2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV first drive: 240 miles in an electric car

We drove a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car 240 miles on a single charge last week.

And that was the lowest range achieved among four journalists driving four Bolt EVs along the California coast.

One driver covered essentially the same trip with fully 32 miles remaining, according to the car’s display.

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In other words, the Bolt EV delivers on its EPA range rating of 238 miles combined—announced earlier today—in real-world use.

Our six-hour drive route took us 235 miles from Monterey, California, south to Santa Barbara, largely along the scenic coastal Route 1.

That road was characterized as “one of the most frustrating routes in the world” by a Chevrolet team member, but it was comparatively free of slow-moving rented motorhomes and gawking tourists for at least half the drive.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Aug 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Aug 2016

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Much of the route was covered at speeds of 40 to 60 mph, but over a stretch of country roads and highway toward the end of the trip, we drove to keep up with traffic—meaning 70 to 75 mph in many cases.

At the end, we crested a 2,000-foot pass over the coastal mountains before descending to sea level at our destination—with the air conditioning on low to counter temperatures of more than 90 degrees.

A few miles before the final grade, our Bolt had replaced the miles-remaining number in the instrument cluster with an orange “Low Range” warning.

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Halfway up the grade, that warning began to flash insistently. Not to worry, said our GM passenger; it’ll be fine. We learned later that the warning comes up based a variety of factors.

In our case, we found out, it had kicked in on the early side, with some battery capacity remaining, because we’d been traveling at up to 75 mph before starting the steep climb.

With a 60-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and a motor rated at up to 150 kilowatts (200 horsepower), the relatively light Bolt EV felt perfectly capable of handling whatever we asked it to do.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Aug 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Aug 2016

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Remaining range clearly falls faster when driving at 75 mph than at 60 mph, a function of inescapable physics: the energy used to overcome aerodynamic drag increases exponentially with speed, rather than proportionally.

Even at that mix of speeds, our Bolt EV delivered 4.1 miles per kilowatt-hour used. Over our 240 miles, we had used 58.7 kwh, or 97.8 percent of the total stated pack capacity of 60 kwh.

Another less aggressive driver achieved 4.8 mi/kwh, and a third came in at 4.5 mi/kwh. Anything over 4 mi/kwh has to be considered a laudable figure for a journey that averaged at least 40 mph and had frequent stretches at much higher speeds.

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After having driven close to a dozen different electric cars with ranges of 62 to 107 miles, the Bolt EV was the first car in which we could ignore the remaining range altogether for the first five of our six hours behind the wheel.

That’s freedom of a sort that only Tesla owners can enjoy today—for prices of $70,000 and up.

And delivering that freedom, at a price half that of the average Tesla sold today, sets the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV apart from every other electric car on the market.

Over the next three years, it’ll be joined by a second-generation Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model 3, an electric BMW crossover utility, a compact-sized electric car from Volkswagen, and other vehicles with 200 or more miles of range.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Aug 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Aug 2016

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But from our long drive, we’d say the Bolt EV sets a high bar against which those vehicles will be measured.

Approached from afar, the Bolt EV’s shape appears short in length, tall in height, and boxy. Still, it’s a bigger car than it appears, substantially larger than something like a Chevy Spark or a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, both classed as minicars.

And the interior is wide and remarkably spacious. Four tall adults can sit easily inside, and unlike the Volt, the flat floor means the center position in the rear is a real seat, not a “seating position” perched on a hump.

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We liked the Bolt’s interior, especially its large and crisp displays, both on the central touchscreen and in the fully digital instrument cluster.

Both have a thinner and more elegant font, but the size, resolution, and brightness make them easier to read than some of the darker and smaller screens in other vehicles.

And the information presented is simple: speed, range remaining, and energy usage in the cluster, with total energy consumption and other data in the central display.

The thin seats are comfortable, and there’s room in the back for full-sized adults, though admittedly we spent only enough time there to test them out.

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