2020 Chevy Bolt EV: Part 1: First Driving Impressions

2020 Chevy Bolt EV driving impressions
Through the mountains of Oregon–the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV and me.

Confession: The road trip I took last weekend driving the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV (Premier 4D Hatchback version) was the first time I’ve driving a fully electric car.

I’ve driven a hybrid before, as rental cars, but never something that fully relied on battery power.

As such, my 2020 Chevy Bolt EV driving impressions are going to be the ones of an EV noob. But I feel like there are a lot of us “never driven a fully EV car” people out there and I wanted to provide that perspective, especially to those who are curious about these cars but have avoided them due to worries about battery usage, handling, or just plain concern about how differently they might drive from a gas-powered car.

I’ve had a few friends who also haven’t driven an EV ask me what the Bolt was like to drive. I’ll say here what I said to them: it drives like a car.

Meaning, overall, if you’ve never driven an EV, there’s no basic difference in how they drive from a gas-powered car.

But there are some specifics as to how the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV drives and I’m going to talk about those. (For a full list of specifications and pricing, Chevy has a site that will let you “build” your own Bolt, with all the options available, though that is a 2019 Bolt. The 2020 Chevy Bolt EV will be available in late 2019.)

I’m going to talk in later articles about the Bolt as a family car and how it might perform on long road trips, but this first article will be my overall 2020 Chevy Bolt EV general driving impressions.

First Impression

Chevy Bolt EV driving impressions
The dashboard display on the Chevy Bolt EV (with my phone blocked out.)

I’m five foot two and, often, it feels like I have to crane my neck to see properly, even with seat adjustments. This was definitely not the case with the Bolt EV. The first impression I had when I sat down in the Bolt EV was that my sight was more unimpeded than in any car I’ve ever driven, even my minivans.

The Bolt EV offered me an umimpeded view of front and both sides even before I adjusted the seat or the steering wheel, aided by the ample front and side windshields.  There are also plenty of ways to adjust the seating from front to back and from higher and lower, as well as adjustments that can be made on the position of the steering wheel . (I can’t speak for how much taller people fit but I believe GeekDad Matt Blum, who’s writing a piece about his impressions, will cover that.)

The dashboard is nicely laid out, with directional lights and windshield wipers in familiar places on the steering wheel. The heating/cooling controls are in the center, on the bottom of the display screen that handles the smartphone inputs, such as GPS, and the satellite radio.

The shifter is between the front bucket seats. I know, that’s usually a given placement, but I recently rented a Toyota Prius when I was in Florida and the Prius shifter is *on the dashboard.* It was disconcerting and I still wasn’t used to it after four days. It’s a counter-intuitive place to put a gear shifter.

2020 Chevy Bolt EV: Handling

The Bolt is a responsive vehicle. The acceleration is superior to my current Ford Focus (2012) but, most importantly, there is no hesitation and no lag from input to action. Indeed, it seems to respond faster than my Focus though that may be a product of the Focus’ age.

I passed cars quickly and easily on the highway with the Bolt. (Going the speed limit, of course. Mostly. Kinda.) But it also responded well to requests for more power on hills, even when climbing curves uphill.

Being a subcompact, it corners supremely well, holding tight to the road. Chevy public relations officials gave us a road trip route that primarily used Route 101 from Tacoma, Washington, through Astoria, Oregon, and finally to Cannon Beach, Oregon.

This was a terrific choice for a road test as the mountain road winds up and down, around, along the waterline, and back up again, not to mention driving up and down the fairly steep hills of Astoria, which I had to do to find parking.

And let’s not mention the Metzger bridge, which gave me pause driving over it, especially that climb at the end. Again, tight corners, responsive braking, excellent acceleration.

But my favorite part of the handling was the obstacle cone course set up for us to test at the Portland International Raceway. It was a short course, taking only about 35-40 seconds at a good speed. I got to have fun going through the slalom second, particularly. I squealed the tires a few times but the Bolt held absolutely steady and maneuvered well. I come from a long line of leadfoots–my mom once got a ticket on the Vermont roads for doing 80 mph in a late 1960s Ford Galaxy 500–and I’ve even gotten tickets on the highway driving the minivans. This absolutely was a blast to take through tight corners with acceleration.

2020 Chevy Bolt EV Driving Impressions
The driver’s display. (Taken from the passenger seat)

How Far Can You Go in the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV?

The official EPA-approved mileage is 259 on a single charge, a ten-percent increase in range from the 2019 model or a 21 mph jump from this year’s model to the 2020. This range can be affected by the same things that affect fuel efficiency in gasoline-powered cars: use of climate settings, the speed at which the car is driven, and whether the car is driven in “D” or “L.” (More on “L” next.)

On our road trip, I finished with approximately 80 miles of power left. The cars were then charged overnight at the hotel for a full charge.

Important note: If you buy a 2020 Chevy Bolt EV, you are going to want the fast-charge option included. That means you can charge up to 100 miles in a half-hour or a full charge in approximately 2 hours. Otherwise, charging can take some hours. That’s not a big deal if you charge at home and return home all the time but if you’re on a road trip of more than 250 miles, it can be a big deal. On our road trip, the Tolovana Inn in Cannon Beach had chargepoints available and they recharged all night.

