Chevy Bolt EV: a review from rural BC

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.)

First Bolt in the interior at Kalawsky Chevrolet

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.

The Interior

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.

The Bolt has a well laid out interior – everything to hand and logical – good job on the UI!

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!

You can set the car to auto charge for “Hill Top Reserve”; it will stop the car at about 88% charge, which allows for almost full regen right away! (Hello Rossland/Nelson residents!)

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 🙂

Storage/Utility

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.

Conclusion

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.)

Sharp looking car, especially with the Kootenays as the canvas
kootenay andrew

kootenay andrew

Andrew is an environmental engineer by day, "kid activity/school volunteer" by evening, and EV advocate / blogger in his remaining spare time.

He is very passionate about the future of energy generation & usage.He prefers bikes to cars, but acknowledges that Canadian cities have been developed primarily with cars in mind, so if we're going to drive, let's make them all EVs!(But let's get EV buses and take those where possible first.)
kootenay andrew

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kootenay andrew

Andrew is an environmental engineer by day, “kid activity/school volunteer” by evening, and EV advocate / blogger in his remaining spare time.

He is very passionate about the future of energy generation & usage. He prefers bikes to cars, but acknowledges that Canadian cities have been developed primarily with cars in mind, so if we’re going to drive, let’s make them all EVs! (But let’s get EV buses and take those where possible first.)

13 thoughts on “Chevy Bolt EV: a review from rural BC”

  1. Thanks for the review. Once a few more DCFC become available in the East Kootenay, a vehicle such as this becomes viable for me, and many others. The current gap for me is a fast charger in Invermere or Radium, allowing for occasional trips to visit friends in Calgary. A 30 minute stop for coffee or a lunch every 3 to 3.5 hours is not a great burden. However placement of DCFC becomes important, and I hope the folks determining placement are wise in the selection of locations!

    1. Hi David – I’m not sure if you saw the announcement just a few days ago? Accelerate Kootenays is a project to install 13 DCFCs across the Kootenays, the first one is now live in Cranbrook, with 6 more to come this year and 6 next. Check out the map on their webpage: http://acceleratekootenays.ca/

  2. Hi Andrew. I am getting ready for my trip to Vernon in my leaf leaving this Thursday. How sweet it would be to make that trip with one quick stop for charging. What is the availability of the Bolt is there a waiting list?

    1. I think there is a waiting list at most dealers – though I didn’t specifically ask at Kalawsky actually – you could call Terry and find out 🙂

      And I do agree with your sentiment – I think the 350 km range would be great. My Leaf still does well for the my daily commute, but not having to charge mid-day would be pretty awesome!

  3. Interesting experiences… I guess two things come to mind for me:

    1) I didn’t quite follow the Tesla regen / brake pedal comment. Having had a Highlander Hybrid some years ago, I’ve had some experience with brake pedal regen. And of course, the Model S has all the regen tied to the accelerator pedal. I much prefer the Tesla way of doing it. The touch screen setting was set to maximize the regen when I bought the car and I’ve never changed it, because it works so well. The fact that it’s a few screens deep is completely irrelevant for me. I can do most of my driving with that one pedal and use the brake pedal for emergency stops and that last 3 km/hr when the regen stops being effective. I don’t think I lose any regen energy.

    2) Charging. I think that’s a matter of perspective. From that of a Leaf owner, maybe it’s not a big deal that the Bolt is limited in where it can charge. However, from a Tesla owner, it would be like having a limb removed. That’s not intended to be a Tesla Snob comment, but simply the reality of having learned to expect more than the Bolt can deliver.

    I think the Bolt will be ideal for many people, but I have a feeling that a few days with the Model 3 (when it’s available!) might offer yet another perspective… lack of a hatchback notwithstanding! 🙂

    1. 1) I like the ability to change the level of regen on the fly, that’s why I knocked Tesla and being too minimalistic. I drive in ‘regular’ all the time, so that I don’t need to keep the accelerator depressed farther and don’t have to keep my foot on the pedal as much at highway speeds where coasting etc is involved. I use ‘B’ mode (stronger regen) in my Leaf when going down a continuous grade. It takes a fraction of a second to switch modes and I don’t need to look at anything to do it – Tesla UI design has forgotten why buttons have different shapes/sizes/feel; makes it easy (in most) regular cars to change frequently used settings.

      Back to regen on the accelerator: the thing I found annoying in the Bolt on L mode was that it was so strong for regular city driving, if you take your foot off the accelerator to ‘hover’ over the brake pedal, you slow down too much (hovering is good driving technique, ask any driving instructor, that split second can make the difference to being in an accident or not).

      I don’t think it is good design to have people associate ‘slowing’ with the accelerator; better to keep it simple and most of it all on the brake pedal so that in difficult situations mistakes are not made. There are some knocks to doing a blended brake pedal (mechanical + regen), pedal feel being one tricky bit, but I feel it has gotten better over the years to the point where a regular driver won’t know the difference.

      2) Charging – have a look at Plugshare and AccelerateKootenays.ca, then look at Tesla’s plans for the interior of BC. A Tesla will be worse off (unless they buy the $500 adaptor) for the foreseeable future. But really my intent in the post was to show that unless you are part of that subset who drive long distances regularly, it makes zero difference the rest of the year.

      Lastly, I do think Tesla is implementing the best fast charging network, but they are subsidizing it with the sale of very expensive vehicles that the vast majority of the public will never be able to purchase (total life cycle cost included). They have done the movement a disservice in a sense in that regular joe thinks public fast charging should be free or close to it (seeing the Superchargers as an example) – the reality is someone needs to pay for it, and the average Tesla driver seems to forget that the Supercharger network is baked into the car price. It is not even remotely close to free! Good marketing on Teslas part for that expensive car no doubt, but an unworkable model for a car in the 20-30k price range. No doubt the charging system will change over the next decade and it will be interesting to see which approach works out best.

  4. Great review of the Bolt Andrew. I’d like to add that the front seats can be raised and lowered quite easily and when in “D” mode, you can control the regen with a paddle on the back left side of the steering wheel. I prefer the “1 peddle driving” as the paddle works great if on a fairly straight road but is a tad tricky to use if on a curve or when turning.

    We’re still learning how our Bolt works but can say that “it’s very user friendly”. I’m taking a test run up to Vernon and back from Gibsons, about 1000 klm round trip in preparation for our cross country Bolt Across Canada trip, leaving Victoria July 1st. Will keep you posted.

    I love your web page and blogs.

    http://www.boltacrosscanada.com

  5. I live in Invermere and i am a proud owner of a Chevy bolt love it
    I like the fast charger in cranbrook great car and i got 11 000 rebate
    No more carbon
    Marcel

    1. Andrew i hope you don’t mind me using your site for EV networking, but would love to chat with Marcel about his Bolt! We are always looking for help spreading EV love in the Kootenays and specifically the East Kootenay and Columbia Valley where there fewer full EVs. Marcel, if you read this, would love to hear from you! fire us an email at accelerate@communityenergy.bc.ca

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