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Chevy Bolt: The EV that raises bar for performance, range, comfort

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It is my opinion that the new Chevrolet Bolt EV is just the second EV that truly functions like a real car. Tesla offers the Model S (and a big price tag) and the Model 3, which has a significant waiting time to get in one but carries a similar price tag as the Bolt. The Chevrolet Bolt is in production and for a non-premium price you can get one now.

The Bolt virtually eliminates most EV drawbacks, including underwhelming performance, short range and an uninspiring drive experience. So, what’s the difference maker?

Well starts with a 60-kwh lithium-ion battery pack located below the floor pan. It holds the juice that’s sent to a small motor capable of producing up to 266 lb.-ft. (360 Nm) of torque and 200 hp (150 kW) of motoring power to turn the front wheels.

According to Chevrolet, the Bolt’s engineering team designed the electric motor with an offset gear and shaft configuration. The motor is tailored to meet efficiency and performance targets and packaged with a 7.05:1 final drive ratio.

Chevrolet says the battery uses active thermal conditioning, similar to the Volt, to keep the battery operating at its optimum temperature, which results in better battery life performance. Inside the battery pack there’s a new cell design and chemistry. The cells are arranged in a “landscape” format and each measure only 3.9 inches high and 13.1 inches wide to fit underfloor. The nickel-rich lithium-ion chemistry provides improved thermal operating performance over other chemistries, which requires a smaller active cooling system for better packaging.

The next differentiator is how the Bolt drives. Acceleration is brisk, like 0-60 in seven seconds, but eerily quiet. Aggressive driving is not this car’s mission, especially on narrow, low rolling resistance tires. Braking is good, and good for replenishing battery life especially in the “L” driving mode.

Using “L” mode, one-pedal driving kicks in the regenerative braking system. Shifting, from “D” to “L” means the car starts to slow down once you let off the gas pedal, and you can use this method to slow down to a stop approaching a light or a stop sign. This active slowing allows the regenerative system to capture the energy and help charge the batteries. This mode is great for in-town driving, you’ll need the brake pedal on the highway.

Unlike other EVs, Bolt looks like a standard-design compact five-door wagon. The designers added some styling with a fast roofline sweep and pushed the wheels to the four corners. With the Bolt EV, new technology doesn’t mean weird styling.

The interior has been designed to attain a roomy 94.4 cubic feet including storage. New for 2018 is an automatic heated steering wheel, part of the Comfort and Convenience Package on LT trim and standard on Premier trim.

There’s plenty of space for four adults but not for five. The dash was full of infotainment displays including a digital 8.0-inch instrument display behind the wheel and a 10.2-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash.

There are several things you should do to begin life with a Bolt EV. First, get a 240-volt Level 2 charging station ($700) installed (adds 25 miles per charging hour); second, make sure you have overnight electrical access for standard 120-volt Level 1 charging (adds 4 miles per charging hour); third, find access to a high-speed, Level 3 (90 miles in 30 minutes) stand-alone pay charger like a charge point station.

So, what about range anxiety? Does the Bolt ease concerns? Not exactly. Without a 240-volt charger, you can’t replenish range quickly. Turn on the heat (or air) and you lose 10 miles of range on the gauge. There are (Level 3) pay charging stations around Chicagoland, but you still have to wait at least 30 minutes to add 90 miles.

On the plus side: If you live in the city, or have a second car, the Bolt EV would work very well with 238 miles of range on a full charge. At a base price of $36,600, you can start to pay off the car the day after your first full charge.