THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Great all-electric range for the price; actually available, unlike low supply of many other BEVs; quiet yet hot hatch-baiting acceleration; long trips made easier with app; government rebate(s) help lower cost, as does cheaper electric fuel (yes still).
- What’s Bad: Higher trims poke into luxury car pricing; seats and interior still feel narrow; no native navi system or power tailgate; hard interior materials look less than premium.
In 2020 BC (before COVID-19), my main predicament before driving the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt over the border to just outside Detroit from GM Canada HQ in Oshawa was whether or not the car could be hyper-miled to coax out the entire 431 km trip, without having to stop for a quick charge.
Such simpler times…
While the border closed soon after, what made that ambitious road trip target even possible was that the 2020 Bolt now had enough range to attempt the four and a half hour-ish drive (in a gas car): 417 km officially, according to Canadian government figures. That number’s a notable increase from the 383 km worth of driving range previously available from the 60 kWh battery in earlier Bolts, which have been upgraded with a larger 66 kWh battery for the 2020 model year.
It also makes this Bolt the longest-range EV that starts at less than $50,000. Perhaps even more impressively, the Bolt has more official range than much pricier luxury EVs such as the lovely Jaguar i-Pace, the Audi e-Tron and the six-figure Porsche Taycan. Even with our fully loaded Premier model’s as-tested price tipping just over the $50k mark, before government incentives, the Bolt has a powertrain worthy of a much pricier EV, as it’s just as quiet as those above, and even about as quick as the Audi SUV.
Unfortunately, the Chevy Bolt doesn’t look like a $50k car, its tall-ish but small and narrow body garnering a “Small Wagon” EPA body style designation. That’s the same government designation given to the Chevrolet Sonic five-door, a compact hatchback still sold in the U.S. though discontinued after 2018 here, and also built at the same Orion, Michigan plant as the Bolt. It’s an attractive overall vehicle, perhaps one of the best-looking of the mainstream EV bunch. The Bolt just seems pricy for a small hatchback, which is likely why GM still half-heartedly tries to pitch it as a small crossover, despite its lack of ground clearance and front-wheel drive-only powertrain.
It’s a similar value versus expectation battle inside, with plenty of standard goodies and displays that impress with Futurama appeal, but also some notable features missing and lowball interior finishes. All Bolts come with niceties such as a heated steering wheel, DC quick charging capability (a $750 option in the U.S.), a remote start system, heated front seats, and 4G LTE WiFi, which requires a subscription through the also standard OnStar system after a few months of free trial.
Our top-line Premier model added a high-end rearview mirror that uses a wide-angle rear camera to provide a view unencumbered by rear passengers, headrests or cargo, rear heated seats, 360-degree camera views, wireless cellphone charging, blind spot warning system, and two rear USB outlets to go with the two upfront, for plenty of device-charging options.
But sadly evidence of cost-cutting abounds as well. The shiny plastic surfaces all over the dash are the first noticeable ones upon opening the front door, while narrow passenger seats can become uncomfortable for all but the thinnest of posteriors after a few hours behind the wheel. Wave your foot under the rear bumper or check your fob as much as you’d like, but you won’t find a powered tailgate here. There’s no native GPS system either, so if you forget your USB cables for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto you’ll have no access to a navi system on this $52,993 car.
Mind you, the federal EV rebate will reduce this price by $5,000, plus BC and Quebec residents can also receive further provincial discounts of $3,000 and $8,000, respectively. With a total of up to $13k worth of government discounts, the missing features may not be as glaring in the province of Quebec, but elsewhere, the value equation here is not quite as strong.
That said, running the Bolt still costs significantly less than any gas or diesel-powered car (yes, even with record-low inflation-adjusted gas or diesel prices), and yes, in all provinces, according to Natural Resources Canada’s handy annual fuel consumption calculator. This was using an average gas price of roughly 75 cents for a litre of fuel, which is actually lower than the 82.7 average listed this week for Ontario on gasbuddy.com, and $0.14/kWh, which is also more than the current off-peak price per kilowatt-hour in this province.
