Life With The Chevy Bolt — The First 1,200 Miles

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Kyle Field did a great job reviewing the Bolt, what I thought I’d do here is share some views on why we leased it and also give our hands-on impressions over the last 1,200 miles.

The author’s Bolt and house, on the far left is the roof intertie PV array. Array power: 6.44 kW

Living in New York’s rural Catskill Mountains has some real challenges. My wife Nancy and I have seen some brutal winters with -30°F (-34°C) temperatures along with severe storms and lots of snow. This is rolling-hills-mixed-with-scenic-mountains dairy farm country, and that means the roads have to be clear every single day for milk collection. Large plows are constantly salting and clearing roads to keep that milk moving from the farms to the processing plants.

My wife grew up here and I’ve lived here the last 30 years. We both love the quiet low-key small town atmosphere that those harsh winters and mountains afford us — not everyone can live here. We like that, but how will an EV drive in snow? Being retired, we don’t go out much in bad winter weather, and coming from four-wheel drive to two, we have some concerns. I’ve talked to other Chevy owners here who have traction control and they say they get around okay. An important factor is ground clearance, so I was happy to see that the front bumper sits relatively high with overall good clearance.

Watching the seasons ebb and flow has taught me the true power of the land and I knew when I built this house 25 years ago that I wanted to capture and utilize it in every way I could. The power of the wind, the streams, and the sun make a bold statement and I have learned to harness that massive energy. We are net zero, with no electric bill and plenty of power for those times when the grid fails. I have learned to join technology and nature to reap clean, safe energy and, with the help of Nancy, to grow organic vegetables and build organic fruit orchards. Everything we do here has nature and the environment in mind. We live in harmony with the deer and other wildlife that cross our fields and land on a daily basis.

My dream has been to have an electric car. Nancy will tell you that 25 years ago I was talking about making one but I knew that it was more important to lay out the groundwork before I looked into BEVs (battery electric vehicles). My first PV (photovoltaic) modules and modified sine wave inverter cost a lot and did a little but the thrill of making power hooked me in and never let go. Every year I built on the system and got closer to owning an EV that I could charge right from home.

The Bolt with the off grid/intertie modules in background. Array power: 4.2 kW

One aspect of EVs that I hear very little about is location — where you live counts! Town, 8 miles and one stop sign away, means a shopping trip takes 16 miles to accomplish. Going to the closest small city with large box stores and better variety means going over the mountain and a trip of 50 to 70 miles (80–110 kilometers) by the time we’re home again. Then there is the 100+ mile (160+ km) trip or two in the fall for our winter vegetable stocks.

I can’t express how tempted to buy a LEAF I was when they came out. I even had a $100 deposit on one, and that’s without a dealer in sight! Trouble is we knew it just wouldn’t work — with cold weather, high mountains, long distances, and no charging stations, the little LEAF dream was doomed! Then Tesla gave us the 200 mile EV — too much money, too little utility, and 150 miles away. But I still ached for one.

Enter the Chevy Bolt. I read every article and watched every YouTube video! When I found out they were coming to NY, I called every GM dealer until I got one who could sell them. That’s right, dealers have to gear up with equipment and training before they can sell Volts and Bolts, and most dealers in our area just don’t have the volume to justify that expense.

In April of 2017, I put a deposit on my first EV! The dealership was very excited too and did everything they could to show me they were interested in selling these cars. I was kept up to date about the build progress and about a month after my deposit the car arrived. I was skeptical — would I like it? Some YouTube reviewers complained about seats and plastic. Although, these things didn’t concern me as much as the size, ride, utility, and handling did.

We drove it, loved it, and leased it! We chose to lease it because I knew the technology 3 years from now would be much better and there would be a lot more EVs to choose from. I would be able to drive an EV now that fit our rural needs and would also get my “feet wet” and learn what living with a BEV was all about. Something you just can’t get regardless of how many reviews you read or videos you watch — you really have to live with it.

