My First Impressions of the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV
I am still a few weeks away from a full review of the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV, where I will test its chops in the real world. In a previous story, I examined some possible changes to the Bolt EV's DC fast charging capabilities that might be so subtle that they have been overlooked, but I will have to wait to test those in the future.
Even though I’m yet to drive and charge it myself, I was able to see the new 2020 Chevy Bolt EV in person at the LA Auto Show. As someone who has owned and driven a Bolt EV for three years now, I feel that I can give some insights even without having driven the car.
In this story, I will give my first impressions of the 2020 Bolt EV, including some small but interesting changes and additions that I haven’t seen discussed yet.
The 2020 Chevy Bolt EV is Better in Cold Weather
GM announced that they were improving the Chevrolet Bolt EV's cold weather performance, and they even conducted a survey in late 2018 where they asked current Chevy Bolt EV owners for their thoughts on a "cold weather package."
Many of the things GM asked about were not – as far as we know – incorporated into the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV. In particular, we have no information about a heat pump or radiant floor heating, but maybe those are things they are considering for the MY 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV.
However, the "cold weather battery pack" does appear to be standard now, with GM promising 150% faster DC charging in cold weather. In milder climates where low temperatures are often in the 20s to 30s Fahrenheit, early model Bolt EV owners can expect to see DC fast charging rates that start around 30 kW until the battery warms, so if GM's numbers are accurate, 2020 Bolt EV owners in those climates can now expect to still be able to max out the most common 50 kW DC fast chargers. Those in harsher climates should expect worse charging speeds, but still better than they’ve seen in previous Bolt EV models.
It appears that what I thought might have been a vent was actually part of the original heads up display and proximity alert available on some Chevy Bolt EV trims.
The 2020 Chevy Bolt EV has Sharper and Softer Interior Features
While I still think my 2017 Chevy Bolt EV's interior design is years ahead of comparably priced electric vehicles, I'll admit that it does appear matte and dull. Perhaps it's just age and over 100,000 hard miles on my Bolt EV, but simply sitting in the cabin of the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV, all of the features looked crisper and sharper. The waffle pattern cut into the dash looked more finished, as did most of the surfaces.
In addition, it seems as though GM improves the cameras in its vehicles every year. My Bolt EV's reverse camera is far better than the camera in my Chevy Volt both in terms of quality and low-light capability. The reverse and rear view cameras in the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV are improved even further, and both are now high-definition.
In terms of interior comfort, the seats have also outfitted with significantly more padding than what came in my 2017 Chevy Bolt EV. Personally, I've never had issues with seat comfort in my Bolt EV because I actually prefer the firm support, and the narrow form factor still fits my body. In fact, I had been driving my Bolt EV for several months and given dozens of test drives before I realized people had comfort issues with the Bolt EV's seats. It wasn't until a Tesla Model S owner told me that my seats were uncomfortable. I asked him if he would like to sit in my Bolt EV to assess its seat comfort for himself, but he declined.
Regardless, I recognize that a number of people have legitimate comfort issues with the Chevy Bolt EV's seats, and those comfort issues typically are tied to one of three issues: Head restraints, seat padding, and seat width. For better or worse, the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV only addresses one of those issues: Seat padding. Otherwise, the seats are very similar to the seats in my first-run Bolt EV.
In terms of head restraints, GM is still using the original configuration that is highly protective against whiplash. The main complaint I hear regarding the Bolt EV's head restraints is that they aren't comfortable as headrests. From a comfort perspective, I completely agree; however, they aren't designed to be used as a rest while driving. I keep a small pillow with me for my long road trips, and if I take a nap, I find that it fits perfectly in the crook of the seat and head restraint. Also, from a safety and injury prevention perspective, as a Judo player, I can assure you that the Bolt EV's head restraint is exactly where you want it if you ever get rear ended by another car.
For the seat padding, the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV has significantly thicker padding than the seats in my 2017 Bolt EV, though to be fair, GM had started to increase the seat padding as early as the 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV. Some have stated that the Bolt EV’s seats still do not have sufficient padding; however, to me, they now feel very similar to the seats offered in the Buick Encore, but I am having a hard time finding viral complaints on the internet and social media regarding the Encore's seat comfort. Now, by comparison, the 2020 Bolt EV's seats are still not as well-padded as the Hyundai Kona Electric's seats (which I might regard as overstuffed), but the width is nearly identical.
And that brings me to the final issue I've heard regarding the Bolt EV's seat comfort, which is that they are simply not wide enough. Seat width still has not changed for the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV, and frankly, I wouldn't expect it to. Cars like the Bolt EV, Encore, and Kona are very narrow, and there's a limit to the width of seat that will fit in those vehicles. If you require wider seats, it might be necessary to look to a wider vehicle to facilitate that.
Ultimately, seat comfort is very subjective, so if the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV ticks off most of the other boxes on your checklist, I’d suggest sitting in the car to assess the seat comfort yourself.
The Bolt EV Is Still the Easiest EV to Get Into
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend a little more time with the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV at the LA Auto Show than I did with some of the other electric vehicles. It’s not necessarily because I was checking the car out more thoroughly (I will be getting one for a full review), but rather, it’s because I needed a break. After being on my feet for several hours and walking at least a couple of miles, I just needed a comfortable place to rest for a minute. I also needed a sanity check.
After struggling to get in and out of much larger electric vehicles such as the Audi e-tron and Mercedes EQC while carrying my full array of camera equipment and gear, the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV reminded me of just how easy the car is to get in and out of. Despite having my camera bag, active DSLR camera, and three axis gimbal, I was able to comfortably step right into the Bolt EV without ever feeling cramped or contorted. I closed the door, exhaled, and regained my sanity. I wasn’t "misremembering" things; the Chevy Bolt is still, simply put, the easiest electric vehicle to get into and out of.
And I’ll veer to the figurative here, as well. The Chevy Bolt EV is also still one of the easiest electric vehicles to obtain in the United States, especially for a reasonable price. I did like the Kia Soul EV; however, we are still waiting on deliveries. There are things I like and things I dislike about the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV, but they are largely comparable to the Bolt EV in everything except marketplace availability. Even Tesla (despite their aversion to dealerships) requires you to walk into a Tesla store in order to purchase their lowest price Model 3 SR, though that’s probably because they really want to talk you into buying the more expensive SR+ instead.
However, for most Americans, the Chevy Bolt EV is still the easiest electric car to see in person, test drive, and purchase that day, and often times for less than MSRP.
It’s been almost three years since I bought one of the first Chevrolet Bolt EVs sold, and while a number of people are still complaining about the lack of significant upgrades to the Bolt EV platform in those three years, I remain impressed. In 2016, Chevy set the bar very high with the Bolt EV, and they’ve continued to make small, subtle improvements from there. They’ve actively sought out feedback from actual owners, and they acted on the information they received.
While it’s true that a number of other automakers are now producing comparable offerings – often with some features and functionality still lacking even in the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV – in terms of actual driver-focused, electric-vehicle functionality at the average new car price point, it seems that all the other automakers are still catching up to the Bolt EV.
About The Author
Eric Way focuses on reporting expert opinion on GM brand electric vehicles at Torque News. Eric is also an instructional designer and technical writer with more than 15 years of writing experience. He also hosts the News Coulomb video blog, which focuses on electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, and renewable energy. Eric is an active member of the EV Advocates of Ventura County, a volunteer organization focused on increasing the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. You can follow Eric on News Coulomb Youtube, on Facebook at @NewsCoulomb as well as on Twitter at @eway1978.