Chevrolet Bolt EV Hands-on: Charging forward

You would have to be behind the wheel to understand how driving an electric car is a different experience than a typical gasoline one is. The Chevrolet Bolt EV is on its way to Canada, and with a more affordable price tag, it’s within reach for many.

One of the unique traits about electric cars is that they are inherently more connected too. Some of the smartphone integration certain makes and models have today were influenced by the electric and hybrid vehicles that have hit the road going back at least five years.

For example, remote start, door lock/unlock, in-car diagnostics — all of those features were standard when I first test drove a 2012 Ford Focus Electric for a week almost five years ago. I could log in on my phone and see everything, from the battery level, current range, odometer, diagnostics to even how quickly it was charging. The built-in SIM card didn’t offer in-car Wi-Fi or LTE at the time, but its feature set wasn’t unusual in the electric vehicle (EV) category.

Tesla has also focused on that area, having launched the Telsa Motors app for iOS and Android. EVE offers extra support for the infotainment system inside that also taps into that connectivity.

Which brings me back to the Bolt. In a way, it’s a circle that has completed itself. With the same connectivity many GM models have since adopted, coupled with the ability to understand more on how the car and its battery work, I came away impressed with the overall package during a media test drive in Northern California.

Charging ahead

To my mind, the three biggest hurdles necessary to overcome in making EVs viable for the mass market were reducing range anxiety, building a supporting charging infrastructure and bringing the price down.

The first one is attained, for the most part. At a maximum of 383km per charge, range is much closer to gas. That is a fluctuating number, mind you, but a huge improvement from the 100 to 120km I remember being limited to with the Focus Electric back in 2012. I had never looked at an instrument cluster as often as I did then.

The second one is what will require the most patience. Finding places to charge still requires some searching, though that’s what the free MyChevrolet app (iOS and Android) can do on the fly. Even the infotainment system can help find one when utilizing a data connection.

DC Fast Charging at public stations will enable up to 145km of range in 30 minutes of charging. That’s not bad, especially if you can kill time with a cup of coffee or a meal.

While charging the car’s battery from a standard 120-volt outlet at home is an option, it’s really a non-starter. Installing a 240-volt charger, like that used for washing machines and dryers, makes more sense. It can fill up to 40km of range per hour, meaning the Bolt can go from empty to full in 9.5 hours.

Chevy will roll that as an extra into the cost of the car, including installation. For the moment, this applies to homes, but condos are another story. Condo boards would have to approve any installation, and assuming only one or two people in an existing building may want to be EV owners, it’s hard to see most boards approving of something that doesn’t benefit everyone.

Since parking spots are officially property in most cases, paying to install one in your spot would probably still need board approval. Without that 240V charging station, however, owning the Bolt isn’t so easy.

The last hurdle adds intrigue to all this. The Bolt comes in two trims, LT and Premier. The LT will be $44,495 with freight and tax in. The Premier will be $49,495 with freight and tax in. Provincial rebates can reduce the price considerably. Ontario leads the way with a 30 percent rebate on electric vehicles, meaning $14,000 would come back. In Quebec, which has led Canada in EV sales, it would be $8,000, and $5,600 in B.C.

‘Low’ level driving

The Bolt falls very much in line with where other GM vehicles currently are in the cabin. In-car 4G LTE with the same data plans and packages. CarPlay and Android Auto both supported. Bluetooth hands-free with voice activation button on the steering wheel. Fully integrated diagnostics and battery information laid out in the dedicated “Energy” app on the main widget-based interface. The MyChevrolet app offers extra functionality, especially when away from the vehicle. With Apple Maps and Google Maps (and soon to be Waze) available through their respective projection platforms, Chevy doesn’t offer any other navigation option inside.

The 10.2-inch capacitive touchscreen bears all of it. The extra real estate enables CarPlay to have five icons on each row, instead of the usual four. Android Auto’s card layout looks big and highly legible. Even Chevy’s own interface is tastefully designed and makes great use of all the room.

Tapping Energy on the home screen took me to a series of diagrams and layouts itemizing the battery’s performance and how my driving impacted it. It’s how Chevy thinks it can gamify driving the Bolt to some extent. The biggest battery killers outside of actual driving are braking, heating/AC and lights. The infotainment system and six-speaker Bose car stereo aren’t battery hogs, apparently.

Regenerative Braking, or “Regen on Demand”, takes lost kinetic energy that would normally be lost when applying the brakes and routes it back to the battery. Chevy calls this “one-pedal driving” and it can be triggered from a paddle to the left of the steering wheel and putting the gearshift in Low mode.