The MyChevy app, which can be linked to your car, will search and find all types of charge stations for you, as will some third-party apps, such as ChargePoint. MyChevy can also plan your route around charging stations for longer road trips. It can sound intimidating but, after all, you have to plan to stop for gas on road trips as well. The Bolt will require more planning, as there’s obviously fewer public charging stations than gas stations but searching on ChargePoint bought up at least three public charging station within 15 miles of my house, which surprised me, so those are going to be available somewhere close on whatever route you take. For instance, I checked ChargePoint for stations along one of our routes to a vacation place in Myrtle Beach and I came up with numerous ones along the way.

For local driving, if you have a charge station available at your home or work, running out of power would not be an issue. Several companies near me have charging station parking slots that I’ve noticed mostly stand empty during the day.

How much will it cost? It depends. It can cost more than a car, especially at the fast-charging stations, but not a huge amount more. It may affect your budget if you are someone who takes trips longer than 250 miles as a matter of course. But if you charge at home on a routine basis, the electricity will be cheaper than gas.

The “L” Gear

The shifter. image by Corrina Lawson

As was emphasized to me during the event, the “L” gear isn’t what you’d normally think of as “low gear.”

Rather, it’s a one-pedal driving system that automatically slows the Bolt as you let up on the gas, without applying the brakes at all. I found it terrific for stop-and-go traffic, eliminating the need to always shift back and forth from the gas to the brake.

But “L” also works on the highway. If your speed slows from, say, 64 mph to 60 mph, the car will also recharge from this gear. So you can go as fast as you want and it will automatically slow down when exiting or when encountering heavy traffic. This is a good safety feature if you’re not paying close attention to your speed.

It does take some trial and error to become used to one-pedal driving. But I began to prefer it. I even used it through the slalom course that Chevy PR set up at Portland International Raceway, and found it was quicker to adjust speeds that way than when hitting the brakes. I can see myself basically driving the car in “L” at all times.

Note: when I returned home, I did have to remember that I wouldn’t automatically slow in my Ford Focus.

“L” can be more efficient, energy-wise, as well, adding regen via the brakes to the battery. But “D” also will allow regen via the brakes, so it’s safe to say that a driver would see more efficiency in local traffic in “L” than on the highway.

Safety Features in the 2020 Chevy Bolt EV

Safety features have increased exponentially since I last bought a new car, with all kinds of all-around cameras and warning systems. The Bolt is no exception.

The Bolt has an all-around camera that is lovely to use when backing out of a space, along with the proximity warnings. It also has a rear-view camera whose feed appears in the *rear-view mirror* when driving.

It took about an hour for me to become used to the different look in the rear-view mirror, from a mirrored image to a video feed, but the video feed obviously offers a better look at what’s around the car than the mirror. However, you can swap back to a simple rear-view mirror if you prefer.

Since EVs are so quiet, there are automatic chimes that sound when its under 20 mph, as required by law. (Pedestrians are used to listening for motors and EVs are silent, and so they are often not noticed by pedestrians.)

Those chimes sounded twice when I was driving in traffic in Astoria, OR. I heard them because I had the window open. If I’d had the radio on, I wouldn’t have. So, if you’re driving in traffic in a city, unless you have the windows wide open, the chimes will not drive you crazy but will still do the job of letting pedestrians know you’re there.

The proximity warnings also let me know when I was too close to a car that had pulled too close behind me to park. And the “L” has somewhat of a safety function as well because if you let off the gas, it will slow automatically without having to hit the brakes. That is, if you train yourself to drive in “L’s” one-pedal driving mode. There were a few times when I had to also hit the brakes in “L” for sudden stops in front of me.

Storage Space

2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV trunk space. Take out that spacer and you add more room. Photo copyright Chevy.

The Bolt EV is a hatchback and so it’s actually bigger on the inside than it appears.

Without adjustment, the hatch space could fit four carry-on size suitcases. But you remove the section that hides the bottom of the truck and that gives you about three inches more space from side to side. You also can pile stuff to the ceiling since It doesn’t matter if you block the rear-view mirror because can rely on the rear-view camera feed instead.

One thing I didn’t test was back-seat riding. I suspect if you’re a larger person, you would be displeased. But it would work fine for kids, of course.

Bottom Line: Chevy Bolt EV

At the presentation before the drive, Chevy representatives said they wanted the Bolt EV to be in the place in the box where EV intersects with affordability. It’s currently priced at approximately $37,000 and up, new. (And I drove the 2020 model, not the 2019 model.) The Premier 2019 model starts at $41,895.

I “built” my dream Bolt at the Chevy site, including the fast charging option ($750), and the audio and safety accessories package, and received a price for the 2019 Chevy Bolt premier would be: $38,280. (Obviously, tax and title are extra.)

A similar model Tesla, for comparison will cost about $41,200 at base, and $54,200 fully loaded.

There would be an initial investment in installing a charging station at your home. Chevy has contractors affiliated with this installation that can provide quotes for your specific home but the prices I researched said it can be anywhere from $500 to $2000. So there’s an initial investment, obviously.

For those who don’t own homes, the Bolt still might be an option. Many employers now have EV charging stations in their parking lots and so do some apartment/condominium developments. My son, who lives in King of Prussia, noted that his apartment complex has two charging stations that hardly anyone uses. If you’re interested in the Bolt, that might be worth checking, especially if the charging at your work or home site is free of charge.

Driving the Bolt definitely dispelled my apprehensions about buying an EV and it’s one of the cars I’m going to consider when I next purchase a car, even with the home installation for the electrical charger.

Next up: the Bolt as a family car.

Disclaimer: GeekMom was provided the opportunity to drive the Chevy Bolt EV by General Motors representatives at a press event in Oregon that took place over two days. 

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