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How the Chevy Bolt EV Still Outshines Its Rivals

The 2019 Chevy Bolt EV is largely the same car conceived and designed years before its 2016 launch. Although some areas inevitably feel dated, there are still several aspects of this underrated electric car that keep it competitive.

The Chevrolet Bolt EV arrived in 2016. GM’s first long-range all-electric car is based on a design drawn up several years before we knew anything about Tesla’s Model 3.

It was the first (relatively) affordable EV to market and its current model year, the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV, remains very similar to the first edition. Inevitably, the Bolt is beginning to show its age in some ways.

Last week, I wrote about 3 Ways the Chevy Bolt EV is Already Outdated. I also praised the car and offered some suggestions for improvements that GM could make. What I didn’t do was cover the many areas that the company got right the first time around.

This article redresses the balance somewhat, by focusing on aspects of this often under-appreciated electric car that don’t get the praise they deserve.

To my mind, driving the car every day both locally and on long trips, these are:
1. Well-balanced Digital Dash
2. GM’s Application of One-pedal Driving
3. Efficiency and Driver Feedback
4. Deceptively Spacious Cabin

As with the improvements article, let’s dive into each of these and see whether you agree with my observations. As an aside, I’ve also spent a reasonable amount of time driving the Tesla Model 3 LR, so don’t be too surprised if some comparisons veer towards that vehicle.

Speaking of veering off course, here's my colleague Brian Jenkins on Tesla Autopilot is Amazing, But Don't Sleep At the Wheel!

All-Digital, Intuitive Dash Cluster and Console

There’s a lot going on across the Bolt EV’s digital dashboard, but you won’t have to wade through menu after menu to find what you need. It’s bright and clear, with just the right amount of information displayed in a satisfyingly futuristic way.

Unlike the Model 3’s all-in minimalism, some drivers still prefer to have information displayed directly ahead of them. This makes the Bolt EV feel like less of a leap from cars they’re already familiar with. Tesla has an exceptional reputation with the tech crowd and drivers who want something unapologetically futuristic, but not everyone in the market for an EV has that early adopter mindset.

The Chevy Bolt EV offers a satisfying blend of valuable information displayed on prominent screens, including the 10.2-inch center console touchscreen. Here you’ll find details on energy use, technique, charging information, and infotainment options.

My preference tends towards wanting to receive maximum information, so we’ve set the ‘Enhanced’ driver dash panel as the standard in our 2017 Bolt EV Premier. That provides not only an expected range, then a maximum and minimum on the readout, but also the power output on the opposite side so the driver can see when energy is used excessively or recouped via regenerative braking.

Which brings us onto another of GM’s admirable yet underacknowledged achievements with this car…

GM Nailed One-Pedal Driving

The Bolt EV has two primary drive modes, D and L. You can also pop the “Sport” button for more spritely acceleration in either mode, but the fundamental difference comes from the choice of D or L and how they influence regenerative braking (or “regen” for short).

In D, the Bolt EV still provides some regen but will also coast, offering the feel of a traditional gas car. In L, it will slow much more quickly as you ease off the pedal and come to a complete stop without touching the brake.

I almost think I’d be disappointed if GM significantly adjusted anything in the way the Bolt EV delivers one-pedal driving. Once you get used to the more aggressive regen in L and learn to moderate the accelerator to smooth out the ride, the Chevy Bolt EV is an intuitive and seamless electric drive.

Watch me run through the pros and cons after two years in a 2017 Chevy Bolt EV below and be sure to subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for more News on EVs and the Auto Industry.

An Efficient EV with Valuable Info

While not quite on a par with Hyundai’s ultra-efficient Ioniq sedan, the Bolt EV delivers excellent efficiency and range in all but the worst conditions. In summer, it’s not unusual to hear from Bolt owners pushing well past 300 miles on a single charge.

Part of this is down to that effective application of one-pedal driving. Recapturing energy is intuitive after just a few journeys and the car delivers all of the information you need to improve technique and squeeze even more out of every kWh the pack can offer.

No, you won’t top 200 miles of high-speed highway driving in the depths of a New England winter with the heater blasting, but the aforementioned dash display keeps you well-informed on how you’re doing. More often than not, we’re able to hit that EPA range of 238 miles easily and get a whole lot more out of the car in daily driving.

Bigger On the Inside

This one will sound odd coming from what many consider a compact car, but the Bolt EV is a surprisingly spacious vehicle.

