by Deiondre van der Merwe
While Tesla may have laid claim to creating the world's first mass-accessible electric car with the Model 3, the Chevrolet Bolt managed to land the first punch, providing a genuine circa-$35,000 electric car with a usable range and a high level of features. In the three years since it debuted, the Bolt has grown from strength to strength, now boasting a 259-mile range, and still proudly upholding high levels of safety and convenience, as well as enticing driving dynamics. But, as the world rapidly surges towards fast-charging and regenerative braking as the primary means of refueling, competitors are quickly emerging. While the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 might not be at the same level as the Bolt, the Hyundai Kona Electric makes a strong case for itself as well. Some say plug-in hybrids are stepping stones to an all-electric future, but the Chevrolet Bolt says the future's already here.
Silently entering 2020, the Bolt arrives with subtle, but meaningful, changes. The electrical range has increased by 21 miles to a total of 259 miles on a full charge - a single mile more than the Hyundai Kona Electric. Two new exterior colors have been added as options and both the standard rearview and optional surround-view cameras have been upgraded with higher definition cameras for extra clarity.
The Bolt's main focus isn't on being the best looking car in the segment, but rather on practicality, so it comes as no surprise that the EV is no beauty knockout. Nevertheless, the Bolt manages a modern and unique look with HID headlights with LED daytime running lights and the taillights boast LED treatment, too. Both trims ride on 17-inch alloy wheels, but the higher-spec Premier trim gets an Ultra-Bright machined aluminum finish with painted pockets. It also gets the chrome treatment with strips on the door handles and a set of roof-mounted side rails. Both feature black wing mirrors, but the Premier gets integrated turn signals.
The Chevrolet Bolt is smaller than both the Nissan Leaf and the Toyota Prius and has a length of 164 inches with a short wheelbase of only 102.4 inches. A height of 62.8 inches and a width of 69.5 inches gives the Bolt an upright stance, similar to that of the Chevrolet Spark. The Bolt carries a curb weight of 3,563 pounds, making it on par with the Nissan Leaf.
A nine-color palette is offered by Chevrolet for the Bolt, though the LT trim gets access to only eight of them. The base-level gets access to five no cost hues, the most adventurous being Oasis Blue, a new addition for 2020. Three metallic hues include Mosaic Black, Nightfall Gray, and Slate Gray and the standard range is ended off for the LT with Summit White. The Premier trim gets access to Silver Ice metallic as a standard option, but both trims get access to the same three optional colors at an additional cost of $395. The two metallic hues are Kinetic Blue and Cayenne Orange - the latter also new for 2020 - and Cajun Red Tintcoat rounds off the optional color range.
The electric motor found in the Bolt is perfectly coupled with a single-speed automatic transmission and the pairing gets Chevy from 0-60 mph in a zippy 6.5 seconds, leaving many a budget electric car in the dust and providing a firm level of competition for the Hyundai Kona EV. The Bolt comes with front-wheel drive as standard, mimicking the standard for EVs at this level. Always a strong point for electric motors, an instant response is offered when your foot touches the pedal, and lag isn't in the Bolt's dictionary. This means that you'll have a grand old time in traffic and passing other cars and shunting up to highway speeds, although once at that point, overtaking is a little tricky - electric cars don't like rolling acceleration from higher speeds. This does come at a price, though, and you'll need to refrain from launching the Bolt at every given opportunity if you want to hang on to battery life, as pushing the little doodad too far will drain resources at a quicker pace than what you'd like.
A healthy marriage of a peppy electric motor to a single-speed automatic transmission means that the Chevy slams out 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, outshining the Nissan Leaf at a base level but falling shy of the top-of-the-range Leaf's 214 hp. The BMW i3's power outputs are also outshined by the Bolt at 170 hp and 184 lb-ft, and the BMW comes with a much heavier price tag. The electric motor is powered by a 66 kWh battery pack.