Fueling costs get much closer during road trips such as the one I took, where drivers depend on quick chargers such as the one at Petro-Canada near London where I stopped for about an hour. It cost me roughly $20 for 31.7 kWh of energy on the SAE Combo charger, good for roughly 160 km of highway driving with temps at about 5 degrees.
I had rolled in there with a 40% charge, and left with 86%, and though the Bolt hasn’t upgraded its fairly basic 55 kW maximum charging speed since it debuted, it would have completed its charging quicker if I had needed to replenish more of the “bottom half” of the battery versus the top half. All EVs slow down quick charging rates to different degrees when over 70% charged to protect the battery, and at roughly $0.33/minute to charge, vehicles with the ability to quick charge at 100 kW to 350 kW have an advantage here.
On my adventure to the U.S., I had planned to take the quicker Highway 402 route through Sarnia and Port Huron, which is closer than going through the Windsor tunnel to Warren. But after that London Petro-Canada, there’s a relative desert of quick chargers into Warren, and with no overnight level two (L2, or 240-volt) charging at the hotel, I decided to take the 20 minute detour for the more plentiful chargers in and around Detroit proper. Although I drove carefully, my real-world range in low single digit temperatures and foggy conditions was closer to 300 km at highway speeds.
For a distance of 431 km in total from Oshawa to Warren Michigan, I knew I’d have to stop at least once at a quick charger along the way, but figured a quick top up could get me to the hotel with no drama, and it did.
Many owners have reported real-world range that exceeded its official ratings, mostly on temperate days or climates with no heat or A/C required, and there’s even a gauge inside that tells the driver what the best-case and worst-case scenarios are when it comes to range, along with the main Guess-o-meter – or GOM, in EV owner parlance.
It typically uses the efficiency numbers from recent driving to generate educated guesses at how far you’ll be able to travel on your current state of charge, but as the guess-o-meter term suggests, you may not want to take the initial GOM reading as gospel, though these numbers do tend to become much more accurate as your charge falls below 50%.
Even in ideal conditions, this drive would have been tough if not impossible on a single charge in the Bolt, so the quick charger at almost exactly the mid-way point of the drive was a godsend and one that allowed for a quick bite while the car was charging. It would have been even smoother on the way back – going through Sarnia and along the 402 this time – had the MyEV Route quick charger at a Tim’s in Sarnia actually worked, which it didn’t, making me very glad I hadn’t depended on it on the way there.
All told, the entire trip down there took roughly two hours more than a gas car would, though I could have easily slimmed that down to 45 minutes by using the myChevrolet app, which I downloaded and used on the return trip home. Its ability to calculate distances and charge needed to the next quick charger would have sped up the process.
It was an eye-opening demonstration of how much easier it is to travel longer distances now than when mainstream EVs started arriving back in 2011, when we as a family bought a 2012 Nissan Leaf. Back then, we didn’t dare drive the 120 km to a family member’s cottage, even in the summer. With the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt’s official 417 km range, and the rapidly evolving networks of increasingly speedy quick chargers in and around Ontario and the country, there are fewer compromises with full battery electric vehicles than ever before.
Personally, having seen and experienced the better seats, upgraded interior materials and native GPS planned for the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt coming next year, I may be tempted to wait for the next Bolt or even the longer Bolt EUV that adds a sunroof and three extra inches of room for rear seat passengers. Both are planned to arrive around the same time during the summer of 2021.
But in the overall pantheon of mainstream EVs, the Bolt now is a serious player, whose higher production numbers mean that unlike many of its rivals, prospective buyers don’t need to wait months or years to take delivery. Higher numbers also mean more emissions-producing vehicles off the road, at a time when more attention than ever is being paid to staying healthy, and avoiding respiratory issues.