A few days ago I had the chance to see a Chevrolet Bolt EV (brand new to Canada, and EPA range of 383 km!), courtesy of Kalawsky Chevrolet here in the Kootenays (in Castlegar, BC). Terry Klapper is the resident Bolt EV (and Volt) sales guy and he was happy to show me the car’s features and let me take the wheel for a short, but representative, test drive. (A short drive through town, then across the mighty Columbia River following Highway 3 up the first big hill on the way to the Bombi Summit allowed me to get a sense of town driving, merging, hill climbing, highway speeds, and descending with regen.)
I have owned a Nissan Leaf for about 3 years, so it serves as my primary point of comparison, but I have also driven or seen both generations of Volt and the Model S.
We spent a solid hour puttering through menus and car settings (I’m a detail geek, thanks Terry for indulging me!) First impressions of the display and menu system were very good – everything is close to hand and has a good flow to it. All of the HVAC controls are easily accessible, and there is just the right mix of buttons and dials (e.g. dedicated buttons for controls you will use frequently, plus a temperature dial, which allows for much quicker setting of temperature than the push-buttons in my Leaf). The display was easy to read, even with spring sunshine streaming through the side window across the display (typically a tough scenario for some screens). Other reviews will give you more detail on the menu settings etc; from my perspective there is enough information there for pretty much anyone. We did not connect my phone, so I can’t comment on that aspect (the car also has Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
My favourite feature though, especially for use here in the Kootenays, where so many people have a downhill start to their day (Uphill in Nelson, pretty much all of Rossland!), would be the Hill Top Reserve charge function. This function stops charging at about 88%, which allows for almost full regen. Since the car has a huge range, 88% is more than enough for anyone’s daily commute (including mine of ~150 km), plus any extra errands or rec time in the evening (head up the mountain for an evening ski at Apex, Paulson or Blackjack!) In fact, I would use this feature on all but the longest of road trips as a method to extend the life of the battery. The cool thing about this feature is they allow you to also customize when/where the feature works – so if I only want Hill Top Reserve on at home, I could choose that!
The other thing that really ‘wowed’ me for the interior was the leg and head room. Chevy put a lot of work into designing a large interior car in a compact car footprint and they did a really good job.
My Leaf has good head room, but the leg room in the driver’s seat is on the short side; for the Bolt, I could easily see someone 6’6″ (or maybe even taller) have decent leg and head room. Even when I had the seat set to its highest position, I still had good visibility out of the car, and inches of space to the roof. I found the front seat positioning to be very symmetrical for my hips, legs and feet – the ‘false’ pedal for the left foot is very close in position to the accelerator pedal (this is important to me: several years ago I had a vehicle that was not symmetrical and it caused real problems with alignment of my lower back and hips). The passenger seat does not raise up/down, but even with the seat almost all the way forward, I still had lots of leg room (not the case in our Leaf).
The back seat is also a good size and would seat two adults quite comfortably. Leg room and head room is also fine for me (just shy of 6’1″), with the front seat set for someone equally as tall as me. I have two growing sons who are likely to be my height (or taller, my dad was 6’4″), so it was good to see that this car would fit our family of 4 right through their teenage years until they leave the nest.
There has been some internet buzz about the width of the seats… I found them fine for me, but as usual, YMWV, so go sit in one yourself to find out if YOU like them 🙂
One of the knocks against the upcoming Tesla Model 3 is the potential lack of utility of body style choice (a trunk?! yuck!). I am a hatch/wagon/CUV/SUV type person 100%, I’ve owned exactly one sedan, which I despised for actually carrying any amount of luggage, odd sized objects, ski gear, bike gear, etc. Every car since has been something with a hatch. The Bolt EV has a large opening rear hatch with a high roofline (I think they market this car as a CUV, though I would have called it a hatchback), that looks like it could hold a large amount of cargo with the seats down, and probably a good amount of stuff with the seats up (eyeballing would say about the same as my Leaf, which we have managed some extended camping trips with).
The car comes standard with roof rails, to which you could mount cross bars and then your favourite attachment. As usual, your range and efficiency will be less (no different then a gas car), but with a range of ~ 380 km to start with, the hit won’t be as bad. I’d probably have the cross bars mounted and a roof pod mounted 90% of the time myself, so this is a big improvement over my Leaf (with a limited range to start with, and no dedicated rack attachment options). You can also get a factory hitch! (Sorry, I don’t know the details.)