With it being electric, the motor doesn't deliver any unpleasant noise into the cabin, and accelerating from a standstill is a dream thanks to generous torque instantly on tap. The Bolt gets going easier than the Nissan Leaf or the BMW i3 and provides smooth power but if you're looking for an electric model with some extra power, the Tesla Model 3 beats most rivals. However, we can't fault the way the Bolt delivers its performance, only lamenting the slight asthmatic nature at highway speeds that afflicts most EVs.
The Chevy Bolt does a great job of challenging the norms associated with electric vehicles and offers admirable handling for the segment. Clever placement of the battery pack allows for a low center of gravity and weight located between the axles, which mitigates a lot of body roll when you're taking the Bolt in and out of bends. But tire grip isn't an obvious strong point for the EV, which means you'll need to exercise some willpower and not take advantage of the instantaneous power it offers in a turn if you want to keep it in one piece.
Steering is responsive and the little EV boasts a neat turning circle, giving it some great maneuverability, even if it feels a little simulated. As for comfort, the Bolt doesn't disappoint and maintains composure over all kinds of lumps and bumps when driving in the city. It maintains the same confidence on the highway, and the Chevy is unlikely to disappoint when it comes down to ride quality. Perhaps its only downfall would be the slightly unnatural feel of the brakes. You have the option of driving almost entirely without the brakes thanks to the regenerative action of the electric motor. This is aided even further by a paddle that allows the driver to control regeneration levels at will.
The Chevrolet Bolt is a segment front-runner when it comes to its range, and offers impressive figures. According to Chevrolet, the Bolt will manage 259 miles on a full charge which is 21 miles more than it was able to accomplish last year, thanks to some alterations to the battery pack and a single mile further than the Kona Electric. The EV manages EPA estimates figures of 127/108/118 MPGe city/highway/combined. It also manages to be superior to the Nissan Leaf Plus and the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus. You'll need about ten hours for a full charge if you're using a 240-volt home charger, and a DC fast charging station will take 30 minutes to generate 100 miles of range.
The Bolt might have a heavier price tag than some rivals, but the EV makes up for it by offering a fully digital and modern infotainment system made up of large screens. It's a shame that quite a few discounted materials are present in the interior, but we're guessing that's due to a whole lot of expensive electrical components soaking up the budget. What's truly impressive for the EV is its generous space offering for its size, and the inside of the Chevy as a whole is attractive and well put together. The hatchback design also aids practicality, with the standard trunk providing a generous amount of space for the Bolt's size. However, the Bolt is smaller than many rivals, and there will always be concessions made as a result.
Classified as a five-seater, the Bolt offers a considerable amount of space in the front and the rear, especially for its size. The front of the EV offers 41.6 inches of legroom, which is only slightly smaller than the Nissan Leaf, but bigger than the BMW i3 and will fit tall adults adequately. What's interesting about the Bolt is that it offers more legroom in the rear (36.5 inches) than both the Nissan Leaf (33.5) and the BMW i3 (31.9), even though the Nissan is bigger. Six-way manually-adjustable front seats allow for enough adjustment and visibility, but the seats themselves don't provide much support and bolstering, which can make the Bolt uncomfortable over slightly longer commutes.
The Bolt, unfortunately, makes use of quite a few cheap materials. Hard-touch plastics can be found pretty much anywhere you look, even on the top Premier trim. The headliner has a papery feel and doesn't seem like it would hold up in the longer run, and there are buttons under the central infotainment screen that aren't used for anything other than to fill up space. For the base-level LT, Dark Galvanized Gray Cloth with Sky Cool Gray accents is standard, while the Premier upgrades to perforated leather upholstery available in three color combinations. You can opt for the same Dark Galvanized Gray with Sky Cool Gray accents, or you can select between Ceramic White with Ash Gray accents and a solid Dark Galvanized Gray interior.
A category that the Bolt does not perform well in would be its trunk space, and it falls behind almost all of its rivals. The Chevy offers 16.9 cubic feet of storage real estate while the Nissan Leaf annihilates it with 23.6 cubes on offer. The only rival that falls behind it is the Tesla Model 3 with 15 cubic feet. The Bolt's trunk will fare adequately for a week's worth of grocery shopping and a gym bag or two, but nothing more. The rear seats can be folded (a 60/40 split), and when they are, the Bolt's 56.6 cubic feet is home to enough cargo space for several full-sized suitcases.
