How The Chevy Bolt EUV Performs In The Mountains

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In a recent article, I shared that I bought a Chevy Bolt EUV. At that point, all I could share was some basic driving impressions and why I bought it, but now after several hundred more miles, I can share some more detailed information on how the vehicle actually performs.

One thing I like to do with a new car or one I’m testing is take it out into the mountains of southern New Mexico, where there’s a lot of variety. Desert, juniper scrub country, Canada-like alpine forests, paved twisty roads, dirt and sand, rocks, and everything else can be found all within a few miles of each other. Add in some steep grades to challenge battery packs, regenerative braking, and other EV systems, and you get a pretty complete picture of what a vehicle can do.

On this particular trip, I went into the Sacramento and Sierra Blanca Mountains, visiting Alamogordo, Cloudcroft, Ruidoso, and Carrizozo along the way, encountering all of the above.

The Perils Of Dealer Charging Stations

One of the first things I learned about this trip was that depending on dealers for EV charging can get kind of dicey. Even when perfectly maintained, a charging station on a dealer lot often gets locked up behind a fence just the same as everything else on the lot when the place closes.  If you only drive during dealer business hours, that’s not a problem, but if you drive in the evenings and need a charge, you’ll get in a position where you can’t access the station.

Or, worse: your plans change and the last call for electrons becomes a problem.

We were running behind schedule leaving the house, and felt some of what I’d call “time-range anxiety.” The Old Apple Barn (a place in the mountains that sells fudge) closed at 5, and I was going to be in the dog house if I didn’t get my wife her fudge on this trip. Someone at the dealer told me they closed at 5, and we were an hour away at 4 o’clock. After looking them up on Google Maps and seeing that they closed at 6, we called again and confirmed that we had an extra hour.

But going up the hill eats a lot of range on most EVs, and that would throw our whole trip plan off. Fortunately for us, we found that the EUV consistently exceeds range expectations that I had gathered from using A Better Routeplanner, and the extra hour gave us just enough time to backtrack and get a 70% charge (more on this in the next section). Had we been up against a hard 5 PM close time, we would have had to turn back and go home, or skip the fudge.

This isn’t really an issue that’s specific to the Bolt EUV, but it affects non-Tesla cars more because there are many places where a dealer’s lot has the only DC fast charging. Fortunately, GM knows that drivers need other options, so it is partnering with EVgo and Pilot/Flying J truck stops to provide charging that’s more accessible going forward. It’s just going to take time to get there.

Exceeding Range Expectations

I’ve learned from trial and error that the EPA rating for a vehicle is absolutely meaningless for road trips. Terrain and highway speeds both completely defy the expectations behind EPA testing, so you’ve gotta find another way to figure out where you can go. Tesla has a decent trip planner, but most other EVs don’t have anything comparable. For my purposes, I’ve found that A Better Routeplanner is the best, but they still have the relatively new Bolt EUV in “alpha” status, meaning it’s not going to be 100% accurate for battery usage estimates on routes.

The good news was that ABRP always errs on the side of consuming too much energy when they add a new vehicle to their app, so that people will be pleasantly surprised instead of stranded miles away from the next charging station. So, if you’re going to use ABRP to predict your range on a trip, you can use the “alpha” version of the EUV in ABRP confidently. When they use my data to move it to “beta” and then to final, it should be very close to the actual end result for your trips.

ABRP aside, I’m very impressed that the larger form factor of the EUV over the regular Bolt EV didn’t cause it to lose all that much range. GM did a good job optimizing the aero and not letting the EUV be a baby Hummer EV.

A Word Of Warning About Descending Hills

One of the cool things about most EVs is that you can use cruise control and L mode, one-pedal, or whatever a manufacturer calls its higher regen setting to maintain a steady speed on steep downhill routes, like you’d find going down a mountain. Not only is this convenient and more comfortable than engine braking in a combustion vehicle, but you can also get significant range back from the regen on descents.

But, on our first big descent of the day, I noticed that the adaptive cruise control wasn’t giving much regenerative braking (9-10 kW maximum). Worse, it was allowing the speed to go 2-3 MPH over what it was set for, and it was automatically pumping the friction brakes to control descent speed. This is obviously suboptimal because you’re wasting energy (friction brakes convert kinetic energy to heat), wearing the pads for no reason, and risking overheat on longer descending highways.

For the rest of the trip, I manually controlled descent speeds on steeper downhill segments using one-pedal drive, giving the proper regenerative braking. But, people I’ve talked to about this on forums and Facebook groups are telling me that the normal non-adaptive cruise control uses the regenerative braking properly on such roads.

So, be sure to manually regenerate on downhill segments (one-pedal or the steering wheel paddle) or use normal cruise control in those situations to minimize wear and maximize safety.

In Part 2, I’m going to cover my actual driving experiences on both pavement and dirt roads in the mountains. While the EUV isn’t a true truck-based SUV, GM seems to have actually made it a decent crossover, so the “UV” in EUV is something the vehicle actually earns.

Featured Image: my Bolt EUV on Transmountain Road in El Paso. I took the trip described in this article mostly after dark, so I had to use a picture from somewhere else this time.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1953 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba