In late 2016, the Chevy Bolt became the first affordable long range EV (electric vehicle), beating the Tesla Model 3 to market. As of this writing, in February 2020, GM has once again moved the goal posts. You can now buy a Bolt for around $26,000, underselling every affordable EV you can buy in America and having a longer range than all of them. Is it worth it? Let’s take a look.
In May of 2017, I leased a Bolt. I leased instead of buying because I was leery of GM’s quality and its ability to make a reliable, full scale EV. I also knew in three years there would be more EV options. When I got the car, I examined it closely, even walking around it with a magnet to see how much aluminum GM used. It was a lot! The doors, the front hood, and the rear hatch were all aluminum. In fact, only parts of the quarter panels and the roof were steel.
Examining under the car, I found excellent welds and more aluminum. This appeared to be a very well made car, but would it hold up to our salt-covered rough northern rural roads filled with dings, potholes, and cracks? Would the battery last the 100,000 miles (160,934 km) GM warranties it for? Was the cargo area really good enough to make trips for our winter vegetable stock-up every fall? Was the range accurate or inflated?
How about GM as a company — was this just a compliance car allowing it to sell gas guzzlers in California? Did the people selling this car care about it, or was it just something they figured a couple of quirky buyers would be interested in? What about car companies selling meat and potatoes gas cars, could they really sell a radically different car? Could they adapt? Would they adapt? I took my chances, dumped my gas car, which I’ve wanted to do for the last 25 or 30 years, and plunged into a three-year lease.
Right away we loved this car, really loved this car! Anyone who has ever driven an EV instantly gets that constant torque smile on their face. EVs are a pleasure to drive, quiet, responsive, clean, and maintenance free. In the slightly less than three years I’ve had the 2017 Bolt, it cost us less than $75 in maintenance. Maintenance for the first 150,000 miles (241,402 km) was to rotate the tires and change the cabin filter — that’s it. No yearly maintenance, no hidden costs. This has been the cheapest car I have ever owned, and I’m a car geek who did his own work, right down to rebuilding engines and transmissions — I know how to save on repairs.
EVs are easier cars to build and more durable than ICE (internal combustion engine) cars. Thousands of parts, fluids and consumables — like engine oil, air filters, and brake pads — are all gone in the EV. That’s right, EVs use regenerative braking to slow the car, so brakes last indefinitely — and the regen braking on the Bolt is the best I’ve encountered.
Comparing EVs to ICE vehicles is like comparing VCRs with all the belts, gears, spinning head, and tangled tapes to MP3 players with solid-state electronics. It’s no contest. We have EV electronics down. EVs have evolved over decades, because electronics and motor technology have evolved over decades. Sure, we’ll improve efficiencies, but once you start reaching higher efficiencies, like we have today, the steps get smaller and smaller — you can’t exceed 100% efficiency.
Batteries will also continue to improve, as they have steadily done. After several reports, the Bolt batteries are holding up very well. Eric Way, a knowledgeable YouTube reviewer, indicates a capacity loss of around 5% for the first 100,000 miles (160,934 km) in his 2017 Bolt.
Range Anxiety & Frills
The 2017 Bolt was my first EV, so range anxiety was a real concern … for about a week! Once you start driving and using EVs, you find that range anxiety is fossil fuel propaganda. Buying an EV is no different than buying a conventional car — you buy what you need. You don’t buy a family sedan when you need a farm truck, and you don’t spend extra on a car that gets to 60 mph (97 km) in 3 or 4 seconds when 6.5 seconds, like from the Bolt, is more than enough for you.
Often, car reviewers nitpick handling on a vehicle when it’s perfectly fine — everything’s got to be a race car to them! You don’t opt for a super hard suspension when you don’t need to bounce around on every bump in the road, and you don’t pay extra for a system to tune your suspension as you drive when all you need is a good-handling utilitarian car that’s safe.
Every part you add to a car adds to its cost and durability, or lack thereof. Buy what you need. If you rarely take trips, like my wife and I, then don’t be concerned with super rapid charging times that you’ll rarely use. The ability to drive the 2020 Bolt’s 259 miles (417 km) a day, every day, cannot be overstated, and when you charge at home from your own PV (solar photovoltaic) modules, you’ll have cheap electricity and the convenience of charging at night, every night. (We sell electricity during the day, which zeros out our nighttime charge cost.)
Until you personally experience that, you’ll never understand the burden and wasted time going to gas stations and paying what someone else decides you should pay for gas. By the way, we often went 280 to 300 miles (451 to 483 km) in the summer with our 2017 Bolt, so we expect easily over 300 in the 2020. We found that GM is very conservative about range. Winter driving in our cold climate is about 25% less, but here again, you buy what you need — we opted for the heated seats and steering wheel. We preheat the car while it’s still plugged in, then use the heated wheel and seats. We find this approach more than adequate during most of our winter driving.
The 2020 Bolt, Likes & Dislikes
In previous years, there have been complaints about the seats being too narrow. We are slight people and have driven the Bolt for hours with no seat problems. The 2020 Bolt seems to have more padding, but if you are a large person, you really must evaluate this personally.
I’d like to see larger visors, and then there’s that metallic strip above the display that glares in my wife’s eyes at certain times of the day. I finally covered it carefully with a piece of electrical tape — it looks like it came from the factory that way.
