When I decided last year to buy an electric car, the first one I considered was the Tesla Model 3. (See “My First EV – Part I.”) I test drove one at the dealer and took notes. After trying the Kia Niro EV, Hyundai Kona EV, and VW ID.4, I ended up buying a Chevy Bolt EUV with Super Cruise.
Last week we were going to a party at the Filimon Farms, about 40 miles from home. It was far enough away to justify a carpool, and more fun. Some friends offered to drive us and showed up at our home in their 2020 Tesla Model 3. My immediate reaction was: “Can I drive?”
“Sure,” answered my friend.
After putting 2,000 miles on my Bolt, I really wanted to compare it with the Model 3. But is this a fair comparison? My 2023 Bolt was $41,000 out the door. Checking Craigslist, a 2020 Model 3 goes for $35,000 to $40,000, plus DMV fees, so the comparison is fair in terms of cost. Here is my (subjective) assessment.
This is a no contest. With more than double the horsepower, the Model 3 is the clear winner. If this is important to you, the choice is obvious.
My friend sits shotgun while I am driving his car. “How many miles on your car”? I ask. “I have no idea. Let me check,” he says. And he starts tapping on the tablet. He clicks on some “Car” tab and opens a screen with tons of information. He looks, clicks some more, and after a few minutes gives up. “I do not know,” he concludes. [Editor’s note: After clicking on the symbol of the car, you click on “Software” and your mileage total is there. I agree that it’s not the intuitive place to put it, but once you know where it is, it’s quick and easy to get to. —Zach Shahan]
I am sure the information is somewhere on the Tesla infotainment system, but not easy to find. Compared to the Bolt, it’s just childish. Another penalty of the minimalistic design that Elon loves so much.
Perhaps the Tesla has a compass somewhere and one could probably find it after numerous taps. Or maybe it is always present, but you have to look for it. Look at the compass on the Bolt display. One glance and you see it. The range is also clearly displayed. It does not have to compete with the navigation map, the car history, or whatever else you have displayed on the dashboard. It is always there, as it should be.
The climate controls on the Bolt are much better. Levers you press up and down to adjust the temperature and the fan are conveniently placed under the display. They are not menu items on the monitor.
The Model 3, and I suspect all the Teslas, have two ways of braking. In non-regenerative mode, the car coasts when you take the foot off the accelerator. In regenerative mode, the car brakes heavily when you take the foot off. In non-regenerative mode, you have to brake the car using the brake pedal. In regenerative mode, you use your energy to charge the battery, but the only way you can brake less is to press the accelerator slightly.
The Bolt is different. You do not switch between the two modes. Instead, it has a brake-assist lever on the steering wheel, conveniently placed on the left side. When you release the accelerator, the car brakes slightly — regenerative. You can brake heavily using your left hand fingers. After a few hours of driving the Bolt, I learned how to use the “hand brake” and I can stop the car exactly where I want, without ever touching the foot brake. I think I can drive this car 100,000 miles without replacing the brake pads. I was not able to do the same with the Tesla. It either stopped too soon or too late, and I had to use the brake pedal. [Editor’s note: I think this is again just a case of getting used to it. I don’t remember the process of getting used to it, but I almost never have to touch the brake pedal, and I also don’t suffer from the problem of letting off the accelerator too soon or too quickly. Regen braking is super smooth and, I think, ideal on the Model 3. YMMV. — Zach]
The range of the two cars is very similar, 240 to 260 miles, depending on how fast you drive. No winner here. As you can see in the picture above, the Bolt even claims a 290 mile range — if your past driving was rather slow, on city streets.
The Tesla is more stylish and the seats are very comfortable. Both cars have synthetic leather. The seats on the Bolt are perforated and the car sends hot or cold air through the leather, based on the selection of the climate. I do not know if the Tesla has the same feature. [Editor’s note: The Model 3 has seat heaters but does not have perforated seats and cooling through the seat, unfortunately. —Zach]
The climate is good on both cars, except settings are easier on the Bolt. Without a precise measurement, I found the road noise quite similar, maybe a little bit higher on the Tesla. Maybe I am not observant enough, but I could not see a winner.
SIDE MIRRORS: When I first test drove the Model 3, I found the display showing all the cars in the adjacent lines quite interesting. Now I am not so sure. The Model 3 shows all the cars behind, in line, and ahead of my car, on the left and right. A lot of information I do not care about. Actually, I care only about the cars in my blind spots, left and right. And here the Bolt does an excellent job.
