Payne: Chevy Bolt has 238-mile range, lots of muscle

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The much-anticipated battery-powered 2017 Chevrolet Bolt isn’t just a green machine: This all-electric compact crossover can lay some serious black rubber, too.

Chevy claims a zero-60 time of 6.9 seconds. That’s comparable to Ford’s rabid Fiesta ST, but it feels quicker. Tesla calls its Model S P90D’s acceleration “Ludicrous” mode. Let’s just call the Bolt “Bananas” — and you might lose a few from the grocery bag by throwing around the nimble crossover on the way home.

Test-driving a Bolt outside its birthplace in GM’s Orion Assembly, I stomped the accelerator out of a stoplight and it, well ... bolted. With 266 pound-feet of instant torque coursing through its front wheels, the Chevy’s Michelin tires left yards of scorched asphalt in my wake.

The five-door Bolt will have an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles on a full charge and beat the Tesla Model 3 to market as the first car under $40,000 to eclipse the 200-mile mark. The mileage figure is a significant 20 percent jump over the car’s anticipated 200-mile figure — and it beats the $66,000 base Tesla Model S luxury sedan by 20 miles.

GM Orion readies for Chevy Bolt EV production

From the Fiat 500e to the Nissan Leaf, there are more than a half-dozen “affordable” EVs in production. But none approach the potential of the Bolt and Model 3.

Promising similar range (the Model 3 is estimated at 215 miles on a full charge) and acceleration as the Bolt, the Silicon Valley-bred Tesla electrified the auto community with its plans to bring Model S-like range and performance to the masses. Pricing is even similar — the Bolt will start at around $37,500, minus a $7,500 federal tax rebate; the Model 3 should start at $35,000.

But the Bolt will hit showrooms by the end of the year, while the Tesla won’t be available for a year after that. And with such a huge jump in the marketplace, Bolt might steal some of Tesla’s thunder. Heck, tech god Steve Wozniak says he’s ready to trade in his Model S for the Chevy.

Riding shotgun with me with me on public roads north of The Palace of Auburn Hills was Bolt chief engineer Josh Tavel, a testament to the fact that Chevy’s Bolt ambitions go way beyond high mileage numbers.

An amateur race-driver who worked on GM’s Alpha platform — the athletic bones on which the Cadillac ATS and Camaro sit — the 37-year old knows a thing or two about performance. And he has brought it to the Bolt.

“This car is a noodle without the battery in the floor,” says Tavel, motioning to the car’s floor where a 60 kWh lithium-ion battery is fully integrated into the car’s steel chassis. For perspective, that’s the same size battery as in the much more expensive, base Tesla Model S luxury sedan.

Like Tesla, Tavel and his team want the high-tech Bolt to redefine the car experience. This isn’t a green vehicle. This is a high-tech vehicle that happens to be green. Tavel says 40 miles of the Bolt’s range is achieved through brake regeneration. It’s a concept is familiar to legions of Model S addicts.

Removing my lead foot from the accelerator acts like a brake, recharging the battery. Then Bolt takes the trick a step further: Move the mono-stable shifter from Drive to Low and the Chevy will coast to a complete stop without any brake at all. The Bolt also has a “regen paddle” on the steering wheel that allows the driver to slow the vehicle with a fingertip. It makes for an interesting game along your daily commute — a game with better range numbers as a reward.

“I always drive my Bolt home in Low mode,” Tavel says.

The battery in the basement does more than just give the Bolt a low 20.7-inch center of gravity on par with production sports cars: it transforms the interior space. With only an AC motor and control units like the AC/DC power-converter controller under the hood, there’s plenty of room to move the cabin forward, opening up acres of space in back. A leggy 6-foot-5 ex-basketball player, I could easily sit behind myself in the rear seat. The 102.4-inch wheelbase is midway between a Chevy Sonic and the Cruze, the B-segment subcompact. But its 94 square feet of interior room is decidedly C-segment.

Unlike its plug-in hybrid sister Chevy Volt, which has a battery splitting the cabin in two, the Bolt has plenty of interior elbow and legroom. Unencumbered by a drivetrain, the console opens for ample storage and a huge 10.2-inch screen on the dash.

Continuing Chevy’s embrace of digital devices, the Bolt won’t offer an in-car navigation system. It’s a nod to consumer preference for using their own Android or Apple smartphones’ navigation systems: With Android Auto and Apple CarPlay standard, drivers simply plug in their phones and ask Google (or Siri) to lead the way.

Even the Bolt’s tires are transformative. Run over a nail and Michelin’s compound will absorb the intruding shrapnel without going flat. “We are taking away every excuse not to buy this car,” says engineer Tavel.

Perhaps the biggest excuse Bolt overcomes is it’s not a sedan. The Chevy Volt suffered in a market that was rejecting sedans (it was ridiculed as a $40,000 Chevy Cruze). The Bolt’s elevated seating position, unique platform and compact-utility interior hit the sweet spot of the automotive market.

That sweet spot includes players like the 2015 North American Car of the Year VW Golf GTI which sports similar space and grunt — 210 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque — for $10,000 less. It’s a reminder of the steep hill the Bolt will face to grow its market beyond green customers.

The Chevy’s unique, raked crossover profile will stand out on the street despite its conservative Chevy styling cues. While the Bolt likely won’t beat the rear-wheel drive Tesla Model 3 sedan off the line in performance (the Bolt’s front-wheel drive architecture suggests its platform will be used for future GM vehicles — the next Sonic, perhaps?), its utility should be an advantage.

But can mainstream Chevy match Tesla luxury brand cache? After all, Tesla has hooked 373,000 customers (including your humble scribe) into committing $1,000 down payments on a product that doesn’t yet exist.

Chevy marketing chief Steve Majoros is unfazed by the Tesla’s head start in generating buzz. He prefers being first to market.

“We have a great, national dealer network,” he says. “And they already have customers lining up for this car. Having at least a year head start on the competition is fundamentally a great proposition.”

Tesla may be an EV rock star, but Majoros points out that Chevy has cred, too, given the Volt’s household name and record of bullet-proof reliability.

“Customers look at Chevy as a great people-hauling company,” says Majoros. “The Bolt fulfills that need and builds on the credibility that we have in the EV space. We may not be as publicly visible as Tesla, but we are going to come to market very aggressively with the Bolt.”

Behind the wheel in Rochester Hills, my aggressive driving gets plenty of encouragement from Tavel. I throw the road-hugging Bolt into a 90-degree right-hander, tires screaming, then flatten the throttle on exit. Try this in a 250-horse Ford Focus ST and the torque-steer will rip the steering wheel from your hands. Not the Bolt. Tavel’s team has dialed out torque-steer with careful programming.

The level of detail in the Bolt impresses: roomy enough for a soccer mom, yet enough pop to keep demon dad happy.

“To quote the Michigan Fab Five: We’re gonna shock the world,” says Majoros. Pun intended.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt


Vehicle type

Electric, front-wheel drive,

five-passenger crossover

Power plant

Electric-motor driven by 60 kWh lithium-ion battery


One-speed direct drive


3,600 pounds


Est. $37,500 base (about $30,000 after $7,500 federal tax credit)


200 horsepower, 266 pound-feet torque


238 miles


0-60 mph, 6.9 seconds (manufacturer est.); top speed: 91 mph

report card


Punchy acceleration; roomy interior


Chevy styling; hefty price tag for a subcompact CUV


Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★