The Bolt arrived perfectly — not one thing out of place, not one problem, not one squeak, and not one rattle. GM makes cars, and they made an excellent EV in the Bolt.

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I ordered the Bolt in white. You would think that a color wouldn’t make much difference, but a black car is 25°F (13°C) hotter than a white car. Your air conditioner will like you for not getting a dark car, especially if you live in a hot climate, and that equates to less load on the battery.

I got the comfort package and the safety package in the standard Bolt. I wanted the heated wheel and seats to keep energy costs down in winter. The dealer told me to get the CCS $750 charger option. In retrospect, I probably didn’t need it, but we have a lot of road ahead of us and it could come in handy. I’d like to see GM install CCS stations at all their dealerships, since this would make a great charging platform. I’ve heard rumors, but I’m not sure where GM is going. Are they hedging their bets? Are they making a compliance car? Or are they really making an EV for the masses?

The ride is good, not luxury car good but smooth enough to enjoy on a long trip. The seats have received some complaints. I don’t know if GM has made adjustments after the first Bolts left the factory and seat complaints came in, but we found the seats fine for our medium-size builds. They could be wider but so far on 100+ mile trips they have not been a problem and we found them comfortable.

The range has made the difference for us. We have no range anxiety whatsoever. Although, over the last 1,200 miles, I have learned how to drive this car. The regenerative braking is superb and learning it worth the small effort it takes. Nancy doesn’t drive so the entire mileage is with me at the wheel, so I’ve had an excellent opportunity to refine my driving habits to maximize range. I always drive the Bolt in ‘L’ and most of my driving over 25 mph is done with cruise control on. In ‘L’ mode, the Bolt comes to a full stop easily controlled by lifting one’s foot gradually off the pedal. Misjudging or the need for more abrupt stops only requires pulling the extra regen paddle on the steering wheel’s left rear side. Rarely do I ever use the actual brake. This is one-pedal driving at its best. I’ve read that other EVs don’t have this refined regen braking; the LEAF I drove didn’t.

Realistically, the range depends on how and where you drive this car. Driving it in town at 20 to 40 mph (32 to 64 km/h), I expect you could easily go over 400 miles (640 km). Driving here with the standard country road speed limit of 55 mph (88 km/h), I’d say about 270 miles (435 km) of range. GM tested the Bolt at its top speed of 92 mph (150 km/h) and it went 170 miles (273 km).

In the rain, driving highway speeds of 65 mph (105 km/h), using some heat and defrost, I got 3.6 to 3.7 miles per kWh, or about 216 miles (348 km) of range. This was when I first got the car and was still learning regen braking, though, so I suspect it might get better. What I find comforting is that if we ever do run low on range, we can finish our trip on backroads at lower speeds.

I don’t find the steering light, but it does have some torque steer — it’s limited by traction control, which is always on but can be shut off (although, GM recommends keeping it on).

Torque steer — the pulling to one side or the other on hard acceleration — only happens on front-wheel-drive cars with unequal half shafts. The front-wheel-drive motor has a shaft to each wheel. If the motor is not centered between the two front wheels, then the shafts extending from the motor to the wheels are not equal lengths and torque steer results. I don’t know the exact layout of the Bolt electric motor, but apparently GM felt this was not enough of an issue to warrant rearranging components. Perhaps they felt the traction control would suffice. It does work well enough except in flat-out hard acceleration when the little devil in my right foot decides to blow the doors in on rusty pickup trucks with tandem tires that get too close to my rear bumper!

We also like the seat height, especially Nancy now that age has made her knees sensitive to getting in and out of cars. The Bolt’s interior has been maximized for room and the interior height does make a difference when shopping and filling the car with larger items. We wanted a utilitarian vehicle and we got it in the Bolt. We haven’t had four passengers in the car yet, but we did test the back seats with no problems, I’m 5’9½” (176.5 cm) tall for reference.

We don’t find the exterior design offensive. It fits the car’s purpose — getting us from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ safely, comfortably, and not encumbered with costly repairs.

