We range-test Chevy’s Car of the Year–winning Bolt electric car
Electric car buyers care about two crucial things: how much range the vehicle offers and how long it takes to charge. Until the 2019 model year, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, our 2017 Car of the Year, was good for 238 miles (383 km), but a mild midcycle refresh for the 2020 model year extends the range to 259 miles (417 km). Although that increase might not seem significant, it is when you take a look at Chevy’s electric car competition. With Hyundai, Kia, and Tesla all offering EVs with a range of 239-plus miles (385-plus km) for less than $40,000 USD, Chevy’s modest range increase keeps the Bolt EV competitive.
The charging times remain the same—it takes about 10 hours to completely charge the battery on a Level 2 charger, and when the battery is depleted, users can get up to 90 miles (145 km) in 30 minutes using a Level 3 charger. Those with no access to a fast charger at home can expect a charge of about 4 miles (6 km) per hour on a 120V charger.
In addition to the extended range, the Bolt EV’s refresh also includes some mild upgrades. A new grille tweaks the front end’s look, and the car now also gets a high-definition rearview camera, high-definition cameras for the surround-view camera system, and the second generation of the full display mirror, which is frameless and has optional settings as well as a high-definition camera. Other than that, the interior and exterior remain the same, save for the addition of two new exterior color options, Orange Metallic and Oasis Blue. (The 2019 Bolt EV is shown here.)
But how did the engineers increase the battery’s range without changing its size or weight? The updated battery went from 60 kW-hr to 66 kW-hr, an increase of 10 percent. Engineers changed the material and chemistry of the lithium-ion battery, but the number of electrons remains the same. A change in the ratio of manganese, lithium, cobalt, and nickel helped them reach their 10 percent goal, which translates to 21 more miles (34 km) of range.
To test the new range, we drove from Tacoma, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. Instead of driving 144 miles (232 km) down Interstate 5, we chose the scenic route, driving west toward U.S. 101 then going south to Astoria, Oregon, where we then headed southeast toward Portland. The 2020 Bolt EV should’ve covered the 246-mile (396-km) route with no issues, but an early fall cold front brought chilly temperatures to the Pacific Northwest and impacted our range. When we left Tacoma, the temperature was 38 degrees, but by the time we got through the rush-hour traffic, we saw a bump in range thanks to the Bolt EV’s smart regen braking. Most of the time my co-driver and I drove in Low mode, which has a more aggressive regen when you take your foot off the gas. Using the paddle shifter for even more regen also helped during rush hour. By the time we got out into the countryside, though, it was clear we weren’t going to make it to Portland on one charge.
We arrived at our lunch stop in Astoria with 96 miles (154 km) ahead of us, but the trip computer indicated we only had about 65 miles (105 km) of juice left. We got to an Electrify America DC fast-charging station in Kelso, Washington, with 25 miles (40 km) of range; after a 15-minute stop, our range increased to 72 miles (116 km), enough to make it to Portland International for my flight home.
In our test, the 2020 Bolt EV had enough juice to cover about 200 miles (322 km) of our route—short of the 259 miles (417 km) it promises to deliver (and also short of the 2019 Bolt EV’s 238 miles (383 km)). But we can’t blame everything on the car. It’s tough when you think you have sufficient battery life to get where you’re going but weather conditions hamper you. Colder temperatures affect battery performance; strong wind gusts also contributed to our range shortfall. However, the quick 15-minute stop was enough for us to continue on our way.
And although the charging infrastructure isn’t at its best yet, it’s getting better. One of the Electrify America chargers wasn’t working when we got to the station, and with only three chargers available, some of the journalists who showed up after we did had to wait in line to recharge. On the other hand, Chevrolet is taking steps to make it easier for drivers to charge their Bolt EVs. The myChevrolet app includes navigation showing stops with fast chargers on your route.
The Chevrolet Bolt EV was and still is a fun car to drive. It delivers instant torque, like all electric cars, and also handles well on twisty roads. Its 200 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque are enough to for a mid-6-second 0–60 sprint. (Our long-term 2017 Bolt EV made it from 0 to 60 in 6.3 seconds.) And although it has some drawbacks, like a noisy interior, it continues to be a sharp EV.
Although the interior has lots of hard plastics, Chevy designers did a good job of selecting a different color palette for the dashboard; the nice white color gives the cabin a premium look. The 10.2-inch infotainment screen is big and has modern graphics and cool colors that give it personality, and the 8.0-inch digital instrument panel is bright and easy to read. We wish there were a bit more room for cargo, but passenger space is still be ample—both in the front and the rear.
There’s no denying that the Bolt EV we crowned MotorTrend’s 2017 Car of the Year is facing more challenges today than it did back then. The Hyundai Kona Electric delivers 258 miles (415 km), the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus comes in at 240 miles (386 km), and the Kia Niro EV has 239 miles (385 km) of juice. All of them are capable and competitively priced; the electric vehicle market is not the same as it was three years ago. Only time will tell whether the 2020 Bolt EV will continue to shine as brightly as it did when it first arrived.