Up front, the floating console leaves a big open space down below, with plenty of room to store small bags, snacks and the like. The center armrest hides a narrow yet ridiculously cavernous storage bin that will swallow books, electronics, or anything else you might want to stow away for a rainy charge session.

As a driver standing a couple of inches taller than six foot, I’ve had adults the same height slide into the seat behind me with plenty of legroom. With two kids back there more often than not, the flat floor design and stadium seating - because they’re sat on another layer of the battery pack - give occupants plenty of room to stretch out and a great view. "I Spy" is a lot more fun when you can actually see what’s going on outside the vehicle!

To give the 2019 Niro EV its due, reviews suggest that Kia managed to squeeze more space out of their vehicle than the Bolt EV offers. However, that comes in a car that’s more than eight inches longer than the Bolt, meaning you lose some of the advantages of the latter’s compact shape. The Niro EV is also a redesigned version of an existing gas model, while the Bolt EV was designed as a purely electric model from the outset.

So although there are inevitably things that I would improve about the Chevy Bolt EV, as I’d expect any vehicle owner to acknowledge, there’s no doubt in my mind that GM made an excellent electric car that still shines in today's EV marketplace.

If all this stokes your interest in affordable electric vehicles, read my colleague John Goreham's informative story on where You Can Buy a New Bolt, Ioniq, or Leaf for Under $20,000

Watch out for my next Chevy Bolt EV story, which will gather together the various rumors surrounding the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV, the already trademarked Bolt EUV, and perhaps even a concrete announcement from General Motors on the subject! See you in the next story where I discuss 3 Reasons the 2019 Nissan Leaf Lost the Brand Its EV Lead.

Steve Birkett is an electric vehicle advocate at Plug & Play EV. You can follow him on Twitter at @Plugandplayev, Instagram and Youtube at Plugandplayev Channel to send him EV news tips.


Matthew (not verified)    June 18, 2019 - 1:52PM

Steve, you are spot on with the deceptively spacious interior. I am 6'3" and the roominess of Chevy Bolt was a huge selling point.

John Goreham    June 18, 2019 - 2:29PM

What struck me when I drove the Bolt the first time was how fun it was to drive. When I then researched buying one, I was floored by how inexpensive they are in Mass. After incentives and tax deductions are factored in new Bolt LTs are costing owners under $20K in Mass and RI. That's half the cost of the cheapest Tesla Model 3 available in Mass. I know, because in March I visited Tesla in Dedham and crunched the numbers.

Steve Birkett    June 18, 2019 - 3:03PM

In reply to by John Goreham

I think the unremarkable styling automatically equates to unremarkable performance in the minds of some who criticize the Bolt, but it's deceptive. Feels much more like a hot hatch to me than a bog-standard subcompact. It's not going to win any drag races, but it's extremely spritely around town and planted around corners. And the discounts are definitely getting pretty deep around New England and over in California... guess we'll see how low GM can go as the next phase of the tax credit kicks in and the 2020 model is announced.

Joseph (not verified)    June 18, 2019 - 3:19PM

The fast charger rate will still need to get increased. chevy got there first but is quickly overtaken being passed by vw, hyundais and more.

Steve Birkett    June 19, 2019 - 9:31AM

In reply to by Joseph (not verified)

It's certainly a factor, as I covered in the first article, but I also realized from the feedback that a lot of people never take their Bolt so far from home that it matters. Some have never even used a DC fast charger, which would be impossible for my use case. But overall, I think it's a factor that a good chunk of buyers will compare, so GM needs to get a bit more competitive on that aspect with the 2020 models.

Tom (not verified)    June 18, 2019 - 5:21PM

While talking about spaciousness, my husband is 6' tall and over 300 pounds. He has problems with his hips and knees and it can be difficult for him to get in and out of a car. The bolt has no footwell in the front seats; the floor is flush with the door opening. This greatly helps him with getting in and out of the car.

Steve Birkett    June 19, 2019 - 9:21AM

In reply to by Tom (not verified)

Thanks for your perspective. I see similar results with my father-in-law who has similar issues. They went with the Model 3 and do love it, but entry/exit is more of a struggle. Easy to hop in and out of a Bolt for kiddos and adults alike.

Don (not verified)    June 18, 2019 - 9:43PM

Chevy Bolt is plenty available in dealer lots and available on the same day. Tesla Model 3, you have wait for months to arrive. Bolt is a plastic egg with high depreciation, no charging network, slow charging. Model 3 is much better.

