Did you just buy an all-electric Chevrolet Bolt—or test-drive one, like Ross McCammon? Then get ready for questions from everyone you know. Here’s how to answer the electric haters in your life.
The Volt? That’s not new. It’s been around for like seven years, man. I thought you were a “car guy.”
It’s not the Chevy Volt. It’s the Chevy Bolt. The Volt is a hybrid (a pretty great hybrid, actually). The Bolt is GM’s first all-electric car.
That’s what I said. The Volt.
No, Bolt. B-b-b-bolt. As in “lightning bolt” or “lag bolt” or “I’m going to bolt in my Bolt.” (Never say that.)
It looks pretty… normal.
Yeah, the Bolt’s not exactly sex on wheels. That’s because it’s a daily driver car made in Detroit that’s meant to appeal to as many Americans as it possibly can. As Seth Weintraub, who runs the electric-vehicle site electrek.com (and who owns a Bolt AND a Tesla and, like a lying father, loves both of them equally) told me, “There’s a lot of compromises in the Bolt—the kinds of compromises that traditional automakers have to make for financial reasons or to broaden audience appeal or to make it easier to manufacture. Tesla can be more eccentric because they have a more passionate employee base… and a higher price, for now. ”
How does it compare to a Tesla?
A Tesla is for the design-minded driver who wants a car that transcends its car-ness and makes a capital-S statement. The Bolt is for people who want a car, period, but one that happens to be electric. If Tesla is Apple, the Bolt is PC. If Tesla is a Rollbahn notebook, the Bolt is one of those Mead notebooks that look . (I have a thing for pretentious writing gear.) Surprisingly, though, that plebian vibe has actually earned the Bolt much praise the last few weeks. If Tesla has software that can be remotely updated and the “Autopilot” feature, the Bolt… does not have those things. What it does have, though, is a reasonable price. It starts at $38,000. (The one I drove was $43,000 because of options like better audio and a “driver confidence” package that includes lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, and pedestrian detection.) But the Tesla and the Bolt are more similar than you’d think.
What’s the maximum range?
Around 250 miles, best-case scenario, fully charged.
Could I take it on a road trip?
Yes, but this would be a pain the ass. With a household 120-volt, three-prong outlet you get 4 miles of range for every hour of charging. A 240-volt charger—which has to be specially installed in your garage—gets you about 25 miles per hour of charge. There are “DC fast charging” stations around the country that get you about 160 miles of range in an hour, but you need an app to show you wear they are. Bottom line: a road trip in a Chevy Bolt is a road trip done at roughly 225 miles per day. You’re not crossing Oklahoma in this thing.
So are these the batteries?
Not really. These are electronic components that support the batteries, dozens of lithium-ion cells in a “sled” configuration under the cabin, meaning you’re basically driving a battery raft. Tesla’s batteries are configured in a similar way.
What’s with that container of liquid?
No, the one with the orange liquid.
Liquid coolant for the battery raft.
What’s that thing over there?
That’s the, uh, flux capacitor.
Did the tires spin a little there?
Oh yeah. It is really easy to spin the tires. That’s because, like most hybrids and electrics, the Bolt comes with “low rolling resistance tires.” They’re harder and thinner than your average radial, which means they save you gas range, but don’t have a ton of traction.
Can you put this in Ludicrous mode, like a Tesla?
No. No. The Bolt doesn’t really have any buttons with badass names, though its lightness makes it more fun to toss around corners than the Tesla Model S. But the Bolt does something called a “Regen on Demand” paddle, a feature GM introduced with the 2016 Volt. It allows you to slow the car by pulling a small paddle tucked behind the steering wheel. “Regen” is electrical engineer talk for regenerative braking—the system translates the absorbed kinetic energy from braking into electricity, that it puts back into the batteries. At first, it’s really weird braking the Bolt with a single finger, no pedal necessary, but you get used to it fast. As Weintraub says, “I’ve been driving the Bolt so much that when I went to the Tesla, it felt weird that it wasn’t there.” This is true. After you drive a Bolt for a couple days, you’ll find it weird that other cars don’t have a little bitty braking paddle.
That’s nifty, so what els-
Speaking of “regen” there are two drive modes: “Drive” and “Low.” You’ll have more fun in “Low.” It’s the car’s regenerative braking mode. Two amazing things are happening in “L”: First, the car uses its own momentum and is motor’s resistance to regenerate power to the batteries. Second (and this is the part that changes how you drive), the car automatically slows down when you pull off the accelerator. You quickly coast to a stop without applying the brakes. You’re adding range back to the car with every deceleration; you don’t have to move your legs like those sad-sacks using gas cars, and you’re preserving your brake pads. It becomes a game to see how little you can touch the brake pedal—on the highway, on city streets, everywhere.
So you’re telling me the coolest part of the Bolt are the brakes?_
YES. Brake pedals are for suckers! You’ll see!
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