The side mirrors of the Bolt have a little car and a star next to it embedded in the mirror, towards the outside edge. When a car is in your blind spot, give or take a few feet up and down, a red light on the mirror lights up. I find this very convenient, especially at night. I do not have to look for it. I see it with my peripheral vision without turning my head. The light is not too intrusive, just bright enough so you can see it. GM calls it Blind Zone Assist and it does just that.
REARVIEW MIRROR: On all the cars I drove in the past, the rearview mirror had two positions, for day and night driving. I did not check the Tesla, but I suspect it is the same. The Bolt is different.
In the normal setting, the rearview mirror is just the plain mirror. When you pull on the level below, the mirror becomes a display showing the view from a camera. Gimmick or useful feature?
The default setting has a much larger view angle than the mirror. You can see objects that you would not see in the normal mirror. You can adjust the zoom, luminosity, and tilt also. I found the camera mirror very convenient when you have passengers in the rear seat. The mirror view can be obstructed a great deal, especially if you have tall friends. Not so with the camera view. Clear, unobstructed view in all cases.
We all know Elon brags about “full self-driving,” but this is a myth. The Model 3 I drove did not have it to the fullest. Just regular Autopilot on the freeway, comparable with the Bolt. I’ll review different segments of this individually.
The Model 3 has the “gear shift” on the right side of the steering wheel level, where you normally have the wiper controls. The wipers are controlled from the turn signal stalk, which I did not have the chance to experiment with, but I find rather unconventional. However, deploying Autopilot is very easy. You just press twice on the lever, and if the conditions are proper, the pilot engages.
The Bolt is a little less convenient. You have to press a button on the left side of the steering wheel. Not a big deal, but you have to glance at it. Not as convenient as the Model 3, which does not require looking.
When Autopilot takes over, it steers the car in the center lane and it drives at the preset speed, or it keeps a constant distance to the car upfront. It was probably hard for Elon to give up on the “minimalistic” approach, but here he conceded and installed a dedicated wheel to adjust the distance. I found it on my own without asking. The Bolt has a similar wheel, except the result is shown on the dashboard in front of you, not on the monitor to your right.
Keeping the center of the driving lane is an interesting challenge. The car has to “look ahead” to see when a curve is coming, in order to start steering early enough. I think both cars do a very good job of navigating the curves — somewhat expected from the Tesla, but a nice surprise from the Bolt. They’re both much better than an ICE Camry I rented last year which had its own form of Autopilot.
When Autopilot engages, the Model 3 shows some indication of that on the touchscreen to the right, but checking the display is cumbersome. On the Bolt, quite reassuring, the top sector of the steering wheel turns green. You do not have to look for it; you can see it right in front of you. If the pilot has doubts about steering, it turns blue. If it gives up, it turns red.
The Model 3 knows how to change lanes. The Bolt does not. On the Model 3, you tell it to change lanes by pressing on the turn signal. On the Bolt, you signal your intention, the display turns blue, and you change lanes. After the lane change, the pilot re-engages and the display turns green. I should give the Bolt zero stars, and five to Tesla, but I find the lane change feature a rather dangerous activity for the autopilot. If there is no traffic, the Model 3 does a perfect line change. If the traffic is heavy, forget it. I tried it on the Tesla and I had to take over. No rating here — I prefer to take over when I change lanes.
Just by simply adding up the scores, the Model 3 got 39 stars and the Bolt 42. I surely am subjective, because I dislike the Tesla (lack of) dashboard and I find the placement of the tablet annoying. I showed more pictures of the Bolt controls, because there is nothing to show on the Tesla.
So, if you are in the market for an EV, what should you choose? The Model 3 starts at $40,000. The Bolt EUV starts at $27,000. So, probably in the end, the Tesla will cost at least $10,000 more. Your rich Uncle Sam will pitch in up to $7,500 for the Bolt or $3,750 for the Model 3 (unless you buy the Model 3 Performance, the most expensive option, in which case Uncle Sam will provide $7,500). If you like the minimalistic approach and money is not important, the Model 3 is for you. If you like the traditional design and do not care what people think if you drive a Chevy, the Bolt is your better choice. But make sure you check them both before deciding.
By Mihai Beffa
Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Former Tesla Battery Expert Leading Lyten Into New Lithium-Sulfur Battery Era — Podcast:
I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...