It might be a fun, reasonably-priced electric car, but everyone I know commented on the same thing when they saw the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt: its bright Oasis Blue paint.
In a see of silver crossovers it certainly stands out, but the Bolt’s appeal is more than skin deep. This otherwise regular-looking five-door hatchback hides an all-electric drivetrain, and Chevy has bumped its range for the 2020 model year. The EV field has grown considerably since the Bolt debuted in 2017, so does it remain a strong contender? To find out, I spent a week gradually falling for its near-silent charms.
Let’s start with that updated battery. The Bowtie boffins have improved its cell chemistry. It still occupies the same amount of physical space, and still produces a healthy 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. It’s now up to 66 kWh however, which results in an additional 21 miles of range, bringing the total to 259 miles.
For those quick to succumb to range anxiety, rest easy. The 259 mile range puts the Bolt at the front of the pack, able to outlast the Kia Soul EV (243 miles), Niro EV (239 miles), Nissan Leaf Plus (226 miles) and Hyundai Ioniq (170 miles). Closer still is the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus at 250 miles, and the Hyundai Kona EV has an EPA-estimated 258-mile range. So the Bolt wins, if only just.
Power runs through the front wheels via a single-speed gearbox.
Function over form
Beyond the requisite blue EV badging and the front charge port, the Bolt provides few exterior hints of its battery-powered drivetrain. Hopping inside, it’s much clearer. A flat floor makes the Bolt feel far more spacious than other hatchbacks its size. The large side windows help too, they all have gotten window tinting services, letting enough light in that the lack of sunroof barely registers. You sit quite high up, with the side window’s leading edge not feeling far above belly button level. While the low window line pays dividends in visibility, it’s somewhat negated by the large A-pillars and the extra pillar of plastic behind the front quarter windows. This obscures pedestrians and even entire cars, so be extra careful at intersections.
The rest of the interior runs the gamut between good and meh. The worst offender is the dash top: it’s a huge expanse of shiny black plastic that looks and feels cheap. Move down towards the parts that normal folks will actually interact with more regularly though, and it’s a better story. I personally love the Bolt’s unusual white tiling effect, and the same-colored smooth plastic that visually splits the dash in two.
Chevy has minimized the physical button count, but stopped short of Tesla’s fanatical minimalism. I appreciate the big, obvious physical buttons and knobs for the audio and climate controls. There’s a perplexing trio of buttons on the dash that serve no function, which strikes me as especially odd as my tester is the loaded Premier model. The AC is fast-acting and powerful, though I spent most of my time in the Bolt with it off for maximum range.
The space race
The Bolt’s skateboard-shaped battery pack results in an amazingly low step-in height of barely over a foot. It feels more like stepping into a living room than a car.
That flat battery pack provides a healthy amount of space in the second row too. I was able to sit comfortably back there, and it shouldn’t be a problem for two grown adults. By the numbers, the Bolt actually offers fractionally more second-row room than the bigger Tesla Model 3. The Bowtie car boasts 37.9 inches of rear headroom and 36.5 inches of rear legroom; the Model 3 posts 37.7 and 35.2 inches, respectively. The aggressive rake of the side windows does make the back row seem a little claustrophobic, however.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Kia Soul EV Review
Trunk space, at 16.9 cubic feet, is enough for a couple to do a two-week grocery haul without issue. A handy underfloor cubby offers extra space if needed. Drop the rear seats and that number balloons to 56.6 cubic feet.
There are a few other interior aspects that really do feel shrunken down though. The cupholders are tight, and the wireless charging port proved too tight for my iPhone. If I wanted to use CarPlay, it meant a wire either into the (also small) armrest storage or dangling over to the holster under the infotainment screen.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray First Drive Review
A fun city drive
The Bolt feels tailor-made for big-city driving. It’s a torquey little thing, yet the go-pedal is calibrated to make it easy to meter out exactly as much thrust as you’d like. Those narrow, eco-friendly tires aren’t going to help at an autocross session, but they give the Bolt low limits that you can feel from the seat of your pants, without having to break local speed limits.
I’ve long felt EVs are particularly well-placed to game-ify the hunt for increased range, and the Bolt is a willing player. A small gauge to the left of the (customizable) dash display provides an estimated remaining range, but also includes a second, smaller bar for real-time progress. If you’re using more juice than expected, it dips into the lower, yellow range. Engage the left paddle behind the wheel, which triggers the regenerative braking, and you can scrape back a surprising amount of electrons. It’s tough to modulate, but after a few days I was able to consistently use it when approaching red lights.
The Bolt also offers a “Low” drive mode, that effectively turns it into a one-pedal experience. Taking your foot off the right-most pedal entirely has the car slowing down dramatically, enough to come to a stop in most scenarios. It feels alien at first, but isn’t terribly hard to get used to, if you’re into that sort of thing.
My one major issue with the Bolt’s ride centers on how well it handles rough pavement—or rather doesn’t. It jiggles around too much over potholes, jostling occupants and disrupting the otherwise near-silent calm an EV provides. It might be due to the Bolt’s relatively high weight versus its short wheelbase, but it’s something to keep in mind if your roads look more like Milwaukee than Marbella.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Kia Niro EV Review
Tech and charging
Adding range back into the Bolt can be speedy, or waiting-for-the-next-Stranger-Things slow. A Level 3 DC fast-charger can add 100 miles in 30 minutes, which means a full charge in a little over an hour. My building is equipped with a Level 2, 240-volt charger, and that recharges at a rate of around 25 miles per hour. Level 1 chargers are about a fifth of that speed.
The Bolt comes with the afore-mentioned 10.2-inch infotainment screen. It’s bright and colorful, and a bit of an info overload at first. It’s not the most responsive system, but it is straight-forward to use.
Standard features on the Premier trim ($41,895 with destination) include unique 17-inch aluminum rims, heated seats front and rear, a heated leather steering wheel, roof rails, and ambient lighting. Safety assists include a lane change alert, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a surround-view camera, and rear park assist.
The Driver Confidence Package ($495 US, $795 CAD) adds automatic high beams, a follow distance indicator, automated emergency braking, lane keep assist, and front pedestrian braking. Check the box for the $595 Infotainment Package and you gain a seven-speaker Bose system, wireless charging, and two rear-seat USB chargers. The Infotainment Package is included in the Premier trim for Canadian buyers ($52,098 CAD, including destination).
Unfortunately, most EV incentives have dried up since the Bolt launched. You’ll want to double-check your state or province—not to mention your dealer’s own discounts—to be sure, though.
Verdict: 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV
I was a little sad to see the Bolt go after a week. It felt like a regular car in all the right ways—looks, space, performance—while providing the calm of an EV drivetrain and the fun challenge of making the range last.
The Bolt isn’t perfect: its interior doesn’t match the price tag, it shudders over potholes, and for some, it will never hold the badge appeal of a Tesla. But it’s a practical, easy-to-use little car that feels way more eco-conscious than shoving an array of batteries into a lumbering SUV. It’s also quicker than you’d expect, which is always a fun surprise to drivers and passengers alike. Just make sure you get it in Oasis Blue.