What it’s really like to drive the 2017 Chevy Bolt electric car

It drives like the BMW i3 but costs $12,000 less

2017 chevy bolt 3qtr view
Melissa Riofrio

I kept saying Bolt, Bolt, Bolt. But people kept hearing “Volt” for some reason.

It might be a curious naming snafu or an entirely intentional marketing concept. However, the 200-mile-range electric 2017 Chevy Bolt is a vastly different car from the Chevy Volt, which goes only about 35 miles in EV mode.

I drove the Bolt at an event in Las Vegas recently that was part of CES 2016, gliding around corners and doing jack-rabbit starts on a straightaway. It’s a fun car that reminds me of the BMW i3 electric I drove two years ago at CES, which is roughly the same size. Because an EV doesn’t need to squeeze out any gas into the engine, fire up any pistons, or even change gears as you drive, the electric motor is always “on” and ready to go, so you get a quick jump off the gate. (The Bolt uses traction control to make sure you don’t spin any tires.)

And I mean quick. We’re not talking about a Lamborghini here, but you feel a little push. The car is exceptionally light and agile, about the same as a Chevy Spark (EV or no EV). It’s not exactly ready for an autocross, since the suspension is intended for getting to work in comfort and not for taking corners at insane speeds, but there’s some serious juice. At around 42, I had to pull back and take a corner a bit slower and avoid making any of the Chevy folks panic too much.

Fortunately, the digital dash provides quite a few helpful aids to make you drive a bit smarter. A gauge on the left shows the range, including an average in the middle, a max and a min. This helps with range anxiety, but at 200-miles per charge, I can see someone not thinking about the issue as much. Most of us don’t drive 100 miles one way to work. You could hop in and go to the beach across town, drive for the day, and make it back to your garage.

On the right, there’s a small leaf-like orb that goes up and down as you drive. Ham it up like Mario Andretti, and the orb will go down and sink like you are destroying the Earth. Brake evenly, glide up to speed gradually, and you’ll see a reward of “going green” and possibly a bit more range eventually. In that same section, there’s a real-time gauge that shows your power output -- say, 150kW when you drive too much like you are in a hurry.

The 10.2-inch center touchscreen is remarkably easy to use. There are sections for seeing energy flow as you drive, information about range and driving style, and even a few settings that can help you tweak the EV to get even more mileage. Everything has a bright, highly readable look without being too cartoon-like (which was a complaint I had on the Volt).

I didn’t get a chance to play around with the myChevrolet app for the Bolt, but Chevy said there are features for remote start, warming up the car, and seeing energy management features such as recent drives and the current range and charge time.

The rearview mirror is also remarkable. It shows a live video feed in widescreen, so wider than what you get when you just use a mirror and without anything or anyone blocking your view such as a headrest or that one tall cousin. I barely noticed it was a video feed at first.

Now, let’s talk about pricing. The Bolt is going to run right around $30,000 after a $7,500 tax credit. That’s about $12,000 less than the BMW i3, which gets 150 miles per charge if you opt for the range extender. It’s much cheaper than any Tesla. Yet, the Bolt also trumps other budget cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy’s own Spark EV because it drives about twice as far.

The Bolt might actually help the EV go mainstream. My only issue is that this 2017 model might not be ready for charge-ups in your garage until late 2016.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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