The EV does make up for the lack of standard cargo space through its generous in-cabin storage, though, and offers plenty of nooks and crannies for small-item storage including deep door pockets and multiple cupholders, with the Premier adding two in the rear armrest.
The Bolt does relatively well with its standard features for the segment, even at its base level. Standard indulgences are inclusive of keyless entry, push-button start, a multifunction steering wheel (also tilt and telescopic), six-way manually-adjustable front seats, and automatic climate control. Ambient lighting and a Wi-Fi hotspot are also on the standard features for the LT. The Premier trim level adds heated front seats, a heated leather-clad steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and makes wireless charging available. Standard safety features on the LT include a rearview camera, Teen Driver setting, and electronic stability control. The Premier adds a few standard safety features in the ways of lane change alert, blind-spot monitoring, and rear parking sensors, while optional on both trims is automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and IntelliBeam automatic high beam assist.
One of the things the Bolt is best at is its generous load of standard tech. The cabin has a fully digital feel thanks to an eight-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.2-inch touchscreen that serves as the central infotainment hub. The EV enables Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as Bluetooth streaming and SiriusXM. At a base level, the Bolt has a six-speaker sound system, but the Premium trim level makes a premium seven-speaker Bose sound system available. On the whole, the system is easy to use, and while there isn't native navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto more than make up for this shortcoming.
The 2020 Chevrolet Bolt hasn't been the victim of any recalls as yet, but the 2019 model ran into some trouble and got recalled for an insufficient coating on its rear brake caliper pistons - part of a broader Chevrolet recall involving 210,628 vehicles. Chevrolet offers a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance program. The drivetrain warranty is valid for five years/60,000 miles, and the battery has an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty in most states (California requires a ten-year/150,000-mile warranty).
The Chevrolet Bolt has earned a five out of five overall safety rating from the NHTSA and the 2019 Bolt managed to bag a prestigious Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS. Given that the 2020 model is mostly unchanged, we're going to assume this year's model is just as safe.
Standard safety features on the LT trim level are inclusive of a ten-airbag system that includes dual frontal, dual front knee, side-impact for all outboard seats, and side curtain airbags. Tech features include a rearview camera, pedestrian safety signal, tire pressure monitoring, and electronic stability control. The Premier trim adds lane change alert, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, rear park assist, a surround-view camera, and a teen driver system. Optionally available for the LT, the Driver Confidence package adds rear cross-traffic alert and lane change alert with blind-spot monitoring, while the Driver Confidence II package adds pedestrian monitoring and automatic high beams. The Driver Confidence II Package is also optional on the Premier.
The Chevrolet Bolt is a great choice if you're shopping for an EV, though we aren't huge fans of its base level trim. Opting for the higher trim level welcomes leather upholstery, a significant number of extra safety features, and additional features like heated seats. Still, at a base level, the Bolt offers an excellent infotainment system and a fully digital cabin, though the interior is somewhat let down by Chevrolet's overly-liberal use of cheap, hard plastics for the dash and the doors. The interior is saved by the abundance of space that the Bolt offers, though it has a small trunk that is outshined by almost all of its rivals. The Chevy shines where it matters and offers more range on a full charge than many of its rivals, even ones that come at a higher price. Tesla might be the hot name on everyone's lips, but the sensible money in the affordable EV game has to go the way of the Bolt.
The base-level Bolt has a starting price that is higher than certain rivals at $36,620 and is considerably more expensive than the Nissan Leaf at base level. An entry-level Nissan Leaf has an MSRP of $31,600, while the BMW i3 is vastly more expensive with a starting MSRP of $44,450, which is even more costly than the top-level Bolt Premier trim that starts at $41,020. A destination and handling fee of $875 is applicable to your purchase of a Chevrolet Bolt. An $8,500 cash incentive is standard from Chevrolet, and the EV enjoys some state-specific incentives like HOV lane use.
