LAS VEGAS -- Until now, the only way you’d be able to go more than a hundred or so miles in an electric car was in a Tesla, whether it was a dual-motor Tesla Model S or their original Tesla Roadster. And those are fine cars, if you're wealthy. But for the majority of car buyers, the cheapest Tesla ($70,000 base Model S) is out of reach. Enter the Chevrolet Bolt, a $30,000 electric family car with a promised 200 mile range.
Chevrolet let journalists have a crack behind the wheel at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, so naturally I had to get my name on the list. The Bolt may be a family hatch/crossover, but the instant torque of electric motors can make even family haulers entertaining.
It’s sort of interesting to look at, too. Though the cars on hand were pre-production engineering mules (“about 80% of the way there,” according to PR representative) and had some ugly, camoflauging head and taillight trim, the overall look is cute. It’s small and spunky, with definite cues from some recent GM products like the Sonic and Spark. The rear window section is eerily similar to the BMW i3 , but that’s not a bad thing. Mostly, the Bolt is inoffensive. I doubt it’ll be as polarizing as the i3 or even the Nissan Leaf, but it’s meant to be a volume seller and mass appeal is what GM needs to aim for.
The interior has a collection of LCD screens and a center stack dominated by an infotainment unit, but nearly everything on the pre-production model was hidden behind makeshift cloth coverings. What was accessible felt surprisingly well-put together, even if the seats were a bit soft for my liking. The seating position is pretty high -- about as high as Chevrolet’s compact crossover, “Trax” -- but for the most part, visibility is great. It’s a bit difficult to judge the dimensions of the car when you’re driving, but that’s par for the course when it comes to crossovers.
So, what’s it like to actually drive the Bolt? Believe it or not, the Bolt is actually sort of fun.
It handles its tall frame extremely well. The Bolt doesn’t look like much, but thanks to the low-down placement of the batteries, it’s got a rather low center of gravity. Sure, the steering is super light and not the most communicative, but the Bolt handled itself quite competently around Chevrolet’s impromptu test track. The suspension is soft and the eco tires squealed easily, but with a proper set of rubber I’d bet the Bolt would be a force to be reckoned with at your local autocross meet.
A lot of that is down to the power. It’s not as light or eager as the i3, but the Bolt is quicker than you might expect. Sprints to sixty mph are expected to take seven seconds, which won’t set your hair on fire, but it’s faster than most econoboxes these days. In that space, it’s actually not much slower (in a straight line) than the raucous Ford Fiesta ST . And as an electric car, the Bolt’s torque is instant.
So far so good for the Bolt. How it performs in the real world remains to be seen, but this is a good sign.
It’s a solid benchmark. If it’s still fun in the real world and can hit its advertised range, the upcoming Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model III will have a legitimate challenger from General Motors.