We’ve seen and heard plenty about the all-new 2017 Chevrolet Bolt during the past year. And there’s no doubt that with its class-dominating 238-mile EPA per-charge range and a price of entry that flirts with $30,000 after the federal income tax rebate, this compact crossover-style wagon makes a stunningly impressive case for itself on paper. But it wasn’t until we finally managed to slip behind the wheel of GM’s groundbreaking EV that its real-world potential became much clearer.

Our modest but illuminating drive around the San Francisco Bay area encompassed a full range of running: city streets, interstate highways and rural twisty two-lane time along with a healthy dollop of uphill/downhill work thrown in for good measure. In the end, the Bolt EV took it all in stride. And with a generous selection of standard/available premium features and driver assists in both the base LT and the up-line Premier version we drove, this new Chevy makes a surprisingly solid case for consideration – even by people who aren’t currently EV aficionados. 

Revolutionary thinking, remarkable execution

Although not the automaker’s first all-electric model, the Bolt EV is the first to be conceived and built from the ground up as an affordable, mass-producible example. As such, the entire design was optimized for style, packaging, efficiency and dynamics. Making extensive use of high-strength steel, the Bolt EV’s dedicated platform architecture is extremely rigid, helped in no small part by the structure surrounding the huge 60-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that occupies the space beneath its entire floor area.

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Created with LG and using a new nickel-rich chemistry with active thermal conditioning, the pack matches outstanding energy density with exceptional operating consistency regardless of ambient climate conditions. And the low, flat configuration keeps its considerable mass concentrated close to the ground and between the axles which aids handling and opens up more cabin space. While 110V charging is possible for the extremely patient, the recommended replenishment route is via a 240V home charger -- $699 from AeroVironment – that can top things off in about nine hours. Using the DC Fast Charging capability available as an option, up to 90 miles of range can be fed back in roughly 30 minutes.

Quick, efficient and fun 

The Bolt EV’s high-capacity battery energizes a compact electric motor that makes 200 horsepower and a stout 266 lb-ft of torque. Driving the front wheels through a single-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission, it gives this 3,580-pound 5-door hatch delightfully smooth, quick acceleration with the 0-60 mph sprint taking less than 7.0 seconds. That sets it ahead of many gasoline-powered rivals and lets Chevy’s ultra-green crusader easily cope with virtually any traffic condition -- including sustained grades and full passenger loads.

The Bolt EV can be operated in Drive or toggled into a more-efficient Low setting. The latter amps up the regenerative braking in a commendably non-intrusive manner and can bring the car to a full stop in many cases simply by lifting off the accelerator. Either mode can be further augmented by a pull-and-hold regen-on-demand paddle located on the back of the left-side steering wheel spoke. Best of all, both of these range-extending adjuncts proved far easier to learn and to live with than we’d originally anticipated. A good thing too, as the soft-ish pedal on the Bolt EV’s conventional ABS brakes is one thing we think could use a bit of tweaking.

With its low center of gravity, decent feeling variable-assist electric power steering, a 56/44 weight bias, StabiliTrak traction/stability control and nicely sorted MacPherson Strut front/torsion-beam rear suspension, the Bolt EV has decidedly sporty but civilized handling dynamics. Body roll is well controlled with the fun factor here largely limited by the modest grip of its self-sealing 215/50 Michelin Energy Saver tires that wrap around standard 17-inch alloy wheels.

Eminently accommodating

Beneath its stylishly sleek exterior, the Bolt EV’s well-isolated cabin has a genuinely contemporary appearance. While a variety of hard plastic elements dominate the dash area, the dedicated instrument display and a large 10.2-inch central touchscreen look sharp and provide a wide range of conventional as well as the requisite EV-specific info on demand. Like its Bowtie siblings, the Bolt EV features Chevy MyLink Radio with support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus OnStar 4GLTE with a Wi-Fi hotspot that includes a 3-month/3GB complimentary subscription. Although built-in navigation is confined to OnStar Turn-by-Turn, the standard 6-speaker stereo can be upgraded to a Bose sound system on the Premier as part of the Infotainment Package that also includes wireless charging up front and dual rear USB charging ports.

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Despite its relatively compact footprint, the Bolt EV makes the most of its available interior space in both rows. Up front, new thin-line, lightweight bucket seats provide solid comfort, although we’d love to see them also offer an adjustable lumbar support. The Bolt EV’s 60/40 rear bench boasts sufficient head and legroom to handle a pair of regulation-size adults in its outboard positions, although its center spot that houses a pulldown armrest is better suited to kids. The equally impressive cargo bay boasts a generous 16.9 cu ft of space including a covered underfloor bin. While folding the seatbacks does create a notable kickup, it also raises the usable stow area to 56.6 cu ft compared to 52.7 cu ft offered by the Honda Fit.

Safety is paramount in today’s automotive realm and the Bolt EV offers a full range of features including Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Park Assist and Cross-Traffic Alert, all of which are standard on Premier but optional on the LT. The top-line model also can be fitted with a rear camera mirror and 360-degree Surround Vision system in place of the standard rear-view camera, as well as Forward Collision Alert, Lane-Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning and a Low-Speed Forward Automatic Braking plus Front Pedestrian Braking system to complement the 10 airbags and GM’s Teen Driver technology that comes on both variants.

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV opens at $37,495 with the Premier basing at $41,780 – both before the $7,500 federal tax credit and any other applicable state or local incentives. While not cheap, when coupled with the Bolt EV’s truly outstanding range, impressive versatility and engaging driving demeanor, this new Chevy really does stand as a legitimate breakthrough entry in the electric realm. The question that remains is how effective the Bolt EV will be at enticing large numbers of Americans away from their current conventional alternatives.

More EVs and Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles:

2017 Ford Focus Electric: Bigger battery, more range, lower cost

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Quick Take

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf gets bigger battery and more range


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