by Gerhard Horn
When it comes to electric cars like the 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV, there seem to be two schools of thought. There's the side that thinks an electric vehicle should stand out in a crowd of fossil-fueled cars, favoring models like the Hyundai Kona, Tesla Model 3, BMW i3, Honda e, and the Kia Soul. Then there's the side that believes the electric car should blend into the background and not outwardly boast about their modern powertrains. Examples in this list include the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, and, erm, well, that's about it.
The Bolt is a funky looking thing, but you would be forgiven for not giving it a second glance. Like the Leaf, it aims to be a comfortable hatchback that delivers a smooth ride, a spacious and comfortable interior, and a decent helping of standard features. It gets all of these things right, and then some. It also has a powerful electric motor and a decent EPA driving range of 259 miles.
The Chevrolet Bolt has been around since 2017, and it has received minor updates every year since. Chevrolet made most of the updates to eke as many miles out of the electric powertrain as possible. These updates finally paid off in 2020, when the Bolt received an EPA rating of 259 miles on a full charge, beating all of its main rivals (by just one mile in the case of the Kona) while getting uncomfortably close to the Tesla Model 3's 263 miles. For 2021, only one major change is being made to the Chevy Bolt electric car. The previously optional DC fast charger is now standard on the Premier model. This makes the Bolt even more practical, as it can now make use of fast charge networks.
See trim levels and configurations:
The Chevrolet Bolt electric hatchback isn't impressive, but it's not bland either. It sits on a fine line between the two, with a design that is a nice blend between MPV and hatch. It sports an aggressive front end and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels on the base model, while the Premier boasts 17-inch alloys. Both have body-color door handles, but the Premier adds a chrome strip as well. Solar absorbing glass is standard, as is the high gloss black grille, high-intensity headlamps, and LED taillights and daytime running lights. The easiest way to tell the LT and Premier apart are the chrome trimmings and roof rails, which are standard on the latter but not available on the LT.
The Bolt has a total length of 164 inches. Within that sits a wheelbase that is 102.4 inches long. The small car is 69.5 inches wide without the side mirrors and 62.8 inches high. Its most direct rival in pricing is the Nissan Leaf, which has slightly larger dimensions, though it doesn't stand as tall. It's wheelbase is identical, though. This makes the Leaf bigger in every direction, which impacts passenger comfort. Both Bolt models weigh 3,563 pounds.
The Bolt is available in nine colors, eight of which are available on both trims. There are five no-cost options, including Oasis Blue, Nightfall Gray Metallic, Summit White, Mosaic Black Metallic, and Slate Gray Metallic. The Premium colors retail for $395 and include Kinetic Blue Metallic, Cayenne Orange Metallic, and Cajun Red Tintcoat. The Premier adds one extra no-cost option called Silver Ice Metallic. The Bolt works best with a bright color, as it makes it pop just a little more. We recommend Oasis Blue or Cayenne Orange Metallic.
You'd never be able to tell by looking at it, but the Chevrolet Bolt is quite a brisk little monster. That's just the nature of the electric motor, and the Bolt has a good one. With a 0-60 mph sprint time of 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 93 mph, it leaves most of its rivals eating dust. The Bolt is only available in front-wheel-drive format, driven by a single-speed automatic gearbox, which is par for the course in this segment.
You can't talk about an EV's performance without referencing the nature of the power delivery. This has always been the EVs trump card, as it's so utterly different to a fossil-fueled car. There's no need to wait for the revs to climb or for a turbocharger to build boost. The power is just there immediately. No lag, only all the horses.
This makes it particularly good around town, as you never have to wonder whether you have enough surge in reserve to take a gap. The answer is always yes. Getting it to highway speed is equally amusing, although overtaking can become tricky at higher speeds. EVs generally don't like acceleration at high speeds due to the single gear setup. That's also why an EV is less efficient on the highway than in the city, which has always been the other way around for gas cars.
The Bolt has the kind of janky acceleration that will never grow old. Be warned, however. Launching away from every traffic light will result in the Bolt draining its battery much faster than Chevrolet claims.
The Bolt uses an electric motor mated to a single-speed automatic transmission and FWD. A 66 kWh lithium-ion battery powers this combo. Chevy claims 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, which puts it a step above the base Nissan Leaf but a step short of the top-spec's 214 bhp. The Hyundai Kona EV also beats it by a single horsepower. It is, however, more potent than the more expensive BMW i3.
As mentioned above, the acceleration from a standing start is decent, thanks to the instant torque delivery. The Bolt gets off the line quicker than both the Leaf and i3, while the Kona is a split-second faster to 60 mph. If performance is the primary consideration, it's worth noting that the Tesla Model 3 is in a class of its own with a claimed 0-60 mph time of 5.3 seconds.
The Chevy Bolt makes excellent use of the EV skateboard design. The battery is placed low down between the front and rear axle. Not only is this good for packaging and cooling, but it's also great for handling. This means the Bolt has a low center of gravity, resulting in minimal body roll through the corners. The tires struggle to keep up with the power, but that's just the result of fitting low-resistance eco tires to a powerful car. It's worth keeping this piece of information in mind when hooning it, as it will keep you from scraping the roof.
The steering is tuned specifically for city driving with a short turning circle that is perfect for getting into difficult parking spots and bombing around town. It maintains its composure at highway speeds, which it gets to quickly.
The brakes feel slightly unnatural, however. The regenerative braking system allows the driver to pull a paddle on the steering wheel to engage the system. This regenerative action is quite strong, and after you spend enough time with it, you'll hardly ever touch the brakes.
When it comes to range, the Chevrolet is one of the better cars in the segment. Chevrolet claims a range of 259 miles, which is just four miles less than the 2021 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus. It's worth mentioning that the Hyundai Kona also fares well here, only one mile down on the Bolt. The Chevy has an EPA rating of 127/108/118 mpg-equivalent city/highway/combined. That's a lot more frugal than the Leaf Plus' 114/94/104 MPGe. Charging it at home will take around 10 hours, but a fast-charging station can give 100 miles of range in 30 minutes.
The Bolt sits on the cheaper side of the EV spectrum, even though it is equipped with the latest infotainment system. It also supplies loads of space and practicality. The new Chevrolet Bolt EV may seem like a small car, but the Chevy engineers made the most out of the available space. A skateboard configuration allows you to get quite creative when it comes to packaging, and the Bolt is a great example. It's only the quality of the interior that lets it down. There are quite a few places where you can see and feel the cheap plastic, which makes it feel cheap. We guess that sacrifices were necessary to save cash somewhere, and Chevy chose interior quality.
The Bolt is a five-seater, and it offers plenty of space up front and in the rear, something you'd never guess just by looking at it. You get 41.6 inches of legroom in the front, which is less than you get in the Leaf, but more than what's on offer in an i3. Oddly, the Bolt offers loads of space in the back. The 36.5 inches of legroom beats the Leaf's 33.5 and the BMW's 31.9. This is mightily impressive, especially since the Leaf is a bigger car in every other way.
The front seats are six-way manually-adjustable, but they don't offer as much support as we'd like, which can make a longer journey uncomfortable. It is a bit of an oversight since the Bolt can do relatively long distances before needing a recharge.
The quality of the interior is the most significant black mark on the Bolt's otherwise impressive resume. It's hard plastic everywhere you look and touch. The headliner looks like it won't last all that long, and there are buttons under the infotainment screen that serve no purpose. The base LT comes with Dark Galvanized Gray Cloth with Sky Cool Gray accents as standard. The Premier model upgrades to perforated leather upholstery in three color combinations. You can choose between a solid Dark Galvanized Gray interior or a mix of Dark Galvanized Gray and Sky Cool Gray.
When you open the trunk, you realize why the rear seats are so spacious. The trunk was made smaller to devote more space to the second row. The Bolt only supplies 16.9 cubic feet of space, which is small compared to its rivals. The Nissan Leaf boasts 23.6 cubic feet, while the Hyundai Kona takes second place with 19.2 cubic feet. The only competition the Bolt manages to best is the Tesla Model 3, which only has 12.3 cubic feet of space in the trunk plus another 2.7 cubic feet in the frunk. The Bolt's cargo capacity can be increased to 56.6 cubic feet, however, by lowering the rear seats.
The supersized interior means there are plenty of options when it comes to small-item storage. There are several storage spaces throughout the cabin for both big and small items. These include large door pockets with bottle holders, a small storage space for a phone underneath the center console, and another large open storage space underneath that for keys, handbags, or a copy of the latest book from your favorite self-help guru.
Even the base Bolt EV model boasts impressive specs. The standard luxuries include keyless entry with a push-button start, multifunction steering wheel, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, six-way manually adjustable front seats, automatic climate control, ambient lighting, and remote start functionality. The Premier model kicks it up a notch by adding heated front and rear seats, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and an available wireless charging surface.
In terms of safety, there's a rearview camera, a Teen Driver system, and stability control as standard on the LT on the safety side. The Premier adds lane change alert, blind-spot monitoring, and rear parking sensors. The optional safety kit includes automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and IntelliBeam automatic high beam assist, among others.
While interior quality may not be up to scratch, the Bolt makes up for it by offering a modern, digital cabin. There's an eight-inch color display in the instrument cluster and a large 10.2-inch touchscreen that serves as the infotainment system's primary interface. It comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming, Wi-Fi hotspot capability, and a trial SiriusXM subscription. A six-speaker setup is standard but the Premier trim gets the option of upgrading to a premium seven-speaker Bose sound system. The infotainment system is easy to use, and while navigation isn't offered as standard, the addition of full smartphone integration makes up for it.
The Bolt had one recall in 2019, which was part of a broader recall across the Chevrolet range. The reason was insufficient coating on the rear brake caliper pistons. The year 2020 wasn't kind to the Bolt, with three recalls in total. The first was for rear doors that may open while driving, while the second concerned the front left brake caliper that may fracture. The third recall was for incorrect bolts used to attach seat belts, and the fourth recall was issued for the high voltage battery that may catch fire. This recall was published in 2020, but only for Bolts built from 2017 to 2018, and specific 2019 models.