The Bolt is just a pleasure to drive. The integration with the regen braking is seamless, and it has plenty of pep. It’s fun, more fun than I’ve had in a car in years — and I’ve had some fancy Porsches and BMWs.

As any EV owner will attest to, there’s nothing like instant torque and none of that annoying constant up and down search for a gear to fit within a narrow ICE (internal combustion engine) torque band every time you go up a hill.

This is a ground-up EV, and in this case that means you get a flat floor — one more aspect of EVs that I never considered especially important until I found how much that center drive shaft column takes away from a car in space and how annoying it is for passengers to slide in and out of the back seat of a gas car. That hump really makes a difference!

I don’t like the Bolt’s shifter. It took longer to get used to than I expected and even now I have to think about pushing the button on its left side to go into reverse. I don’t like the fact that the electric plug lid isn’t lit, inserting a black plug into a black housing at night takes a little fidgeting. It’s not horrible, but put a light over it, GM.

A lot of thought went into the screens. The speedometer screen gives speed, mileage, along with other data. You get the choice of three styles and they all give you clean, easy-to-read, important info at a glance. I know exactly how much regen I’m getting and the range seems to be right on – no complaints.

The 10.2″ display is a little slow, but I usually just leave one screen up. I do switch now and then, but once you learn it, it’s like your PC or tablet and becomes second nature.

GM decided not to have a GPS option. In an EV that needs routes to charging stations, that’s unacceptable. GM’s answer is OnStar. My answer is that I’m not buying OnStar after the 3 month promo is up. Calling someone for directions is useless, and quite frankly, I don’t see OnStar worth the expense. I have the Android Auto app and I’ve heard Apple CarPlay is better (but I haven’t compared).

I’m dumping satellite radio too when the free subscription runs out. I’m paying for the internet on my phone so maybe I can stream something. It’s not that I don’t like satellite radio; it’s that it’s too expensive — OK, I’m frugal!

Speaking of frugal, I figure in the 30,000 miles of my lease, I’ll save roughly $3,200 on gas at $2.50 a gallon. Thing is, even if gas was free, I despise going to gas stations but I love plugging in when I get home! It’s the thought of plugging into your own power that’s bought and has already paid for itself that’s one of the joys of EV life.

There’s no spare with the Bolt, but I have AAA auto service — we’ll live. The manual talks about a pump, but I didn’t find one in the car. I think they went to self-sealing tires and dropped the pump and repair kit. I guess this is where the world is going. We used to have spare tires, then we had “fake” spares, and now we have no spares.

We live with some really horrible roads. Once on a long trip 20 years ago I got a blowout, but I’ve never had a flat or blowout since. The Mud and Snow Michelins look like good tires, but now I wonder if places like Southern California get different tires that get better mileage?

My overall assessment of the car is that GM went all out on technology, and it shows. Sure, they have plastic dashes, but I don’t care. On our first ride, I put the car “in gear” and drove off, never giving the plastic a second thought. Some people complain about the looks, so I started looking at cars around town. Objectively, it’s about average. Are my neighbors going to come over and ask me about the butt-ugly white mass in my driveway? Actually, I’ve gotten many favorable responses to the Bolt, but I’m not concerned — I live a quarter mile from my closest neighbor and can’t see another house from mine. The country life is hard to beat, and besides, I drive for free!

I’ll update everyone in a few months or a year. Right now, I’m thinking, this is what I had in mind 25 years ago!

About the Author: Robert Dee is a retired electronics engineer who worked on the first classified military computers, he also has several medical instrument patents. He currently writes technical magazine articles and occasionally for local newspapers.

His believes we can constructively use technology to make a better world and environment. His house employs both intertie and off grid PV systems and he drives an EV.

He lives in New York State’s Catskill Mountains with his wife Nancy where he maintains the 100 year old tower clock in his local village square.

He can be seen lurking CleanTechnica as mosfet500.

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