Chevy changes the game. Again.
THE GROUNDBREAKING CHEVROLET BOLT EV IS THE CAR OF TOMORROW. TODAY.
That sound? It’s almost imperceptible, but it’s there. The soft rustle of air over steel and glass, the muted hum of rubber on tarmac, the faint whirr of spinning metals. It’s the sound of electrons at work, the sound of electrical energy being converted into motion, the sound of the automotive world shifting on its axis. It’s the sound of the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year, the Chevrolet Bolt EV.
The Bolt EV is not GM’s first pure electric car. The company has been experimenting with electric vehicles for decades, stuffing batteries into Corvairs in the mid-1960s and developing the fiendishly complex EV-1 in the 1990s. You can buy an all-electric version of the Spark city car from your friendly local Chevy dealer right now. But the Bolt EV is the first conceived from the get-go by GM to be a viable, affordable mass-market electric vehicle. And it’s a game changer.
Two numbers—238 and 29,995—are why. The first is the number of miles the EPA has certified the Bolt EV will travel on a full charge. The second is the price, in dollars, of the Bolt EV, after allowing for a $7,500 USD federal tax rebate. By offering that range at that price, the Chevy Bolt EV has made just about every other electric vehicle on sale instantly obsolete. “Simply put, it’s twice the car for just over half the price of a BMW i3,” guest judge Chris Theodore said. “A better car, better package, much better handling, with twice the range.”
Even the folks at Tesla, the electric vehicle masters of the universe, have been put on notice: The Bolt EV sets a benchmark for value and performance they’ll have to work overtime to match. “This is a direct challenge for Tesla to make the Model 3 anything near the Bolt EV for the same price,” executive editor Mark Rechtin said. “Chevrolet has made affordable long-range electric transportation available to the masses. Elon Musk should be afraid. Very, very afraid.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Bolt EV is there are no caveats, no ”… for an electric car” qualifiers needed in any discussion. It is, simply, a world-class small car, and that’s before you factor in the benefits inherent in the smoothness, silence, and instant-on torque provided by the electric motor. The ride is firm and sporty, but transmitted road noise is very well damped. The steering has slightly artificial weighting, but brake feel is very natural, and once you learn to use the higher regenerative braking modes (place the shifter into L, or pull the paddle on the left-hand side of the steering wheel) you can pretty much drive all the time without touching the friction brakes at all.
It’s not quite correct to say the Bolt EV drives just like a regular small hatchback, because, fundamentally, it drives better than most regular small hatchbacks. The under-floor battery pack keeps most of the mass low in the chassis—and between the wheels. The front-to-rear weight distribution of 56/44 percent is better than any small front-drive car in this year’s field, and it’s not far off the 54/46 of the tossable rear-drive Fiat 124 Spider. “If this car were fitted with a set of grippy tires, it’d be a helluva hot hatch,” road test editor Chris Walton enthused. “I’d put it against a Mazda3 or Golf for fun per mile.”
There may be some who see the selection of an electric vehicle as Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year—for only the second time in the award’s seven decades—as highly controversial. But to do so would be to suggest the Chevrolet Bolt EV is nothing more than an automotive oddity, a publicity stunt, or a technological dead-end of limited use or value. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s how the Chevrolet Bolt EV stacks up against the award’s six key criteria.
Advancement of Design
The Bolt EV is the sort of tall hatchback you usually see from European and Asian manufacturers. It’s a globally relevant vehicle format that has the potential to deliver excellent interior room for up to five passengers along with a high degree of load-carrying functionality in a relatively compact footprint. And in the Bolt EV, Chevy has delivered. This is one of the best-packaged small cars in the world.
The Bolt EV rides on a wheelbase 3.9 inches shorter than that of a Toyota Prius, but it’s a massive 14.7 inches shorter bumper to bumper. Despite those packaging constraints, “The space inside is stellar,” said our gangly 6-foot-tall associate editor, Christian Seabaugh, who noted the ample legroom and headroom up front and a rear seat that is “enormously comfortable and roomy for a vehicle of this size.” Indeed, our tallest testers had no problem sitting in the rear of the Bolt EV even with front seat racked rearward to accommodate a 6-foot-plus driver.