What happens is the car decelerates and stops automatically without touching the brake pedal. At first, it was one of the weirdest things I’d experienced driving a car, but soon grew to like it, especially in stop-and-go and coasting situations where it served best. Until I touched the gas pedal again, the car didn’t move. It was as if I was holding the brake or in park.

The energy saved from not touching the brakes went back to the battery, which was noted in the instrument cluster in front of the steering wheel. It resulted in range being gained rather than lost. Mind you, the buyback is modest at best, amounting to 5 percent or 19km of range, overall. Not substantial, but in a pinch, it can make a difference.

MyChevrolet

Much of this data is accessible in the app, presenting a clearer picture of the vehicle and your driving performance when you’re not even in it. While that’s not brand new, I can say there’s a connection I could feel knowing I could check in on the car with a simple tap. That pressing feeling of remembering whether I locked the doors or not doesn’t matter when I can do it from the app. Knowing where the car is located if it’s gone missing for any reason is another example.

I could send navigation instructions to the car ahead of time, though I didn’t get the chance to see how that would integrate with Apple Maps or Google Maps. There wouldn’t be much of a point since both of those apps can basically do the same thing. Finding charging stations was easy through the built-in map that points them out. At home, I could use the app to program the car so that it only takes in a charge at off-peak hours to lower hydro costs.

The car also has its own phone number, so in a case where your own phone is out of range or has a poor signal, callers can dial the vehicle’s number to get a hold of you. That’s not a new feature, either, as GM has rolled it out to several models already, but it’s neat to have anyway.

Wrap up

The Bolt isn’t revolutionary because of the connectivity it provides, but because it is the most affordable EV in Canada to date.

Driving an EV in the harsh Canadian winter will affect range, which is likely the case for the Bolt too. Still, even at an estimated 20 percent cumulative loss in winter months, there would still be well over 250km. Even with all that, this is a car I would consider buying. I like the idea of going full electric, and the infotainment mix inside is one of the best I have seen from GM, at least from a hands-on perspective. Only further testing would indicate if that would be a lasting impression.

From that connectivity standpoint, Chevy adds some extras to the Premier trim: rear camera, surround vision for a 360-view of the car while parking and a rearview mirror camera view. For an extra $565, you can get wireless charging (Qi and PMA), two extra USB ports for the back seats and the Bose 6-speaker system upgrade. The LT trim doesn’t offer any of those, unfortunately.

How much actual inventory will be available in Canada, particularly in those three provinces remains to be seen. If you want to go ahead and get one, earlier would probably be best after they begin hitting dealerships in February. The rest of Canada will get them by the end of the year.

Comments

  • fred

    You have large subsidies in ON.
    Is it hard to buy the car there and then export to another province?

    • Rev0lver

      I believe that would be impossible. You’d need an Ontario address.

    • fred

      let say I have a friend living there

    • Rev0lver

      You can look into but I doubt it would work out.

    • Rony

      yes it will work IF you buy the car and put it on your friend’s name. then your friend can ask for subsidies from ontario. and after he gets it he can transfer ownership of the car on your name.
      so it will work but you make sure he is really good friend 🙂

    • Jeremy PHAN

      To receive the rebate, the vehicle must be registered, plated, and insured in Ontario for 12 months.

    • fred

      So you only get the rebate after 1 year? That’s pretty hard on the wallet especially if you just paid $45k for a car.

    • Jeremy PHAN

      No, the rebate is applied at the time of purchase depending on if it’s a lease or outright purchase. It’s then registered with the Ministry of Finance and any breach of the terms will have the Ministry and the tax man coming after you to claw back the incentive.

  • Tom

    Regarding that ‘second hurdle’ – the charging infrastructure…

    The key is to get an EV that works for you, eg. the Bolt with its long range or the Volt which has a gas engine that kicks in once you’ve used up the ~85km of electric range.

    We charge our Volt every night (when electricity is cheap) in the garage and we never worry about range or using public charging stations.

  • Rev0lver

    “To my mind, the three biggest hurdles necessary to overcome in making EVs viable for the mass market were reducing range anxiety, building a supporting charging infrastructure and bringing the price down.”

    Bringing charging times down to the 10-15 minute range would do a lot for the adoption of electric vehicles.

    That and improved low temperature range would help a lot in Canada.

    • Tom

      IMO that ‘hurdle’ is way overblown (see my older comment below).

      The issue is that if you drive 3km one day and 300 the next (so you would need public charging), or if you can’t easily charge it nightly (eg. cause you live in a condo) then an EV is not right for you.

      If you can charge nightly and do a regular commute then you should seriously consider an EV for your next vehicle.

      (And though you lose range in the winter, you gain even more in the spring & fall.)

    • Rev0lver

      Saying an electric car isn’t right for you just ignores the problem, if people want electric cars to be mainstream, these hurdles do need to be overcome.

      I get about 20% worse has mileage in my hybrid at -20 vs 0. The drop is significant and would only be worse in a 100% electric car.

    • Tom

      True, but there is a huge portion of the car market that could be using EV’s now, without ever having to use public charging. Too many of them are getting scared off by hearing about long charging times.

      I agree that the loss of range in winter is significant (not sure about 20%) and that consumers should know that before purchase, but our average range over the year is still above the rated range.

    • Rev0lver

      You’re not seeing the big drop in winter because you have a garage. That big battery doesn’t have to be heated up from -20. Without a garage your range would decrease much more.

    • Tom

      Then you should consider a Volt – it can use the gas engine to warm things up in cold weather.

    • Rev0lver

      My Toyota hybrid has a gas engine too. It gets 20% worse mileage even with the gas engine providing the heat. It takes a long time to warm up a 500lb pack of batteries.

    • Rony

      every single car has worse mileage in winter. gas,diesel,electric. there is no difference. i have cmax plug in hybrid. i have 4l/100km in summer, in winter 5-6l/100km. before i had vw tdi and in summer i had 5,5l/100km. winter was 7 .
      so heating eats your mileage in every car on the planet.

    • Rev0lver

      True. But the loss is much greater in a vehicle that relies on batteries for propulsion.

      A gas vehicle will loose around 10% mileage while a hybrid or electric will loose 20-40%+. It’s much greater.

    • Rony

      but it is not because of EV cars need more energy for heating . the reason is EV cars have smaller range compare to gas/diesels cars. so impact is greater . once we’ll have same range as regular cars the difference winter/summer driving will be the same.

    • Rev0lver

      That’s simply untrue. EVs lose much more range in cold weather than their gasoline counterparts. That’s a fact of batteries.

  • Andrew

    “it is the most affordable EV in Canada to date”. The Focus Electric, Leaf and i-MiEV are all cheaper, however they are certainly not in the same league as the Bolt.

    Sounds like “one-pedal driving” would be quite similar to manually down-shifting or how some dual-clutch transmissions down-shift to slow the car when the gas is not applied? I have always liked that feature in my car.

    From what I can tell from reviews the Bolt is a pretty awesome package, in my opinion the best electric car made to date. I’m excited for when the electric car wars start to heat up!

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  • ciderrules

    We have lots of chargers here in Vancouver. The best part is many of them are like handicap spots – in prime locations close to entrances. So if you go shopping you not only get to charge but are almost guaranteed a good parking spot. There are over 50 chargers within 5 minutes of where I live, last time I checked. And with our mild climate the winter range reduction is not an issue. We just need better tax incentives in BC. Ridiculous how people here claim to be environmentally friendly yet have the worst rebates/incentives compared to Ontario and Quebec.

    • Walter

      Atleast you have some incentive program in B.C. Alberta has nothing and out government is bending us over with a carbon tax.

    • Zee

      There was a report sometime ago where they compared driving electric cars in two provinces — and in conclusion it said, since BC generates power through cleaner methods, electric cars are greener to drive. But since Alberta produces power through non-renewable energy sources, electric cars produce more pollution than regular gasoline cars — in that, electricity generation for these cars releases more carbon in atmosphere than from exhausts of regular cars.

    • Zee

      Totally agree.

  • Benjamin Lehto

    The biggest hurdle for mass adoption is $$$. Nothing else comes close in the public’s eye, and then Max Range second.

    Now mind you, I’m talking about the greater percentage of people in Canada who probably are in the 10K-40K/yr bracket.

    When these cars with these option are available for 15k then you’ll start to see the surge of popularity. These are still a wealthy persons toy, that’s unavoidable.

  • simbob

    Now that Quebec is the first “ZEV Province”, you can bet Chevy will rush all it’s Bolts there since they can backtrack EV sales before the law takes effect in 2018. If you talk to dealers, most will tell you that they have rather small allocations for 2017, 10-20 per city. that include cars for people who pre-ordered so you might not be able to buy one this year if you have not pre-ordered last october.

  • Andres Valera

    I will be driving one today. Just for anyone looking for one in the GTA, I just spoke with James Scaglione from Addison Chevrolet on Eglinton (Mississauga) and they have one.

    • Cowpoke Sal

      They say the drive is shocking….*thud*

    • Jeremy PHAN

      Dean Myers GM in mid-town Toronto delivered the first Bolt in Canada last week.

  • MrLemon

    I think you forgot to add TAX to your totals. In Ontario that is 13%. LT would be $36279.35 taxes included and the Premier would be $41929.35 taxes included. This is with the $14000 ontario incentive. Still a little Steep for a small car with not the greatest interior materials or seats.

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