My 24 Hour Test Drive With The Brand New Chevy Bolt EV: Tesla Range At Half The Price

Orinda parking lotSunday through Monday, I had the opportunity to do an extended test drive with Chevy’s new long-range Bolt EV.  I received no money or other compensation from GM to do so, but I simply asked someone I knew at GM if I could take a spin.  And I figured it was worth blogging about for those interested in getting a Bolt or an EV in general.

In short, this is an excellent vehicle that will greatly expand the market for EVs.  It’s got the range of a Tesla (238 rated miles per charge) at half the price (about $30,000 or less after federal and state incentives) and enough cool features to make the car feel like a technological innovator and not just an EV “check box” from a disinterested automaker.

I’ve driven a Tesla Model S and Roadster, Chevy Volt, BMW i3, Fiat EV, and Mercedes B Class, and my regular vehicle (when I’m not taking transit) is a Nissan LEAF.  So I know EVs fairly well.  The Bolt stacks up solidly or better against all of them, with all the benefits of a smooth, quiet and fast electric drive.

The highlights:

  • chargingRange: it’s a joy having 238 miles in a 60 kwh battery.  The psychological relief is palpable.  I didn’t feel I even needed to check the available miles most of the time, and it was amazing to think I could relatively easily drive to the mountains or even Southern California from the Bay Area in the vehicle with just a charge or two along the way.  It’s by far the biggest selling point and will make the car a viable everyday option for most drivers.
  • The “L” mode regenerative braking: most EVs have regenerative braking, which repowers the battery a bit from the energy taken from slowing down the car.  The Bolt takes that to another level, as taking your foot off the accelerator can quickly bring the car to a dead stop without needing to brake.  Not only does that save battery energy, it actually makes driving easier as you don’t need to switch your foot pedals very often.
  • On board display2On-board electronics: the car seems pretty high-tech, from my limited perspective.  It features a pretty big touch screen, wi-fi in the vehicle, and plenty of info about energy usage, plus smart phone enabled communications and mapping that can be voice-activated through Siri.  It basically functions as an extension of your phone.
  • Roomy interior: even though the car is relatively short in length, the interior feels roomy and spacious.  I like the thin seats they chose, which are comfortable but leave room in the back.
  • InteriorSafety features and sensors: the side-view cameras light up when cars are in your blind spots, and the rear video display sends a warning when you’re backing up and a car is passing by.  Those features can save you some major hassles from avoided collisions.


  • Aesthetics: for those looking for a sporty exterior, this ain’t your car.  It’s definitely a Chevy in the non-corvette mode.  It’s not an ugly car, but it’s not going to turn heads like a Tesla might.
  • Self-driving features lacking: I liked the sensors and safety aspects, but this car won’t park itself or do other snazzy things that you might get from higher-end models.
  • Orinda rear parkNot a huge trunk: you probably can’t drive around much more than a few suitcases in the trunk.  It’s not a tiny space, just not a large one either.
  • Lack of display on battery percentage remaining: in my Nissan LEAF, I judge my range by the percentage of battery remaining, rather than the car’s estimated miles that I could still drive.  That estimate can be wildly imprecise, depending on my speed and elevation gain, among other factors.  I searched but couldn’t find a comparable percentage graphic on the Bolt display, just a visual representation of how much charge remained, which was less helpful.

Overall, given the price and all the benefits you get, this car is a great deal.  I think most consumers will see it that way.  It firmly leaves cars like the Nissan LEAF and BMW i3 in the dust.

Sure, you can spend an additional $10,000 or so and get a sporty Tesla Model 3 later this year or early next year.  But in the meantime, for the budget and the quality, the Chevy Bolt is a true game-changing next generation electric vehicle.


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