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Car and Driver: We (Briefly) Drove the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV and Now We’re Charged Up About It!

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2017-Chevrolet-Bolt-PLACEMENT
-Less than an hour after General Motors chairman and CEO Mary Barra unveiled the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, we’re behind the wheel for our first drive of the revolutionary electric car, which promises better than 200 miles of range and a net selling price (after tax credits) of $30,000. This has to be some kind of record for the shortest time between a production-car reveal and a first drive; the usual waiting game lasts for months.

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This kind of instant gratification does have its disadvantages, though. We’re driving the Bolt without knowing the full extent of its capabilities. Chevrolet won’t provide a power-output figure or the battery capacity until next week’s Detroit auto show, and a final range number won’t arrive until much closer to the start of production toward the end of 2016.

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2017-Chevrolet-Bolt-INLINE1

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Our short stint at the helm was also just a tease of the what’s to come. Chevrolet isn’t done tuning the Bolt, and our test car was a development unit with bug-like headlights and fabric sheets draped over the unfinished interior. Oh, and we were limited to five laps around a parking-lot cone course where we never topped 35 mph or saw a surface imperfection larger than a hairline crack. Despite all of this fine print, our first taste left us wanting more. We walked away from our Chevrolet Bolt drive convinced that the bowtie brand’s electric car could be great on a real road

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Go, Stop, Steer

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With such limited time in the car, the first matter of business, naturally, is to floor the go pedal. We’re used to the satisfying, instantaneous torque of electric cars and yet the Bolt surprises us with just how quick it feels. Chief engineer Josh Tavel, sitting in the passenger seat, claims that the Bolt will hit 60 mph in less than seven seconds. We wouldn’t say it feels that quick, but who are we to doubt the man that built the car?

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We lift off the accelerator to discover that, in Drive, the Bolt sails along with less regenerative braking than most of its electric peers. For one-pedal driving, you have to tap its BMW-like electronic shifter into Low, which allows for as much as 0.3 g of deceleration. Even more regenerative braking can be had by pulling on a small paddle behind the left spoke of the steering wheel. It’s an idea borrowed from the second-generation Volt, but we’re pleased to discover that the execution is much improved here. The transitions are far smoother in the pure-electric car, so passengers’ heads no longer bob as the driver pulls and releases the paddle.

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2017-Chevrolet-Bolt-INLINE1-2

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In the artificial curves and corners of the parking-lot course we find steering that’s heavier than you’d expect for a small commuter car, electric or otherwise. The steering wheel delivers quick reactions on-center, and the weight builds nicely with higher cornering speeds. It’s not surprising once we learn that, like so many top engineers at GM these days, Tavel is a racer. He pilots a Spec Racer Ford in SCCA events and competes at a national level.

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That background might sound strange for a guy tasked with building an environmentally focused subcompact, but Tavel says he was assigned to the Bolt program to make sure the finished product was a “normal car.” Chevrolet wanted to avoid the science-fair feel of the original Volt plug-in hybrid with its slightly ponderous handling, soundtrack of strange noises, and odd packaging. By that measure, Tavel and his team appear to have succeeded. The Bolt is smooth, nearly silent, and spacious.

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Little Big Car

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From the outside the Bolt looks like a tiny, narrow doorstop of a car, but the interior delivers a grand sense of roominess thanks to the flat floor and details like unusually thin seats. The bolsters of the front buckets use plastic sheets suspended from the metal frame and a layer of foam that’s one-fourth as thick as is typical. These seats are the key reason that a 6-foot-3-inch passenger can sit behind a driver of a similar size and have plenty of legroom.

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2017-Chevrolet-Bolt-INLINE2

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GM’s new electric-vehicle architecture is known simply as BEV II; it doesn’t have a Greek-letter name like the rest of the company’s platforms. Asked if it shares anything with the Gamma platform that underpins the Chevy Sonic, Tavel shrugs. “The liquid sound deadener,” he offers. The Bolt uses a MacPherson strut suspension in front and a torsion-beam arrangement at the rear. A handwritten sticker on the doorjamb suggests that this particular development car tips the scales at 3512 pounds—heavy for a car this small until you consider that hundreds of pounds of batteries cling to the underside of the floor.

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The Bolt’s tech story is not limited to the powertrain. The dashboard is dominated by a 10.2-inch touchscreen with an Android-like interface and a reconfigurable home page that allows the owner to resize and reposition widgets for the stereo, their phone, and the vehicle-efficiency monitors. While the system will be branded Chevrolet MyLink, it’s known internally as BYOME, or Bring Your Own Media; there is no built-in navigation system. A second digital display serves as the instrument cluster, borrowing some design cues from the Volt, while the rearview mirror doubles as a display for a rear-facing camera that offers a wider and unimpeded view of traffic behind you. Fast-charging capability will be optional using the SAE’s CCS standard, although it’s worth noting that the number of CCS charging stations pales in comparison to both Tesla’s Supercharger network and the CHAdeMO units used by the Nissan Leaf.

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Based on our short drive, the Bolt delivers everything Chevrolet promised at the model’s year-ago introduction (as a concept), and does so in a well-sorted package that offers a smooth driving experience. But is it a Tesla Model 3 killer? Well, at this stage, the Bolt competes with Elon Musk’s promises of what the Model 3 will be. Until Tesla delivers, we don’t know for sure how the Model 3 will compete with the Bolt. For now, we can only say that the Chevrolet Bolt will beat the Tesla Model 3 in one regard: It appears almost inevitable that the Chevrolet’s affordable battery-electric car will go on sale first.

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2017-Chevrolet-Bolt-REEL
-2016 Consumer Electronics Show

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