I’ve lived with a spare in all my previous cars. I thought about my last gas car. It had a full size spare, but I never used it in 11 years. The Bolt’s tires are self-sealing, but I change them out for Bridgestone WS80’s in the winter — all-season tires are great if you live on Maui. The Bridgestone’s are as good as my all-wheel drive Subaru was with all-season tires in snow and even better on ice. I bought a tire and wheel package online complete with pressure monitors. This year, I also bought a utility spare that fits under the rear lower cover. I have a small jack and inflator too, just in case I get a flat on one of our desolate country roads at night.
I would have liked to be able to put the tire in the wheel well, but GM put the woofer and amp for the Bose system in there. I have little interest in the Bose system. In fact, at some point I’ll take out my instruments and measure exactly how much current this thing sucks up — there may be a fuse pulled in my future. Unfortunately, GM makes you buy the convenience package with the Bose system if you want some of the other features I wanted. We felt it was essential to have side warning, front collision, and the other safety features you get with the Premier, and we wanted the bird’s eye view for parking. The rearview camera is now HD along with the backup camera — much better than the 2017. GM doesn’t offer adaptive cruise control. They should. Hopefully next time if we don’t keep the 2020 Bolt.
Neither of us minds the plastic. It’s tastefully done and very durable. We find these are minor things. Ride, dependability, utility, and safety are the important factors that decide a vehicle for us. The Bolt has several safety features that suit us — again, things like self-parking are great if you want to impress your friends and neighbors, but after over 50 years of driving, I’m more than capable of parking my car and I don’t want to pay extra for the option. Can’t auto parking get you into spots non-auto parking can’t? That’s great until the guy next to you decides to leave and puts a dent in your door getting into his car!
GM really needs to include a battery plug light as standard. The $350 accessory along with the CCS charger at $750 should be part of the car, not an $1100 expense. For the light, a simple LED will do — the ring light is overkill. I just want to see where the plug goes, I’m not eating dinner there! One last thing: my cell phone barely fits in the charging slot, it needs to be wider.
Not much to complain about for a car that beat the world to market.
Overall, GM chose options well. You can buy a Nissan Leaf with a charge pump heater that’s more efficient than the Bolt’s element heater, but GM opted for thermal battery management that the Leaf doesn’t have. I’ll take the battery management over the extra cost of the heater. You get a confident, sure-footed car that rides and runs well, is safe, is roomy, and is affordable. That’s what we wanted. The maintenance for the first 150,000 miles (241,402 km) is minimal — no yearly maintenance, just rotate the tires and change the cabin filter. Again, our last Bolt cost under $75 for the entire lease, and that’s with tire rotations and inspections — hard to beat!
The new battery is updated, same size and weight but 10 percent more energy output, going from 60 to 66 kWh. The new range is 259 miles (417 km). With a geometric index of 151 Wh/kg, it’s not far behind Tesla’s Model 3, with a geometric index of 156Wh/kg.
I disagree with people who say GM doesn’t listen to its customers. I think the company does. The 2020 is certainly better than the landmark 2017 Bolt. Now it has HD cameras and an HD rearview mirror. GM softened the seats and I think the ride is better, too.
GM & Electric Cars
In the past, I haven’t been kind to GM. I complained about the service and I questioned GM’s petitioning of Trump on CARB. I still don’t like that, but I’ve had some time to sit down with the bread and butter people at GM, the dealers, and their salespeople.
GM knows EVs are the future and knows the dealership dynamic has to change. They are passionate about their cars, both gas and EV, and they work to make buying a car something you’ll want to do again with them. It’s your responsibility to know what you want when you sit down. If you’re wishy washy about EVs, GM may sell you a gas car. If you want a C8 Corvette, the dealer will sell you that, too. Let’s understand that doesn’t mean the person who sells you a Bolt isn’t concerned about the environment. My salesperson certainly was. They never pushed me, pestered me, or tried to sell me something I didn’t want. You know who did? Tesla!
Sorry, Tesla fans. A few months ago when my lease was approaching its end, I went to Tesla’s site to see if it was right for me. Once I found the closest Tesla center was 3 hours away, I stopped filling out the online form. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop me from getting inundated with emails and calls. So I asked, what happens if I hit a deer and I need this car fixed? What happens if I have a major problem? No answers.
If my Bolt breaks, GM is 15 minutes away. They pick it up and I drive away with a loaner — done. I know the people and they know me personally. The salesman from Tesla? He’s in Arizona and he didn’t respect my request to stop calling and sending emails until I got forceful. Let’s remember, I never even finished filling out the form.
A week later, I got another call from Tesla about solar systems. The saleswoman said they were calling because I checked the box requesting information. I said, “the box on the form I never finished filling out and didn’t submit? I’m not interested in PV systems. I have more PV than most people on the planet.” I had to tell her to stop calling, too.
Don’t misunderstand me. Musk changed the world, no question. He proved you could build a long-range EV, and I’m driving a very good EV because of him. I also own Tesla stock. What has to change is both the present car dealership model and the Tesla model. EVs are a new ball game. There will be growing pains, but right now, neither has the ultimate solution. At this point, I favor the dealership. Mine has been sincere, efficient, convenient, and never pushy — and they worked really hard to please me. Since my last Bolt, they have improved their understanding of EVs. And, yes, they are committed to them. I expect to see some wonderful EVs from GM in the next few years. The Bolt is a superbly built car, and let’s remember that GM came out with this trouble-free car several years ago. Compare that with the failures of several other manufacturers. Anyone want to compare Tesla’s first trouble-laden EV with the Bolt, or even the first Model 3s with the problems they had?
Bottom line: two thumbs up for GM, its EV future, and the 2020 Bolt. At $26,000, it’s going to be very hard for any car company to beat!