The interior is well finished for a car for this class, the dash dominated by a textured white trim element that manages to look different without being contrived. The 8.0-inch digital instrument panel and 10.2-inch touchscreen infotainment interface feature modern graphics in a fresh color palette. The simple HVAC controls are well placed and easy to use.
In terms of exterior design, this is a small Chevy with an athletic stance and surprising presence on the street. “The exterior design has a few too many graphic elements with moldings and black areas,” guest judge Tom Gale noted, “but it still ends up growing on you, like a friendly puppy. The line work, gesture, and surfaces all fit the package, and in the end, that is the ultimate test.”
Bottom line: The Bolt EV will look and feel as much at home on the streets of Shanghai or Stuttgart as in Seattle.
The Bolt EV has been engineered from the wheels up to be an electric vehicle, and the excellence runs deep.
The 60-kW-hr battery pack, co-developed with and assembled by LG Chem, holds more than triple the energy of the pack in the Chevy Spark EV—but weighs little more than twice as much. Mounted under the floor and rear seat, the battery pack is also used as a structural element, contributing 25 percent toward the overall torsional stiffness of the car. The battery is expected to last the life of the Bolt EV, and it’s covered by an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty.
That sound? It’s the sound of the automotive world shifting on its axis.
The Bolt EV’s electric motor is mounted between the front wheels and is remarkably compact. The motor design draws on GM’s long experience with electric powertrains and, like the B motor in the latest generation of the Volt plug-in hybrid, features carefully arrayed magnets made from a rare earth metal called dysprosium. The Bolt EV develops 200 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, and its power density is 56 percent greater than the motor in its weaker predecessor Spark EV.
As the new motor also spins much faster than that of the Spark EV—to 8,810 rpm versus 4,500 rpm—the single-speed transmission runs a much shorter ratio. That helps propel the 3,548-pound Bolt EV from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and cover the standing quarter mile in 14.9 seconds at a speed-limited 93.1 mph (149.8 km/h). The Bolt EV was comfortably the quickest of all the small cars tested in this year’s COTY field—apart from the boy-racer Focus RS, of course—quicker, even, than the Fiat 124 Spider.
The engineering excellence isn’t confined to all the electric powertrain hardware and software, either. The front seats feature an industry-first ultra-slim design that uses a metal framework and a flexible plastic shell lined with a very thin layer of foam. Up to seven devices can connect to the available 4G LTE onboard Wi-Fi hot spot, and up to 10 phones can connect to the car, with the driver’s preferences for nav, climate, and infotainment associated with the phone. Drive data can be recorded and shared, so Bolt EV owners can compare miles/kW-hr, energy regeneration, and climate efficiency.
In our testing, the Bolt EV easily makes its EPA-certified range of 238 miles (383 km) in normal driving conditions. Of course, as with a gasoline-powered car, your mileage may vary—flat-foot the Bolt EV everywhere, and you’re not going to travel as far before you need to put more energy in the “tank.” More important, our testing suggests it’s more efficient than the Tesla Model S 60, using about 14 percent fewer kW-hrs of energy to complete our Real MPG test route.
One element in EV operating efficiency is, of course, the time it takes to recharge the battery. Unlike Tesla, GM does not have banks of special bespoke Superchargers for ultra-fast charging. But using a typical Level 3 charger, our experience supports GM’s claims that the Bolt EV can be given an extra 90 miles (144.8 km) of range in 30 minutes, 160 miles (257.5 km) worth in 60 minutes, and a full charge in two hours. That’s not too far off Tesla’s Supercharger capability.
The Bolt EV has yet to be independently tested by NHTSA or IIHS, but GM says it has engineered the basic structure of the car to deal with the forces of the new small-overlap crash test despite its small overhangs, using an upper cradle and a cross-car beam to stabilize the front end. Five cross-car beams and a structural steel tray not only add to the overall structural integrity of the Bolt EV but also protect the battery pack in the NHTSA NCAP side-impact pole test.
The Bolt EV comes standard with a lane departure warning system that despite some self-steering capability is really only to assist drivers rather than to take over the job of steering for them. Available driver aids include forward collision alert, cross-traffic alert, blind-spot alert, and pedestrian braking—all off-the-shelf GM technologies available on other GM models.