Two trim levels make up the Chevrolet Bolt range. The entry-level model being the LT, and the range-topper dubbed the Premier. An electric motor with a 66-kilowatt-hour battery is mated to a single-speed gearbox, with the combination powering the front wheels
Standard LED lighting and 17-inch wheels give the outside a modern look, while the inside sees keyless entry, push-button start, six-way manually adjustable front seats and ambient lighting. A strong point for the Bolt is its great standard tech, and the cabin's digital feel is attributable to the 10.2-inch touchscreen and an eight-inch digital instrument cluster. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard features and Bluetooth streaming is added to the list along with SiriusXM. A six-speaker sound system is responsible for pushing audio out. Standard safety features at base level are inclusive of a rearview camera, electronic stability control and a setting for teen drivers that allows safety settings to be configured for new drivers.
The Premier trim level adds to the list with a leather-clad steering wheel and heated leather-upholstered front seats. It also adds lane change alert and blind-spot monitoring, and makes available a plethora of additional options.
Chevrolet makes more packages available for the LT than for the Premier, mostly because the Premier comes with many of these extra features as standard. For the base-level trim, the Comfort and Convenience package adds an auto-dimming mirror, heated front seats and a leather-clad heated steering wheel for $555. The Driver Confidence Package costs $495 and adds rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert and lane change alert with blind-spot monitoring. The Driver Confidence II Package is available on both trims, requiring the base Driver Confidence Package, and adds forward collision alert, lane keep assist, pedestrian monitoring and automatic high beams for a fee of $495. For the Premier, the Infotainment Package costs $595 and adds wireless charging, a premium seven-speaker Bose sound system and two charge-only USB ports.
We'd recommend opting for the Premier trim and adding the Infotainment and Driver Confidence II packages for a full-house EV with leather upholstery and heated seats, along with the upgraded seven-speaker sound system and wireless charging. A huge bump up in safety features would be the main reason to opt for this model, as it gets the Driver Confidence Package as standard, and allows for the further addition of the Driver Confidence II package. It then boasts safety features inclusive of blind-spot monitoring, lane change alert, pedestrian monitoring, automatic high beams, and forward collision alert, as well as automatic high beams.
The Chevrolet is about $5,000 more expensive than the Nissan Leaf in base form, but offers vastly more range thanks to an upgraded battery enabling a 259-mile range compared to the maximum 226-mile range in the Leaf Plus. Also superior is the Bolt's handling capabilities thanks to some smart battery pack positioning aiding a lower center of gravity, and its standard features suite is generous. The Leaf offers an interior with more premium-looking materials, but lacks the fully digital feel of the Bolt's cabin. What the Leaf offers is a budget-friendly purchase and a quick recharge (though it's still slower than the Bolt), but its limited range and cramped rear seats might be an issue if you're prone to taking long road trips. It also lacks the handling abilities and engaging drive offered by the Bolt. More power is offered by the Bolt, and though the Nissan Leaf is a good entry-level EV, the Chevy is the better buy with more standard tech and range on offer.
The Prius has been the posterchild of electrification for years now, a hybrid stepping stone on the way to full electrification. It's an incredibly appealing option, too with upwards of 50 mpg available and no need to recharge for hours at a time. But it still burns gasoline, which is a big no-no for those serious about EV ownership. The Bolt manages 259 miles on electric power alone, and thanks to fast-charging, 100 miles of range can be recouped in as little as 30 minutes. But the Prius saves you $12,000 in base form, and has a generous trunk and higher quality materials than the Bolt. However, the Chevrolet is entertaining to drive, packs in loads of features, and has better infotainment. There are now better hybrid vehicles around than the Prius, but at its price point, the Bolt reigns supreme in the affordable EV stakes. The time for stepping stones is long gone, you should get the Bolt.
Check out some informative Chevrolet Bolt EV video reviews below.