Tech Drive: All-electric 2017 Chevy Bolt EV Test Drive

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In my younger years when an unsuspecting friend asked about the cord protruding from the front of my car, I jokingly said, “I have an electric car.” Of course, it was a block heater plug. Fast-forward to today and little would I know that the car I would test drive; the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV would truly be that – an all-electric car.

The GM Chevy Bolt EV is not to be confused with a similar sounding Chevy Volt, which uses a gas-powered generator to recharge the battery.

At first glance, the Bolt doesn’t appear that unusual, it doesn’t have a funny shape or look like George Jetson should own it. Although classified as a crossover, it looks like a nicely designed colourful compact hatchback, unless you notice the absence of a front grille and the exhaust pipe, which in a picture you might think they’ve been altered with Adobe Photoshop. However, when you’re standing next to it, it’s very quiet– because unlike a hybrid that requires both battery power and fossil fuel to operate; in the Bolt EV, there’s no gas engine to be found.

Beyond the fact that it’s an electric car, there is some pretty funky and significant technology going on under the hood and all around. There’s just so much here, we’ll look at some of my key highlights of this vehicle.

The front-wheel drive Bolt runs off an automatic electric one-speed single motor propulsion system, 266 lb.-ft. of torque, and outputs 200 horsepower (hp). That’s almost double that of the Nissan Leaf and 30hp more than the BMW i3. It runs off a massive battery, an all-new 435 kg, 288 cell, a 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that gets up to 383 km on a full charge.

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While it’s certainly no TARDIS (Dr. Who fans would get this), it’s spacious inside and feels much bigger than you’d expect. It has good headroom and the centre display console bulges out from the centre of the dash appearing almost to be floating. In fact, the floor appears to be almost flat. This is in part because BOLT, unlike traditional cars, requires no mechanical linkage and added space between the shifter and the transmission, and no massive cables or wiring harnesses taking up valuable space.

Electronic Shifter

This is possible since the electronic shifter operates somewhat like a gaming joystick. Very cool! When you “shift”, instead of throwing gears, a signal is sent to the transmission to complete the change, taking little effort and it’s silent to boot.BoltEVShift

You also get more inside room since the car’s batteries are fairly flat and positioned under the car. It also doesn’t hurt to have fairly large windows with a great field of view, making it a pleasure to take in the views on our test drive.

Our “tech” drive would be a 250km+ trek taking us in through the countryside and the scenic sights and long and winding roads from Montreal’s West Island, west to the Ontario border, north into the Laurentians with a stop for lunch, then a highway ride back to home base. There were two of us sharing a car, so we each had an opportunity to drive and play.

With an electric and albeit smaller car, although I knew the specs, I didn’t have great expectations. The engine started instantaneously, no hesitation and no need to warm it to get the oil level up. When we hit the open road, I hit the accelerator and much to my surprise it really took off. It can do 0-96km/h in 6.5 seconds. Passing cars was extremely easy and the car manouevred nicely and held the road even on the winding back roads.

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Battery Pack

Although already impressed, the biggest questions constantly in the back of my mind were related to the batteries. How long will they last? How will they hold up in extreme temperatures – remembering how often I had to jump-start my car at -40C and how quickly and easily could they be recharged.

According to GM, there should be no problem, the battery, co-developed with LG Chem and LG Electronics is actually thermally controlled and liquid-cooled to keep the cells operating in top form. And as for replacement or repair, someone did ask, but no costs were given, only indicating, that like all new technology, prices will decline rapidly, so if and when a battery would be needed, it’s expected to be significantly cheaper than it would be today. On that note, individual cells can be replaced if needed, but the battery pack is warrantied for eight years, 160,000km and further guaranteed to still have 65% capacity remaining at the end of the warranty period.

What about charging? Unlike the Volt, there is no gas option backup to recharge on the fly, but the good news is, you do have choices. There are three charging levels available for this car so hopefully you won’t find yourself out of power on the side of the road.

Level 1 is your basic everyday home charging system but also the slowest. It uses an included 110V cord set. For each hour of charge, you can expect about 6-6.5km of driving. At these rates, a full recharge would take you over four days.

So, good thing for Level 2, which offers faster home charging; running on 240V, like your clothes dryer. With this optional accessory, you can get up to 40km of driving per hour of charge. A full recharge from empty would take about 9.5 hours – better. With this accessory, you can also schedule your recharge through the car’s touchscreen. You can charge now, delay your charge or even schedule the charging perhaps for when electricity rates are lower.

Level 3 is DC Fast Charging and the quickest method, yielding up to 145km of driving per hour of charge. You’d find these a dedicated public charging station. A one-hour coffee break will give you about 80% of a full charge. (Your OnStar agent, the MyChevrolet app or ChargePoint, the largest provider of charging sites can help you locate the one nearest you.)

Now these specs will hold for newer batteries. It’s important to note that charging is non-linear so as the battery ages, recharge times will increase and maximum capacities the cells can hold will be reduced.


Regenerative braking

Now, without recharging and no room for a 435 kg spare battery, you can only make it so far on a single charge. That distance is also reduced if you’re charging your phone, using accessories like your infotainment console and windshield wipers. And let’s not forget cranking the AC in summer and the heater/ defroster during cold weather season, so a lot of R & D went into finding ways of not only conserving but also ways regenerating power.

One way is by what GM calls Regenerative Braking. This is made possible, by having the motor double as a generator, capturing the lost or wasted kinetic energy and turning it into electrical energy, which is then, sent back adding juice to the battery. This can happen whenever you coast, decelerate or hit the brake.

