Mountain Wheels: Chevy’s all-electric Bolt brings practicality into the future (review)
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
MSRP: $40,905; As tested: $43,905 (before rebates)
Powertrain: 200-HP electric drive unit/battery combination
EPA figures: 119 MPGe combined (128 city, 110 highway)
As I pulled into Copper Mountain after a 150-plus-mile trip from the Front Range in a completely electric vehicle — with plenty of charge still left on the battery — I realized things had changed forever in the automotive world.
The new Chevrolet Bolt is indeed something of a technological miracle. For the first time, a mass-produced all-electric automobile has appeared that blends the range of a gasoline-powered car with a futuristic but entirely pleasant and practical motoring experience. And it’s even fun to drive, too.
The fun part is attributable to a couple of things, the biggest part being Bolt’s real-world ability to get at least 238 miles of range per full charge, even while traveling up here in the battery-bruising I-70 mountain corridor.
The Michigan-made Bolt is literally built around its five-cell pod of 288 lithium-ion batteries, so much so that they become a structural element of the small CUV’s body. They’re also 960 pounds, giving the Bolt an overall weight of about 3,600 pounds.
But their advanced construction, as well as a sophisticated liquid thermal management system, means they can hold a serious charge, with some of the car’s 6,000-plus owners reporting that they’ve been able to get more than 300 miles out a completely charged battery. Bolt is now on sale in Colorado, as well.
Pop the hood on the small, angular car and you’ll see a lot of stuff, just no gasoline engine. The electric motor can throw the equivalent of 200 horsepower at the road, up to 266 lb.-ft. of instantaneous torque, allowing the little car to almost silently haul along, even as the steepest parts of the Eisenhower Tunnel approach. If you want to, you can even throw it in a power-enhanced sport mode for some rather amazing bursts of uphill speed.
Living with Bolt is about as close as you’re going to get to normal with an all-electric vehicle, especially one that retails for as little as $37,495, before federal and state electric vehicle rebates — approximately half the price of the most basic new Tesla, and providing nearly double the range of competitors like the BMW i3 or the popular Nissan Leaf.
My somewhat fancier Premier model was $43,905, which included a DC fast-charging adapter that allows the car to regain 90 miles of range in about half an hour, using one of the not-especially plentiful high-power commercial charging stations on the Front Range.
Keeping the Bolt fully boosted when you’re not charging it at home (a 240-volt kit is a $699 extra, allowing Level 2 charging that returns about 25 miles of range per hour, or a full charge from empty in about nine hours) is of course still a concern.
But even Summit County has a number of ChargePoint commercial charging terminals — the Beeler Lot at Copper, Whole Foods in Frisco and inside the Grand Colorado on Peak 8 in Breck — which can provide a tangible boost of power when you’re on the road.
I used one of several apps to find chargers in spots including Nederland and Greeley; sometimes the charge is free, but a 30-minute blast from a commercial station (not part of ChargePoint’s network) cost me $10.70 for the equivalent of almost a third of a virtual tank of electrical power. As a most basic measure, you can also plug it into a wall socket but at only 4 miles of range per hour, plan on leaving the car a very long time if you have a long trip ahead.
Bolt also plans for your downhill trip as a major source of recharging. In its most standard mode, the system can regenerate more than 20 percent of the battery’s power, and if you put it into “low” drive mode or use the on-demand regenerative braking paddle on the left side of the wheel, you can do some serious downhill recharging, and also bring the car to a complete stop without pressing the brake pedal.
It all takes some getting used to, but the biggest benefit is the relative lack of concern about actually getting anywhere (or getting home) — Steamboat, Aspen or various Front Range destinations are entirely possible, and the car’s front-wheel-drive build and a healthy on-road feel give it some year-round practicality, as well. The battery pack is said to be even more efficient in the cold, and there’s heated front seats and an efficient heater (and air conditioner), though using that a lot will seriously eat into the car’s range.
Design is also almost entirely normal, minus the array of range, power usage and entertainment features in the Bolt’s dual displays, plus its very stylish console and stack. The rear seats provide lots of comfortable room and if you drop them, Bolt has 56.6 cubic feet of storage — it’s classified as a small wagon by the EPA, but its shape and size move it into the small crossover utility world.
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