Steve Birkett    June 19, 2019 - 9:28AM

In reply to by Don (not verified)

In many ways, the Model 3 clearly outperforms the Bolt EV. Speed, range (LR model), and charge speed being just three. But we need to get a wide range of folks buying electric vehicles and some aspects of Tesla's design aren't for everyone. The Model 3 is plenty available now (2-4 weeks delivery), as is the Bolt EV, but they're starting to occupy different price points. My colleague John Goreham wrote yesterday about 2019 Bolts available for ~$20K in ZEV states, after incentives. Model 3 is closer to $30K and MUCH higher if you want the full Tesla experience. There's plenty to love about the Bolt EV and the fact that it's selling steadily as a lower-priced alternative raises the tide for all electric vehicles.

John Goreham    June 19, 2019 - 11:11AM

In reply to by Steve Birkett

You're being too kind to the Tesla. I visited Tesla's only New England delivery center also its largest New England showroom (Dedham) and ran the numbers on the least expensive Model 3. After my states discount of $1,500 for an EV under $50K, and after the $1,875 federal discount in effect after July 1, the price of the cheapest Model 3 is $37,725. Twice what the base Bolt, Leaf, and Ioniq are costing. The $35K deal was a flim-flam. They would not sell me one. They had never seen one and they handle six states.

Steve Birkett    June 19, 2019 - 3:30PM

In reply to by John Goreham

True. I was really comparing with the current Fed credit, though you're right there's not much time left at the $3,750 level for Tesla.

The price gap does reflect the tiers that I think will develop as more models come to market: $20-$35K range for entry-level EVs, $40-55K for the likes of Tesla Model 3/Y and any manufacturer who wants to take them on in that bracket, then $60K+ for premium vehicles that aren't trying to appeal to the price-conscious buyer. Back-of-a-napkin numbers, admittedly, and I know some models will shift between brackets depending on trim level, but I do believe we need that lower entry level price to really kick EV adoption on to the next phase.

DeanMcManis (not verified)    June 19, 2019 - 1:21AM

Nice counterpoint to your earlier article Steve. One advantage of the Bolt having been on the market for a while is that there is a much better chance to make a deal on a new Bolt than newest models like the Kia/Hyundai whose supplies are constrained. As John's article shows, you can get into a new Bolt for around $20K, which cannot be said for most of it's rivals. And for that price most buyers are not going to care about the little differences from it's newer BEV competition.

Steve Birkett    June 19, 2019 - 9:14AM

In reply to by DeanMcManis (not verified)

Thanks for reading both! And your feedback was informative in writing this one, so thank you for the comments as well. We're certainly seeing a real reset in the pricing heading into summer. I see some private sellers trying to get $25K or more for a used Bolt EV but, as you mentioned, incentives in ZEV states often push a 2019 model even lower than that. It certainly sets the stage for another tier of affordable long-range BEVs, which is encouraging given the tax credit phase out for GM. The Bolt was certainly going to struggle at $35K with so many new models in the pipeline, so I'm hoping it moves to Chevy's entry-level EV and new models with more current features take the middle tier. Progress of a kind!

Ivan (not verified)    June 19, 2019 - 7:51AM

Chevy Bolt charges slowly, but the Bolt is a top safety pick by IIHS. Depending on location, there is a huge network of CCS chargers that is still growing. These are the current CCS chargers in CA with more expected for I-5. Depreciation on Bolt is minimal here in the SF Bay Area, since the most are still eligible for red or purple HOv stickers. Also, most Bolts are priced $5-8k below MSRP, while Model 3s aren’t discounted.

Steve Birkett    June 19, 2019 - 9:20AM

In reply to by Ivan (not verified)

It speaks to your safety point that many of the shots shared from crashes in Bolt forums are incredible. In those I've come across, the vehicle takes a pounding but the occupants report only minor injuries. It makes me feel even more comfortable with the decision to take the Bolt EV as our primary family car.

Chao (not verified)    June 19, 2019 - 7:53AM

I will give it a go. 1. chevy has automatic liquid battery cooling while idle and parked. but better since the bolt has less passive power drain than Tesla, yet both cars are still better in thermal management compared to other non-liquid cooled cars in production. 2. chevy battery setup is designed to stop battery meltdown and explode. while Tesla batteries are designed like a Chinese firecracker system, it is designed to cool down efficiently but when 1 pops, the neighbor pops next and then a cascade. 3. since the model 3 came out, the bolt has to be sold cheaper under 35k to look for buyers. 4. there is less crying on door bumper neighbors than Tesla drivers. A scratch a bump. a Tesla driver cries and posts it on facebook. 5. my personal best, the bolt has a metal roof, while Tesla has roofs that can crack