On July 24, 2003, a procession of General Motors EV1s followed a white hearse circling the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles to the sound of bagpipes. This symbolic gesture protested the looming fate of the 1,100-odd EV1 electric vehicles produced following the end of their leases: death by crushing. Owners were understandably upset. “The EV1 is more than a car, it’s a path to national salvation,” wrote one owner to GM’s then-CEO Rick Wagoner.
Critics argued GM killed the car because it threatened the livelihood of both the auto and oil industries. GM argued the EV1 simply wasn’t viable. Lease rates were based on a starting price of $33,995 (about $52,000 today) but each cost $250,000 to make. Range was poor — around 70 to 100 miles. The strange-looking two-seater only worked for California nerds with cash, like Ed Begley Jr., Tom Hanks and, uh, Danny DeVito.
Torque: 266 lb-ft
Range: 238 miles
Battery Pack: 60 kWh
0-60mph: 6.5 seconds
MSRP: $37,495+ (w/o tax credit)
Perhaps it’s ironic, then, that 20-some years since the EV1 debuted, the Chevy Bolt is poised to lead the EV revolution. In the interim, Tesla did a fine job of popularizing the concept, but only as a luxury car for techies with cash to spend. And while Tesla promises to someday grace us with the $35,000 Model 3, it’s Chevy that has an electric car that you, an everyday consumer, can actually buy right now. Welcome to the future.
By now you’ve probably seen the numbers: an estimated 238 miles on one charge and a starting price under $30,000 — with a $7,500 government rebate. That puts it squarely in average car buyer territory. But let’s ignore the fact that the car is electrified and see what you get for 30 large.
There’s a massive 10.4-inch infotainment system that is easy to use, with legible and aesthetically pleasing graphics in mind. This is great, because most infotainment systems are garbage — there’s no reason a car sold in 2017 should have the dingy look and feel of a first-generation Zune. Further, a secondary 8-inch display in place of the traditional gauge cluster gives you all the info you need on the move: speed, range, trip data and battery usage.
Unfortunately, the Bolt’s cockpit falls victim to GM’s propensity for lackluster interiors. The janky composite material on the dash feels cheap, there’s a gap between the dash and door card that’s almost wide enough to safely close your hand on (please don’t do that) and the seats are nearly too narrow to accommodate the modern American’s robust dimensions. I will, however, give GM leeway here — making a viable EV today necessitates lightening the load and saving money where possible.
I got over the interior quality, though, because the inherent benefit of EV packaging means it’s deceptively big and roomy inside. The cabin itself is tall and airy, with tons of legroom front and rear. The cargo area is also deep for a car about the size of a Honda Fit, big enough to swallow about four duffel bags. For city-dwelling families and admirers of usable space, it’s a huge plus. The driving position is also tall and “commanding” and crossover-like, something I’m told normal people want. Coincidentally, the Bolt is being marketed as a crossover. Nothing else is crossover-ish about it. (Good.)
That includes its driving characteristics. Think more hot hatchback. The low center of gravity (thanks to battery placement) means it’s planted in the corners. Power delivery is smooth and immediate and there’s even a “Sport” button. (Yes, really. Think of it as an everyman’s Ludicrous Mode.) This gives you all the torque at once. Hammer the accelerator and you’ll be pinned back into your (too narrow) seat, a sensation accompanied by the sound of tires chirping then eerie silence. Ultimately this is a stupid endeavor as it causes the range display to drop visibly like the NASDAQ on a bad day.
Power delivery is smooth and immediate and there’s even a “Sport” button. (Yes, really.) This gives you all the torque at once.
But put it into “Low” mode, and the car aggressively triggers its regenerative braking abilities, prolonging range. This effectively allows you to bring the car to a complete stop by just taking your foot off the accelerator while putting more power back into the battery pack. You can further exaggerate this with a paddle mounted behind the wheel that, when pulled, enacts more aggressive braking and regeneration. It’s surprisingly fun. In corners this allows you to find the right entry speed quickly, only using your hands and the accelerator while maximizing range. Finding this balance is addictive and almost video game–esque.
So, go figure, the Bolt is a promising car for both driving enthusiasts and city-dwelling families and commuters. It’s a far cry from the EV1 that was the object of affection for eco-minded electric car enthusiasts, which fulfilled nothing more than a niche automotive fetish. That said, EV fans are going to love the Bolt too, because at its core it’s a damn fine electric car. It’s not destined for the crusher and annals of obscure auto history like the EV1. The electric car for everyone is finally here.