First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV


It speaks to the confidence General Motors has in its all-new and all-electric vehicle that it held the press launch here in the backyard of Tesla Motors. Talk about getting up in one's grille.

After spending an all-too-brief day-and-a-half with the Chevrolet Bolt earlier this week, I can report that that cheeky confidence is not misplaced. Billed as the "world's first affordable, long-range all-electric vehicle," the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt is that and so much more. Whereas the plug-in Chevrolet Volt was still very much a work in progress when it came to market in 2011, the Bolt comes to Canadian showrooms fully realized and very well thought out.

It's teeming with Chevrolet "firsts" far beyond its remarkable lithium-ion battery pack with Tesla-like full-charge range, and arguably does live up to its much-hyped billing as a real "game changer" in the EV segment. So let's start there and break down "world's first affordable, long-range all-electric vehicle." Pricing for the Bolt's two trim levels is $42,795 for the base LT and $47,795 for the Premier model. Less expensive than a Tesla, but "affordable"?

Well, in the three provinces GM Canada is targeting for Bolt sales ? B.C., Ontario and Quebec ? government incentives cut into those MSRPs in a big way. (And before commentators rail on about "my taxes supporting a bunch of tree-huggers," I'll remind you that the country's oil and gas industries are subsidized by governments to the tune of, conservatively, $2.5 billion per year. Just sayin'.) With those provincial incentives, the LT and Premier Bolts in B.C., Ontario and Quebec have MSRPs of, respectively: $37,795/$42,795; $30,406/$35,405; and $35,837/$40,837. So that's the argument for "affordable," though one can argue that for a sub-compact small wagon/crossover ? which is how GM is positioning the Bolt ? that's on the higher end of the price scale.

There's no quibbling with the "long-range, all-electric" claim, however. With a full-charge range of 383 kilometres, the Bolt EV more than doubles the ranges of the latest Nissan Leaf (172 km) and BMW i3 (183 km) - so, the Bolt lives up to its billing.

After spending some time poking around the car and behind the wheel, it became apparent that the clean-sheet Bolt is also a very well conceived vehicle, with the only real compromise of any kind something as small as front seatback cushioning. In an effort to provide good rear legroom, GM engineers thinned out the front seatbacks by using less stuffing and a sprung backrest. It certainly helped create a big rear seat area ? an adult over six feet back there still has legroom with six-footers up front ? but it does compromise front seat comfort a little.

The 60-kWh lithium-ion battery pack ? a collaborative effort between GM and longtime battery partner LG Electronics ? is obviously at the heart of the EV's remarkable propulsion system, but it's also integrated into the vehicle's chassis (think of a motorcycle's engine being part of its frame). Tipping the scales at 435 kg, the flat battery pack is all but invisible in the cabin, allowing for a perfectly flat floor and also providing stiffness and a low centre of gravity to the chassis, which translates to very impressive handling characteristics. GM cites maximum horsepower output as 200, and torque at 266 lb.-ft.

The battery pack can be charged using 110-volt, 240-volt and DC Fast Charging, with the latter providing an 80 per cent range in just one hour. GM recommends Bolt owners have a 240-volt charger installed in their homes, which will juice up the vehicle in about nine hours. Aftermarket chargers are widely available, and GM is offering Bolt owners its own version that can be financed into the vehicle's price.

An intriguing side note in terms of charging: With GM Canada hoping that all Bolt-designated dealerships install at least one DC Fast Charging on their premises, it's not difficult to imagine a Bolt fast-charging network to rival Tesla's much ballyhooed Supercharger network. That would include 22 Chevrolet dealers in B.C., 101 in Ontario and 72 in Quebec.

In reference to my comment above about the first-gen Volt being not ready for prime time when it debuted ? particularly in the case of creature comforts and onboard tech ? the opposite is true of the Bolt EV. From the standard "floating" 10.2-inch colour screen that serves as the control panel for all manner of in-cabin controls and connectivity technologies, to the flawless ergonomics of the airy cabin, all the boxes are checked with this new vehicle. And then some.

Those aforementioned Chevrolet firsts include a rear camera mirror, surround vision camera and electronic precision shifter - underscoring the fact that designers and engineers brought their A-game for state-of-the-art technologies to the Bolt. That goes a long way to make the case for a price point that can be argued as a little too high to qualify as "affordable."

Despite having driven most every EV on the market (and some that aren't), I was wholly unprepared for the experience of actually driving the Bolt. To say I was wildly impressed is a little like saying the newly minted U.S. President is a tad unconventional.

I was fully expecting the lightening quick acceleration (zero to 100 km/h in the mid-six second range), the whisper-quiet cabin and big range number on the display. What I wasn't expecting was the precision of the electric steering, the smooth power delivery from that electronic, by-wire shift system or the ingenious regenerative braking systems. The latter can be intensified by putting the shifter in low-mode, and further by pulling the lefthand paddle shifter on the steering wheel.

The drive route from Palo Alto to the coast took us up and over the twisting roads of Portola Redwoods State Park, providing sustained climbs, tight switchbacks and sweeping downhills that put the Bolt through all manner of driving conditions.

Once you get the hang of the deceleration when you take your foot off the accelerator, you rarely need to touch the brake. GM calls this "one-pedal driving," and with the added deceleration provided by the manual paddle shifter, it creates an entirely new driving experience. And one that brake shops across Canada aren't likely too keen on.

That low-mode wasn't done impressing either, as once we hit the hills of San Francisco later on the drive route, its "no creep" was on full display. Once you had figured it out, you could take your foot off the accelerator as you approached a stop sign or red light, and with no pressure at all on the brake pedal, the Bolt would come to a complete stop. And stay there.

Again, once mastered it brings a new dimension to the very notion of driving. And more importantly, to the notion of driving an EV in an efficient manner. To that end, my driving partner and I travelled 160 kilometres according to our Premier tester's odometer, but used just 140 km of battery range. And I don't recall that ever happening with a gasoline-powered car.


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