The car is roughly the same size as my Leaf on the outside, and has similar ground clearance. That should allow for some light gravel road use and no problems in the winter (our Leaf has taken us to Whitewater Ski Resort >95% of the trips we’ve done in 3 winters, and we’ve also driven up local gravel Forest Service Roads to biking areas like Giveout Creek FSR and up to Kokanee Glacier Park).
Last but not least, what is it like to drive?
In a word? Awesome! Like my Leaf, the Bolt has plenty of pull off the line… but unlike my Leaf, that pull continues right past 50 km/h… in fact, even as we were climbing up the first grade to the Bombi Summit at 90 km/h, the car still had significant pull as I punched the accelerator (in fact, the “passing” metric time is quite low at 4.5 seconds). I was very impressed. 0 – 100 times have been quoted at under 7 seconds!
The Bolt has two distinct drive modes: Drive and Low. Drive mode operates similar to a regular car, with a simulated “creep” mode and a gradual slowing when you take your foot off the accelerator. Engage the brake pedal, and the car will first use the electric motor as a brake, recuperating energy at the same time (“regen”). The brake pedal felt quite normal, and I think is a better system than what some manufacturers use (for example, Tesla does not have a blended brake pedal, so you end up wasting regen opportunity).
Put the car in Low mode, and “creep” is gone (if you don’t touch the accelerator, the car won’t move anywhere), and when you lift your foot off the accelerator, the car will decelerate quite strongly (it does light up the brake lights to warn those behind you) and will even come to a complete stop!
Additional to the two drive modes, there is also a “regen on demand” paddle on the steering wheel – pull the paddle towards the wheel, and it is similar to putting on the brakes. It even adds extra regen to low mode – I was able to see 70 kW of regen coming down a slight incline from 80 km/h (the Leaf can do a max of 30 kW, and I rarely see it that high). And unlike some manufacturers, you can easily choose your regen level at any time (unlike Tesla, where the setting is buried in the touch screen menu… Tesla has done some great stuff for the EV movement, but their UI design and reliability leaves something to be desired). The regen is also super effective at low speeds (unlike my Leaf, which is ok, but not great), so the Bolt would have no problem controlling speed on the steep hills in Nelson, Trail and Rossland via regen only.
As for charging – there has been much ado about how the Bolt does not have the charging speed of a Tesla Model S. While it doesn’t have the raw speed, it isn’t that far behind in reality, and for a lot of people, they won’t need to use a fast charger (DCFC) that often, since the base range is so high. Almost every regional trip we have taken in the last 3 years could be done on ONE CHARGE with the Bolt, which means that trip recharging speed is irrelevant (my Leaf charges to full in 2.5 hours on my 7.2 kW home charger, the Bolt will take about 9 hours, easily accomplished with an overnight charge). If you belong to a subset of drivers that travels to Vancouver every other weekend from the interior, your 7 hour drive might turn into a 8 hour drive accounting for 2 fast chargers, which some people will be ok with and others won’t. At some point in the future, this will not even be a discussion point, but we are at least another car cycle away from fast charging being as seem-less as filling up with gas. And in the meantime, if you don’t buy an EV, you may as well just take a few $100 bills every month and light them on fire (since that is what you are doing by holding onto a gas car now that there is a reasonable alternative for most situations).
Maintenance! Almost forgot. I haven’t really thought about it this far into the post, because on the Leaf I haven’t had to do any to speak of. I have driven the 350 km to the local Leaf dealer in Kelowna once per year to have my battery “checked” (I’m not 100% sure if this is necessary for battery warranty, but I haven’t wanted to take any chances!) I’ve only spent $120 in 112,000 km of driving over 3 years. Having said that, if something had gone wrong (like needing to swap a battery pack or drive unit, a common occurrence with early Model S vehicles), it would have been pretty expensive to get a repair. Now with the dealer in Castlegar selling the Volt and Bolt EV, that won’t be a worry for anyone in the West Kootenays – you are only 50 – 100 km away at most.
If only I had known this car was going to become available in May of 2014, I would probably have waited to buy it, instead of buying a brand-new Leaf at that time. Maybe I would have bought a used Leaf, then traded it in or sold it when the Bolt became available.
The Bolt is basically everything I love about my Leaf, except better in most cases (the regen, the seat adjustability, the utility, and the range, oh! the range!).
The last phrase? If it were only up to me, I would buy this car in a heartbeat.
(My wife and I have a strong partnership though, and that extends to monetary concerns! It wouldn’t make fiscal sense for us, having bought a new car fairly recently in 2014, and while the Leaf does obviously have compromises, the largest being the range, it does still work for my daily commute, saving us $ and saving the environment from emissions.)