-rail mounted head-curtain and seat-mounted side-impact airbags for front and rear outboard seating positions.
Bolt – the car
Some might call the Bolt cute; me, I call it a small four-door hatchback sedan (the federal Environmental Protection Agency calls it a small wagon). Regardless of semantics it is a small car, some 14 inches shorter than a Honda Civic.
Large windows, upright seating and high roof (at 62.8 inches high some seven inches taller than the Civic) provide a feeling of spaciousness in an otherwise cozy cabin, one which accommodates four with a tight luggage area or two travelers with a much larger space for stuff when the rear seat is folded flat.
All occupants sit on leather-appointed and heated (front and rear) seats. Ample door pockets, six cupholders as well as a console with multiple storage areas and cubbies help make the Bolt’s interior an accommodating place to spend some time.
Technology, of course, has a further positive impact on the driving/riding experience. A large 10.2-inch color touchscreen in the center of the dashboard provides information and controls for the infotainment system, automatic climate-control system, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and vehicle systems (like ADAS).
In addition, the center display and the digital driver-information eight-inch multi-color display present extensive information about the Bolt’s energy usage – a feature of every EV and HEV I’ve driven. Graphic representations of electricity being consumed and generated, miles left in the battery and time to complete recharge add to the EV experience.
Cost of admission
The cost of owning an EV can vary greatly depending upon where you live. A straight comparison of cost-per-mile of electric versus gasoline operation favors electric (the EPA says a savings of $4,750 over a five-year period), but the overall cost of ownership including purchase price, depreciation, fuel and maintenance favors gasoline-powered vehicles until the tax credits ($7,500 federal, then different numbers state by state) are factored into the equation. When all these numbers are added up, the total is generally a wash (according to a study by Car and Driver), but again location makes a difference (cost of gasoline versus cost of electricity is a location-dependent number), as do factors like how long you plan to own the vehicle, what size vehicle you choose, etc.
There is no easy answer, but generally speaking, EVs have a higher initial cost than an equivalent gas vehicle. The Bolt Premier is no different. This sub compact comes with a $41,020 MSRP and equipped the way we had it (adding Convenience Package II, DC Fast Charging provision and infotainment package) and the $875 destination charge brought the total to $43,735 (but there are additional General Motors’ incentives available).
The Bolt is a fun little run-a-bout, offering a surprising amount of room for four and a reasonable range on its 66-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.