The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV could become the first mainstream electric car, with a 238-mile range and a base price in the high $30,000s before incentives.
Braking You Can Live With
Like all hybrids and battery-electrics, the Bolt employs regenerative braking, through which the drive motor serves as a generator, using the car’s momentum and rotating drive wheels to recharge the battery. I’m pleased to report that the braking and pedal feel are pretty good. For a hybrid or EV, “pretty good” seems to be the most you can ask for. The other end of the spectrum is “terrible,” as represented by the Chevrolet Volt.
Blending regeneration with conventional hydraulic brakes — which all of these cars do — can lead to inconsistency, numbness and erratic response depending on how far or quickly you press the brake pedal. Perhaps the reason the Bolt EV’s brakes feel more natural is that the pedal doesn’t seem to trigger very robust regeneration, though it certainly stops the car. Like the current Volt, the Bolt EV has a paddle behind the left-hand steering-wheel spoke that increases the regenerative braking effect — braking by hand, as if you’re on a bicycle. It seems gimmicky, but perhaps it’s one way to work around the pedal-feel challenge.
Another option is to toggle the “gear” selector downward to select the L mode, which makes the car slow rapidly when you lift off the accelerator. It will even bring the car to a complete stop if you let it. This mode doesn’t disable the regen paddle, which activates even stronger braking. The L setting is good for so-called one-pedal driving, or one-pedal/one hand, if you like.
Innovation With a Hint of Frugality
The Bolt EV also has Hilltop Reserve, which is not an artisanal wine. It’s an innovation intended for people who charge their Bolt with the expectation of sustained downhill driving afterward. It charges the battery pack to 90 rather than 100 percent capacity. The reason is that a full battery can’t capture any additional regeneration. By leaving that 10 percent open, you work toward filling it for free by driving downhill where you otherwise would have paid to charge it via cord. Owners can program the car to activate this feature once or automatically only in a particular location, such as at home, work or both.
Getting a Grip
My drive included a stretch through canyon roads, where the Bolt’s handling proved to be even better than it seemed back home. Typical of EVs, its heaviest elements — such as the battery pack — sit relatively low compared with a gas-powered car, which gives it a low center of gravity. You sense it in the Bolt’s resistance to body roll and its grounded feeling. Road-holding is pretty good, too. Though its tires are similar to those on the Volt, Chevy modified the rubber compound a bit to improve grip. Perhaps most important, the tires squeal as they begin to lose traction — in a minimally obnoxious way — so you know to back off.