This article is part of a multi-part series. You can find Part 1 here.
Let’s make one thing clear from the beginning: The Bolt EUV is not an off-road machine. Not only does it lack serious ground clearance, 4-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and skid plates, but it’s also a unibody (even if it’s a very stiff one). So, I’m not going to take it out to do things that are entirely out of the question, like rock crawling or serious 4×4 trails. Nobody buys a crossover for stuff like that.
But, at the same time, many people want some off-pavement capability. They might live on a dirt road in a rural area that doesn’t see regular maintenance, or they might live on a paved street and just enjoy getting out in nature a bit.
What I’ve found is that the Bolt EUV isn’t just a city car that’s kind of big and chunky like a wannabe SUV. It actually does just fine in the country if you know its limitations and drive within them. With some very minor upgrades, it has potential to maybe even do some minor and light off-roading, too.
The Biggest Rural Challenge Yet
In some past articles, I described some roads I’ve taken it on out in southeast Arizona. In the Chiricahua mountains near Portal and Paradise, Arizona, I’ve taken it on roads that the US Forest Service says this about: “High clearance vehicles are strongly recommended. 4WD also beneficial, if available.” Not only did it not get stuck or scrape, but it felt very comfortable and in control despite some very rough roads, water crossings, and more. I found a similar road near Ruidoso, New Mexico, that it did fine on, too.
But, I wanted to try something long with more variety. So, I took it on Forest Road 90, going from Bug Scuffle, New Mexico, to High Rolls in the Lincoln National Forest. This road starts as a mild gravel road, and drops from the high altitude top shelf of the Sacramento Mountains to a lower shelf that’s more of a medium between the desert and the alpine mountains on top.
The road starts as a nice gravel road at the top near the Sunspot to Timberon highway, and stays that way for the drop onto the lower shelf. But, once you pass the “end of county maintenance” sign where the road forks, things change quickly. The road is still very passable for most vehicles, but there are many sections where some morons blasted through deep mud during a particularly bad 2021 rainy season, leaving nasty ruts in their wake. With the mud dried and never wet to that level since then, the road gets not only rough, but could mess up a bumper if you make a wrong move.
Between the patches with deep mud ruts, there are relatively mild rock gardens to climb over. Like the rutted sections, you’ve got to pick lines carefully to avoid the larger and sharper rocks, but you don’t have to be as careful in the EUV as you’d have to be with many EVs. Like any EV, the EUV has plenty of very controllable low-end torque that makes climbing ruts, rocks, and small hills a breeze.
For about 60% of the 30-mile route, it goes back and forth between these two conditions. But, as you get closer to High Rolls, the road starts to become a gravel road again. But, that having been said, it’s a new gravel road that has only recently had a bunch of gravel dumped on it. This leads to some sections where vehicles (especially heavy EVs) try to sink, and cornering makes it feel like you’re driving on a pile of marbles. But, I never felt like the car was in any real risk of getting stuck because it was quite good at powering through the deeper parts of the gravel.
I got a number of weird looks. The vehicle really turned heads as I passed hunters, campers, and ranchers. It’s unsettlingly quiet for such a place, and they could tell I was scooting along on the gravel sections, but not making any engine sounds. There were also a few people towing campers into the area for the weekend who thought it was a good idea to take their half out of the middle who also gave me weird looks for not being in a truck.
About halfway down the road, there are a couple of houses, including an AirBnB property called The Domes. So, this isn’t an academic exercise. Americans really do live on roads like this one, and regularly visit places like this. The EUV did not just OK, but great along the whole length of the Forest Service road.
There are a few important limitations on my testing to keep in mind before you buy an Bolt EUV and regularly drive it up Forest Service roads.
First off, I’ve only tested it in dry conditions. I know that with only front drive and with stock low rolling resistance tires, it probably wouldn’t handle deep mud very well at all. But, budget EV shoppers who worry about deep mud shouldn’t get discouraged, because the upcoming Equinox EV will be available with AWD and you can put on better tires for those conditions.
I also need to point out that I was VERY careful about rock punctures. I could have gone faster over the rocky sections if I had truck tires or all-terrains, but I’m still running stock tires. If you’d like to regularly head out onto rocky roads that may be sharp here and there, you’ll want to upgrade the tires and probably carry a full-sized spare tire. I’m considering getting some Michelin LTX M/S tires because they’re not as noisy or inefficient as all-terrain tires, are available in the stock tire size, and still give far better durability than street tires over rocks.
This having been said, I think a Bolt EUV with minor upgrades (truck tires or all-terrains, suspension spacers, skid plate, some fold-up traction boards) could probably do a lot more than most people would think. Americans tend to think you need a lot more vehicle for minor off-roading than you really need, and it wouldn’t be very hard to approach the sort of performance you get out of a Subaru with some minor work and driving with some care.
Bottom line: if you’re a rural driver, the Bolt EUV might be a serious option to consider on a budget if you’re wanting to stop depending on the increasingly volatile gas situation.
Images by Jennifer Sensiba.
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