Alternately, you can also “Regen-on-Demand,’’ using a handy steering wheel-paddle. Instead of applying your brake, there’s a little paddle right behind the left side of the steering wheel which you can tug with a couple of fingers which both slows down the car and engages “Regenerative” braking.

One-Pedal Driving

Having this type of control also allows you do something you can’t do with just any car – enable One-Pedal driving, another very cool feature of the Bolt. By putting your car in Low-Mode, your car operates almost like a mega-powered golf-cart. Push pedal, car goes; foot off, car stops. Of course you wouldn’t want to do that going 100km/hr. Basically, as you accelerate your car goes faster, as you ease up on the throttle, the car slows down. To slow down quickly and smoothly, you can use the brake, which defeats the purpose of one-pedal driving but you can also use the paddle and get better energy recapture.

After driving for so many years, at first, one-pedal driving seemed foreign. Although, after a while I realized how easy it was. In fact I became obsessed with how much energy I was saving gazing constantly at the continuous animated visual on the console display indicating whether energy was being consumed or regenerated.

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8-inch and 10.2-inch Displays

Speaking of electronic displays, no electric car would be complete without them. In fact Bolt has an 8-inch digital colour display gauge cluster, which you can configure in three colours, and three themes, Classic, Modern and Enhanced. In addition to speed and distance, you’ll get a plethora of information, particularly the all-important battery charge level and range estimate – an approximation based on the last 50km as to how much farther you can go on your current charge. Of course that will change with energy use, speed and how much you can regenerate. You also get an indication whether or not power is going back to the battery, something I found myself constantly monitoring.

The centre console has a highly massive and highly configurable 10.2-inch colour touch-screen. Of course it’s used for your infotainment. It’s also where you control and configure your 4G LTE, Android Auto or Apple Car Play, Bluetooth, Mobile Wi-Fi, Voice commands, USB ports and yes, even an AUX jack.

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It too provides a plethora of information complete with bar graphs and charts giving you more info than you can probably take in and probably need to know. It offers details like consumption history and energy efficiency broken down in 5km intervals. There’s also a breakdown on energy usage by function, i.e. driving, climate controls, and even energy use based on your driving habits, climate settings and even outdoor conditions. It’s all the info you need to find better ways of getting better mileage.

A few other much notable mentions include the electronic parking brake. No handle to pull or pedal to push. A simple touch of a button replaces the manual process. It can even be set when the car is off and it’s smart enough to turn on if it senses the car is parked on a steep incline.

Rear Camera Mirror & Surround Vision

Another very cool feature is with a flick of your finger your rear-view mirror becomes a Rear Vision Camera, something you’d find in a high-end Cadillac. It offers a wide POV so you can avoid blind spots and really see what’s behind you and not just the headrests of the back seats. Even better, Bolt has an optional Surround Vision, 4-camera system that offers up a 360-degree birds-eye view, ideal for getting in and out of tight parking spots.

Even the tires are new tech. Bolt features four Michelin self-sealing tires. Now these are not run-flats. These contain a special chemical that can seal a 3/16” puncture in the tread. If you get a nail, for example, you can continue to run on the tires without ever having to remove it. This feature is not available on winter tires, so Chevy does provide a Tire Inflator Kit. For that of course you’ll need to also have a spare.

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Bottom Line

Overall, I was fairly impressed during the time spent with Chevy Bolt. For a Gadget Guy like me to take a trek out to the countryside with no engine for back up in the event the batteries ran low was a nice adventure and a great experience.

It’s a small car, but doesn’t feel small. Stylish and smart and what you’d expect on a compact vehicle, but certainly not a luxurious like let’s say the Tesla S, which is also three times the price.

While a few would buy this vehicle for its awesome technology and because they can, others might buy it to keep the planet green but I assume most would do it to save money on operations particularly in those major provinces where gas prices are very high.

2017 Chevy Bolt EV Drive - 3 of 32While its difficult to get an exact cost of what it would cost to drive per km, it’s estimated that it would cost only a quarter of what it would be compared to driving a gas-powered vehicle. I would also expect there would be less maintenance, as there’s no oil, spark plugs to change or pistons and seals to worry about.

There is of course the higher price of entry and the limited number of charging stations in some areas – although that is growing.

While I was blown away by the way it drove, the battery-life and things like the Regen braking, electronic shifting and of course the cameras and all the other options included, there were a few things that surprised me. You can’t get a sunroof or a navigation system. The latter I would suspect would be to keep the price down and reduce power usage. Besides, nav can be had form one’s smartphone. I was also surprised that although there’s an option for heated seats, seats must be adjusted manually.

I also would like to see at some future date an all-wheel drive option. This of course would likely require a second motor and I’m sure all new battery considerations to get the kind of range it currently gets.


There are two models (LT & Premier) and nine build combintions. MSRP on Bolt EV LT with freight and AC tax comes in at $44,795; the Premier, $49,795, the model we drove. Three provinces offer hefty tax-in incentives; BC ($5,600), Quebec ($8,000) and Ontario ($14,000) making the Bolt even more appealing there.

If you’re lucky to live in a province that offers incentives and you’re interested in being an early adopter in an all-electric vehicle, the Bolt EV just might be a great choice.

For more details contact your local Chevy dealer or visit the GM Chevy Bolt EV page.

Photos by Greg Gazin. Illustrations courtesy Chevrolet.

Music written and performed by dGiddy – Dan Gideon.


Greg Gazin is the Real Canadian Gadget Guy, Columnist, Speaker, Podcaster & Author

Technology – Entrepreneurship – Communications

Follow me on Twitter @gadgetgreg







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