In many ways electric cars are far more convenient to use than conventional cars, since they have fewer moving parts that break and never need to visit a gas station or an oil change shop. Where the Bolt shines is in how it truly makes range anxiety a thing of the past, in the way that it invites you to drive an electric vehicle the way you would any standard gas car, and how it makes the whole package affordable.
It was GM's stated mission to make the Bolt attractive to a new set of car buyers, not just the ones who are already interested in EVs. To do that, it had to put up little invite cards all over the car - ways to explain what's going on without a training session. You can imagine them on the driver dashboard screen, where your estimated range is brightly displayed on the left side. The car uses an algorithm that tracks the recent history of energy usage of that particular car as well as ambient temperature to estimate how many miles you have remaining before you need to charge. But, because that number is so malleable based on driving style, there are also minimum and maximum figures. You don't need to focus on these, but they're there if you want them. The 10.2-inch center touch screen also invites you to learn about the car through detailed (but not overly so) information about your driving style efficiency since your last full charge and which parts of the car - HVAC, for example, or battery conditioning – are using energy, and how much. GM figures, probably correctly, that new EV drivers don't want a full spreadsheet of data, but getting a handle on kWh used per mile is an important measure to fully understand how electric vehicles are reshaping how we drive.
Of course, the easiest way to understand this new future is to just get in and stomp on the pedal. A 0-60 acceleration time of under seven seconds should be enough to please anyone used to your most average car. And all of the thrills that electric drive offers on any EV are here in full effect– the smooth quietness, the instant torque, the gamification to try and beat your range estimate. With the heavy slab of the 60-kWh worth of lithium-ion cells locked down under the floorboard, the Bolt is stable as she goes around any but the craziest of corners. On the straightaways, there's enough oomph in the 150-kW electric motor to propel you to 80+ miles per hour without any fuss. Telling the friendly police officer that you didn't realize what 266 pound-feet of torque and 200 horsepower were capable of in a small hatchback won't get you out of a ticket, so consider this our invitation to you to be careful during any test drive.
As previously stated, the Bolt has a number of settings that can make it either feel like a normal car. If you just throw it in D and ignore the paddle behind the left side of the steering wheel and all of the EV-specific information on the dashboard, you could be forgiven for thinking you're just in a really quiet and sensible gas car. But that paddle is important, because that's one way to enter the fascinating world of one-pedal electric driving. That paddle alters the amount of regenerative braking in the Bolt EV. Think of it like engine braking that can be controlled by software. First used in the Cadillac ELR and then the second-generation Chevy Volt, pulling the paddle towards you engages a stronger regen power, which puts more of your kinetic energy into the battery pack and slows you down. You can come to a complete stop this way, without touching the brake pedal or converting any kinetic energy into hot pads and rotors.
The difference between D and L (low gear on the shifter), is that while the Bolt will coast nicely in D, just like a standard car, in L it will immediately start slowing down and, again, come to a complete stop. (The car will engage the friction brakes if you get hit while at a stop.) This behavior is totally unlike a standard vehicle, but given some time it feels is totally natural. First-time EV drivers should get used to this quickly, just like the way Telsa and BMW i3 drivers already enjoy one-pedal driving. By offering both conventional and EV-optimized driving modes, the Bolt extends an invitation to new drivers.
Not everyone will be enamored by the look, but in the EV scene, the Bolt is a welcome addition. It's easy to see both a Volt and a BMW i3 mixed up in the sheetmeta, from the design of the front end to the tall floating roof. The electric blue logos by the bottom of the A-pillars draws the eye no matter what color paint you choose. We like the Orange Burst Metallic that's been seen everywhere, but there's no bad option here. The rear lights are integrated into the hatch, which means the rear opening is larger than it might otherwise be. This certainly adds to the utility of the Bolt EV, but does it make it a CUV? GM sure says it is, and that will be the subject of much dispute when the advertising starts in earnest. We're fine calling it a hatchback – because, c'mon, that's what the Bolt EV is – but GM is adamant about the marketing power of calling it a CUV, so that's what we're gonna get.
There are a few other cool tricks up the Bolt's zero-emission sleeve. Perhaps the smartest item that will be overlooked is the ability for the charging system to know your elevation. Why is this valuable? Well, if you tell it where "home" is, and the nav system knows that you usually leave your driveway and turn downhill for a ways when you start your drive in the morning, the charger will not fill up the battery all the way to 100 percent at night. Because if it did, you'd be able to generate some energy from that downhill segment but not have anywhere to put it. By leaving a little space in the pack – and thus demanding less energy from the grid - the Bolt can make maximum use of whatever energy it can find. If you do need a full charge, it'll take about nine hours from a Level 2 charger. A DC fast charging option with the SAE Combo standard that will get you 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes is available as well.
The Bolt is also surprisingly roomy. It's not quite a Tardis, but the interior does feel bigger than it should. Part of this is the smart packaging of the dashboard, and the way design options open up when you don't have a big engine up in front. The front seats are further forward than in a gas car, for example. And they've been specially designed to be extra thin, giving the rear seat passengers an extra inch of leg room. The rear bench sits on top of the batteries and perched slightly higher than the front, theater-style. All the seats are comfortable, and there's plenty of head room. If you get the Premium package, even the rear seats are heated, otherwise only the front seat occupants get to bask in warm bottom glory.
Speaking of which, there are two trim levels in the Bolt, the LT and the Premier. The LT comes with two options. There's a Comfort and Convenience Package adds those heated front seats with a heater steering wheel and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Driver Confidence Package brings blind spot warning, lane change alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear park assist. Stepping up to the Premier trim means that you get the features of the Driver Confidence Package along with Roof Rails (the easiest way to tell this trim from the LT) and GM's new fancy rear camera mirror. The options for the Premier include an Infotainment Package with wireless phone charging, USB ports in the back. The Driver Confidence II is a sequel that is better than the original, with things like forward collision alert, low-speed front automatic braking, and front pedestrian braking. The full details are available here.
For maybe a year, the Bolt will have its own special place in the EV world to itself. No one else will offer so much for so little. But the Tesla Model 3 is coming. As is Nissan's updated, 200-plus mile second-generation Leaf. And who knows what else. When these cars arrive, the invites that GM has carefully printed and prepared and placed on the Bolt will almost certainly have created a public that's more receptive to electric vehicles. Exactly how many buyers will respond and where the EV story goes from here is something we just can't look away from. But for the near future, the Bolt EV stands to change the way people think about electric cars.