On the face of it, $37,495 USD seems a lot of money for a compact hatchback, but the math deserves some perspective. The federal EV tax credit of $7,500 USD gets the price down to less than $30,000 USD, which is outstanding value in terms of the current state of electric vehicle technology. And other state EV rebates may knock the price down even further. Only a Tesla offers superior range and performance, and the cheapest Model S 60 costs $67,200 USD (before rebates). Sure, the Tesla is quicker and faster, but it only has an EPA-certified range of 210 miles (337.7 km). If you want to do better than the Bolt EV’s 238-mile range, you’ll need to spend $74,500 USD (before rebates) for the Model S 75.
Of course, the Tesla Model 3 is slated to be priced around the same as the Bolt EV and scheduled to start trickling off assembly lines in late 2017. But Tesla has been evasive about transaction prices for a fully equipped vehicle. The Bolt may still maintain its edge here.
What’s more significant, however, is the Bolt EV makes a solid value case even against conventional small cars. In terms of its performance levels, the Bolt EV is not that far off a PDK-equipped Golf GTI, being only four-tenths of a second slower to 60 mph and over the quarter mile. And after the rebate is taken into consideration, it’s basically the same price.
“Range is no longer the limiting factor, and price has been taken out of the equation,” editor-in-chief Ed Loh said. “The primary barriers have fallen away, and it’s getting tougher to find use cases for which the Bolt EV cannot work.”
Performance of Intended Function
A roomy, practical, quiet, and comfortable compact hatchback; an energy-efficient small car; and a benchmark electric vehicle—all in one. The marvelously accomplished and endlessly engaging Chevy Bolt EV is all these things. “The important point is that the Bolt is not just a great electric vehicle but also a great commuter vehicle in every respect,” Theodore said. “Well done, GM. You are now the leader.”
The Bolt EV is also a car for a world that’s becoming increasingly urbanized and that needs to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels—partly because there’s only so much of the planet we can frack and partly because air quality in our cities is again becoming a significant health issue. But this isn’t some earnest, po-faced science project we should endure to save the planet. The Bolt EV is fast, it’s fun, and it’s genuinely entertaining to drive. It makes you smile.
American engineering ingenuity and manufacturing capability kick-started automobility for the masses in the early 20th century. Now, a little more than a century later, America is about to do it all over again. The practical, affordable, fun-to-drive Chevrolet Bolt EV has made electric-powered transport for the masses a reality. The 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year is the car of tomorrow, today.
2017 MOTOR TREND CAR OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS
- Buick LaCrosse
- Chevrolet Cruze
- Chevrolet Volt
- Fiat 124 Spider
- Ford Focus RS
- Honda Accord
- Hyundai Elantra
- Jaguar XF
- Kia Cadenza
- Kia Forte
- Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe 4Matic
- Mercedes-Benz E300
- Mini Clubman
- Toyota Prius Two Eco
2017 CAR OF THE YEAR FINALISTS
- Audi A4
- Cadillac CT6
- Chrysler Pacifica
- Genesis G90
- Jaguar XE
- Porsche 911
- Tesla Model S 60/75
- Volvo S90
|2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV (Premier)|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD|
|MOTOR TYPE||Permanent magnet AC synchronous electric|
|POWER (SAE NET)||200 hp|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||266 lb-ft|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||17.7 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; torsion beam, coil springs|
|BRAKES, F; R||10.9-in vented disc; 10.4-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||6.5 x 17-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||215/50R17 91H (M+S) Michelin Energy Saver A/S|
|TRACK, F/R||59.1/59.1 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||164.0 x 69.5 x 62.8 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||35.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,548 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||56/44%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.7/37.9 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.6/36.5 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||54.6/52.8 in|
|CARGO VOL BEH F/R||56.6/16.9 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||2.9|
|QUARTER MILE||14.9 sec @ 93.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||132 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.77 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.6 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||5,800 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$41,780*|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||8 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||8 yrs/100,000 miles|
|BATTERY CAPACITY||60 kWh|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||28.6/26.3/27.8 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||128/110/119 mpg-e|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||26/31 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.00 lb/mile (at vehicle)|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||110-volt, 220-volt electricity|
|*Before applicable tax rebates|