Chevrolet sells the Bolt with a three-year/36,000 basic warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty, and an eight-year/100,000-mile battery warranty.
The NHTSA's 2021 review of the Chevrolet Bolt EV saw the car earn a dazzling five out of five stars for overall safety. The Bolt also received a prestigious Top Safety Pick from the IIHS in 2019, but it's only applicable to models with the optional front crash prevention.
The standard safety kit across the line-up includes ten airbags. That's dual-front, front knee, side-impact front and rear, and side curtain airbags. The preventative features include a rearview camera, pedestrian safety signal, tire pressure monitoring, and stability control. The Premier has a more comprehensive safety suite, consisting of lane change alert, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear park assist, surround-view camera, and a teen driver system.
Two optional packages can further elevate safety with the addition of rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change alert with side blind zone alert, pedestrian monitoring, automatic high beams, and forward collision alert.
The Chevrolet Bolt is an excellent option in the EV segment for US shoppers, but the substandard interior drags it down. The Premier specification fixes this problem by adding leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. But you can't ignore that the base LT Bolt still offers a lot of car for the money. It has a brilliant infotainment system, and the digital cluster looks special. The abundance of space inside also makes it easier to forgive Chevrolet for the inferior quality plastics, even though it means you have to sacrifice some trunk space.
The Chevrolet is good in all the departments that matter. It has more range than every EV, except for the Tesla Model 3. That makes it an enjoyable, realistic alternative to the top-selling EV - perfect for those who want something that isn't a Tesla.
With an MSRP of $36,500, the entry-level Bolt LT is a bit on the expensive side. The price of the Premier Bolt EV is $41,700. On top of that, Chevrolet charges $995 for destination and handling fees. It's comfortably cheaper than the BMW i3, which it beats in every way, except for interior quality.
The Hyundai Kona, on the other hand, is a better car, and with a starting price of $37,390, it's no longer more expensive than the Bolt. The Nissan Leaf, which has a more upmarket interior and more safety features, starts at $40,470. It is worth keeping in mind that most states in the USA include certain cash incentives for purchasing eco-friendly vehicles.
The 2021 Bolt range comprises two trims: the entry-level LT and the top-spec Premier. Both are equipped with an electric motor and a 66 kWh battery. The power is sent to the front axle via a single-speed transmission.
Standard features across the two-model range include 17-inch wheels, keyless entry with push-button start, six-way manually adjustable seats, and ambient lighting. The real stars are the digital instrument cluster and 10.2-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and SiriusXM capabilities. The music is pumped to your ears via a six-speaker sound system.
Opt for the Premier trim, and you'll be getting a leather-clad steering wheel, leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, and a special setting for teen drivers. The latter is an excellent idea, given how quickly the Bolt is out of blocks.
The Bolt LT can be ordered with the Driver Confidence Package and Driver Confidence II packages. Both retail for $495 and add all of the primary driver assistance features like lane change alert with side blind zone alert, forward collision alert, and IntelliBeam lights, amongst other features. There's also a Comfort and Convenience package ($550), adding a hands-free power liftgate with a logo projector, heated driver and passenger seats, automatic heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The Premier only has two packages worth mentioning, mostly because many of the features discussed above are standard. You can add the Driver Confidence II package ($495) and the Infotainment Package ($595). The latter adds a Bose seven-speaker sound system with a subwoofer, wireless charging, and two USB charging-only ports.
The base LT's price is attractive, but we'd go for the Premier trim. There are a few reasons for this. As standard, it has full leather upholstery with heated seats and a leather steering wheel. It elevates the perceived quality of the interior quite a bit. Add the Infotainment and Driver Confidence II packages, and you have a car with all the necessary luxury and safety features, including pedestrian monitoring, automatic high beams, and forward collision alert.
The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt have a similar approach to EV motoring, though the Bolt is around $5,000 more expensive.
The Bolt is superior in several ways. First, there's its 259-mile range, which trumps the Leaf's 226 miles. The Chevy handles better thanks to a low center of gravity, and it has more luxury items as standard. The Leaf has a more upmarket interior, but the Bolt's interior is more modern in terms of features. It's also more fun to drive, but the Leaf offers more safety kit as standard.
The two are relatively evenly matched, but if you look at the things that matter to the average EV buyer, such as range and tech, the Bolt seems to be the batter choice.
The Prius is the original pumpkin patch kid, a poster child for greener living. Since it's a plug-in hybrid, it has the ultimate backup in case the battery runs dry, and it will do 50 mpg.
The Prius also represents a massive $12,000 saving over the price of a Bolt. But since it still uses gas, it kind of defeats the purpose.
The Bolt is one of those EVs that gets exceptionally close to offering the same experience as a fossil-fueled car. Not only does it have a 259-mile range, but fast-charging means you can top-up 100 miles in as little as 30 minutes.
The Bolt is also more modern, has better luxury and safety features, and is way cooler.
Hybrids were always meant to be a stepping stone toward full electrification - a sort of in-betweener until EVs finally got to a point where they offered a realistic range. That time is now, so the Bolt wins.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV: