Much to the chagrin of Porsche 911 fans, the Chevrolet Bolt took the crown in our 2017 Car of the Year competition. To beat a nearly perfect car, the Bolt had to be nothing short of a game-changer, which it turns out, it was. We credited the Bolt for making electric transport for the masses a reality. One judge summed it up: “The Bolt is not just a great electric vehicle but also a great commuter vehicle in every respect. … Well done, GM. You are now the leader.”
In the three years since, the electric vehicle landscape has changed dramatically with the notable arrivals of the Tesla Model 3, Hyundai Kona EV, Kia Niro EV, and a longer-range Nissan Leaf, among others. And even more EVs are coming later this year. Has the groundbreaking Bolt stood the test of time, or has it lost its luster? Keep reading to see if we’re still as impressed with the 2020 version of the small hatch as we were when it was released.
For the 2020 model year, Chevy improved the Bolt’s cell chemistry to squeeze an extra 21 miles of range from the battery, which was accomplished without altering the physical battery pack, meaning its size and weight stays the same. Now, range is an estimated 259 miles, making the Bolt competitive with its new crop of rivals.
The Bolt recharges at a rate of 4 mph with a 120V plug, and about 10 hours if you use a 240V home charger. Compare that to the Leaf Plus, which takes approximately 11.5 hours with a 240V outlet, and the Niro EV, taking an estimated 9.5 hours. As with other EVs, you can charge much more quickly at a DC fast charging station. Here, the Bolt can recoup 100 miles in 30 minutes.
Like earlier versions of the Bolt, the 2020 model makes a healthy 200 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, and it provides smooth, linear acceleration off the line. On the highway, the Bolt provides has plenty of gumption for merging or passing other cars, and it even maintains its power while climbing steep hills.
At the track, a 2020 Chevrolet Bolt ran from 0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds, matching the time achieved by its predecessor, our 2017 Car of the Year.
“Doesn’t have the neck-snapping launch I thought it would have (being an EV), but I suppose it’s adequate for a budget EV,” said associate road test editor Erick Ayapana. That said, the Bolt is zippier than the Nissan Leaf Plus, which we clocked at 6.5 seconds, and the Hyundai Kona Electric, which took 6.6 seconds. The Kia Niro EV is marginally quicker than the Bolt, scooting to 60 in 6.2 seconds. If you want mainstream-beating performance, look to cars like the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus, which boasts a 5.0-second time.
Unnatural brake feel remains a major point of contention in many of today’s hybrids and EVs. If you press down the pedal as you normally would, the brakes bite down only part of the way on the Bolt. You have to press down nearly to the floor for the Bolt to come to a complete stop.
That said, the Bolt’s stopping distance isn’t bad. It took 123 feet to go from 60 mph to a standstill, matching the Niro EV, and not too far off the Leaf Plus’ 121 feet. The Kona Electric needed 138 feet, according to our most recent test.
Handling and Ride Quality
In the figure-eight test, we took note of the Bolt’s peppy personality, but also its lack of tire grip. Road test editor Chris Walton noted, “In Sport mode with transmission in ‘L,’ the throttle is pretty lively, and without an engine sound to use as a cue, it’s super easy to get greedy with too much throttle and blow the corner.” He praised the steering for its accuracy, though it feels a little artificial.
The Bolt performed better than the Leaf Plus in the figure-eight, with a time of 27.6 seconds at an average 0.63 g compared to 27.8 seconds at 0.62 g. But the Niro EV came out ahead (27.1 seconds at 0.66 g), while the Kona Electric lagged behind (27.8 seconds @ 0.65 g).
The Bolt is fun to drive on canyon roads, and it’s easy to park in the city. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to porpoise at speeds above 50 mph, and there’s considerable road noise that seeps into the cabin on the highway.
The Bolt’s interior has long left us wanting more. Even on the top trim, the cabin has lots of cheap-looking, hard plastic surfaces. The headliner feels like paper, and if you press it with your finger, it collapses inward. A few other quibbles: The cupholders are too small, and there are three buttons below the climate controls that have no function.
That said, there are plenty of things we like. The low placement of the windshield and side windows make the cabin feel more open than a small hatchback should, while also providing excellent visibility. The heated seats on the Premier model are soft and premium to the touch. But the best part of the interior is the technology. The two screens—a digital 8-inch instrument cluster and a 10.2-inch central touch display—are a sight for sore eyes in the otherwise spartan cabin. The touchscreen is responsive, has easy-to-navigate menus, and doesn’t produce glare. Although it may not have the most attractive cabin, the screens and the intuitive controls below give it an advantage over rivals when it comes to interior technology.
Cargo and Passenger Space
Although the Bolt makes good use of its available space, there’s no getting around its small cargo bay. We were able to fit one electric scooter, with little room to spare. The trunk is sufficient for a grocery run, but forget about getting luggage for the whole family in.
Cargo space (cubic feet)
Leaf Plus: 23.6
Niro EV: 18.5
Kona Electric: 19.2
Ioniq Electric: 23.0
Model 3 Standard Plus: 15
Fold down the rear seats, and the Bolt’s 16.9 cubic feet of cargo space expands to 56.6 cubic feet. That’s more space than rivals, including the Leaf Plus (30.0), Niro EV (53.0), and even the Kona Electric SUV (45.8 cubic feet).
Despite its small trunk, the Bolt has plenty of room for passengers. With 36.5 inches of rear legroom, it offers passengers more room to stretch out than most competitors. Total passenger volume is average among competitors, coming in at 94.4 cubic feet compared to 92.4 for the Leaf, 92.4 for the Kona Electric, 96.6 for the Niro EV, and 96.2 for the Ioniq Electric.
Rear legroom (inches)
Leaf Plus: 33.5
Niro EV: 36.0
Kona Electric: 33.4
Ioniq Electric: 35.7
Model 3: 35.2
The base LT starts at $37,495, while Premier models will set you back $41,895. These prices are before you factor in federal tax credits, though this benefit will soon disappear. GM has now sold 200,000 plug-in vehicles, triggering a phase-out of its federal tax credits. That means buyers can get up to $1,875 in tax credits through the end of March, but nothing once April 2020 hits. Keep in mind Chevy is offering some big discounts on the Bolt right now, though.
The base 2020 Nissan Leaf is priced from $32,525, but if you want the long-range Plus version, you’ll spend $39,125 before a $7,500 federal tax credit. Hyundai’s 2020 Ioniq Electric is also one of the less expensive options, starting at $34,000 before the $7,500 credit. The 2020 Kona Electric starts at $38,285 while the 2019 Niro EV is priced from $39,620; both these vehicles also qualify for the $7,500 credit. The Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus starts at just above $40,000, but higher models will cost you $50,000 and more. Federal tax credits for the Model 3 have expired.
Is it worth it?
The Bolt is still a great electric car, but now it has some equally compelling rivals. A reasonable entry price, zippy performance, and practical range make a strong case for the Bolt EV, but if cargo space and interior fit and finish are high priorities, you might want to look at other options.
|2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV (Premier)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$44,130|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-motor, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|MOTOR||200-hp/266-lb-ft permanent magnet electric motor|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,561 lb (56/44%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||164.0 x 69.5 x 62.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.9 sec @ 93.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.6 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||127/108/118 MPGe|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||27/31 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.00 lb/mile (at vehicle)|
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