2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV first drive: Better battery bows
The Bolt’s range is now 259 miles — more than every competitor except one version of the Tesla Model 3
Looks like electric cars are the way of the future in America and probably around the world, so Chevy is upgrading its 2020-model Bolt EV to better compete. While most of the electric hatchback is carryover, the 66-kWh battery has been reformatted for 21 miles greater range. Through a remixing of the ratio of the various elements inside its lithium ion cells, LG Chem, the battery supplier to GM’s Bolt, has increased the power density of the unit without having to increase the actual exterior size, making what Chevy called, “small but impactful changes to the cell chemistry.” Thus, through “improved energy of the cell electrodes” the Bolt now takes you 259 miles on a single charge. Or at least that’s where the EPA rates Bolt range. Your range may vary.
As one battery promoter once said, “There’s a range of ranges.”
It’s pure coincidence that the Bolt’s new 259-mile range figure is exactly one mile farther than that of the Hyundai Kona Electric. It also bests the Kia Niro Electric’s 239 miles; the new, longer-range Nissan Leaf Plus at 226; and the BMW i3, which carries on until it hits 153 miles of EPA-estimated go. In fact, it even beats the Tesla Standard Range Plus Model 3, which goes 240 miles between fill ups (Tesla’s Long Range Model 3 makes it a whopping 310 miles on a charge — yowzah). So, in a market where range is one of the most competitive stats buyers compare, the Bolt is just about at the top.
Pricing holds steady, despite the new battery, at $37,495, about the same as a nicely equipped model of the new Nissan Leaf Plus and most of the competitors except the BMW i3 and the Tesla, the latter which is only theoretically cost-competitive.
Also, for 2020 the Bolt’s DC fast charging system is better, especially in mild or cold temperatures. Nissan says you can now get up to 100 miles range added in the first 30 minutes of charging from a low battery. There are better cameras front and rear and new pedestrian alert sounds front and rear. That optional inside rear view camera is better, as well, with new settings for brightness and other characteristics.
But all anyone wants to hear about is range. “Does it really go 259 miles, man?” We got a chance to try out the range estimate recently on a flat, speed-limit-happy driving route from Tacoma, Washington to Portland Oregon. Now, if you just drove straight down Interstate 5 from Tacoma to Portland it’d only be 141 miles, hardly a real challenge for this new battery. So Chevy plotted out a route that wound west from Tacoma to the ocean, then down the coast to Astoria, inland across the mighty Columbia to Kelso, then down south to Portland International Raceway (where you probably raced back in the ‘70s) (your lap time in the 260Z still stands, by the way).
That was the plan anyway. That route totaled a daring 251 miles, which would test the limits of our good driving and accelerator judiciousness.
We blew it, of course.
Climbing into our burnt orange Bolt in the proud port, lumber and salmon town of Tacoma, the readout on the dash said we’d make it 240 miles. That was the mid-range mileage estimate. The “Max” range was shown at 283 and the “Min” was 196. We were doomed, my co-driver and I. Perhaps this Bolt’s electronic brain had heard about my driving style. It didn’t help that my friend and co-driver insisted on using the seat heater. Plus, I found I had to turn on the climate control to get the defroster working in the rainy and cold-humid Northwest. Every time I hit the defrost function, range dropped by 20 miles. So I only flipped it on long enough so that I could see out the windows, then off it went.
After a mere 68 miles of driving through rainy forest land the range was down to 170. By the time we got to Astoria (“…we were haaaaalf a million strong…”) it was clear we weren’t going to make it. A quick search of my Plugshare app showed a heck of a bank of chargers in Kelso, Washington, just up the river, so to Kelso we headed. Problem was, everyone else had the same idea. With my flight boarding at Flughafen Portland in just a little under an hour, I jumped into a fully charged Bolt with a few other early fliers and bailed on the beautiful PNW, leaving my friend to deal with DC charging and which credit card which charger would accept.
So we didn’t get 259 miles. Maybe we could have without the seat heater. I have found in other electric cars that if I have to maximize range I really have to pay attention, which is asking a lot of modern drivers. I draft semis, cruise along at 55 in the slow lane, and dodge approaching cars in my rearview mirror with all the timing and cunning it takes to divebomb your meanest rival on the race track. We did none of that on our drive. So maybe it’ll really get 259 miles. The EPA range is calculated using a very precise methodology and it’s used for all electric cars. It’s best used to compare efficiencies between cars, not as an exact guide for what you’ll get leadfooting around in the rain with the defroster blasting and the seat heater frying your magnificent buttocks.
In the first nine months of 2019 Bolt sales are up year-on-year, unlike Leaf, i3 and Model 3. Chevy sold 13,111 of them so far this year, compared to 9,111 Leafs and just 3,663 i3s. Tesla is beating electric competitors by a huge margin when it comes to EV sales with 67,000 Models 3 as of the end of September 2019, but that figure’s down from 74,000 at this point last year.
Okay, but is Chevy making money on the Bolt yet? Heck, is anyone making money on these things?
“They are a great value at a great price,” said a Chevy sales exec, with a completely straight face.
So maybe no one is actually making money on these things yet, but it’s early. Just wait till … uh, some day. Right now buyers get a great bargain on EVs, and you could be a buyer.
2020 Chevy Bolt EV
On Sale: Later this year
Base price: $37,495
Drivetrain: Single permanent magnet drive motor and gearset, FWD
Output: 150 kW, 200 hp, 266 lb ft
Curb weight: 3563 pounds (mfg.)
Pros: A practical, everyday driver for the whole family, now with whoppin’ good range
Cons: To get all 259 miles out of it requires incredible pedal control and a tailwind