Let’s start with the number that’s likely to receive the greatest scrutiny: the 238-mile range claim. The US Environmental Protection Agency test is meant to replicate real-world driving, and US media have managed to beat the official number under gentle real-world use. We didn’t get to run through a whole charge, but my time with the Bolt confirmed it’s possible to drive it impressively hard without melting the predicted range.
On our experience, and with the proviso that testing took place in generally warm ambient temperatures, the Bolt can be driven enthusiastically and will still manage more than 150 miles on a full battery. Only higher-speed cruising really gobbles charge, with the Bolt being limited to 93mph. It’s quick, too – fast enough to make the Leaf look like a golf kart.
Chevrolet’s claim of a 6.5sec 0-60mph time feels, if anything, conservative. As with most EVs, the motor gives its peak 266lb ft torque output from rest, and a keen start will chirp the front tyres. The throttle pedal makes it easy to modulate speed, and the transmission can be switched to a more aggressive 'L' mode that delivers maximum regeneration whenever you lift off, allowing the car to be driven most of the time using only the throttle pedal. Under hard acceleration, there’s a not-unpleasant electrical whining noise, reminiscent of the sound of an Underground train under power, but apart from that, refinement is excellent.
Handling is competent but lacks any real engagement, with no real sensation getting past the low gearing and springy-feeling power assistance of the steering. The Bolt’s suspension does a good job of keeping its considerable mass in check on everything but the roughest roads, but you feel the car’s 1624kg weight when asking it to change direction quickly. Michelin eco tyres have been chosen for low rolling resistance rather than outright cornering power and the lateral limits are low, with excess speed generating copious understeer. As such, it’s a typical EV, and we suspect few buyers will object – but it would have been nice to find some enthusiasm for more spirited progress.
The cabin features various familiar bits of GM switchgear and has materials that seem to have been selected for toughness and durability rather than upmarket vibes. (GM has disclosed that it is spending $8700 on each battery pack, so it’s small wonder that savings are being made elsewhere.) There’s a TFT instrument cluster that displays both minimum and maximum projected range numbers, depending on how the car is being driven. The central 10.2in touchscreen works well and has been given a redesigned interface to distinguish it from the other GM North American offerings that share the same system.
The only sizeable disappointment is with the Bolt’s styling; to European eyes, it looks like a slightly blinged-up version of a Meriva. We know the same battery pack and powertrain will underpin various other models; it’s surprising that GM didn’t choose to offer it as a more desirable crossover first. It’s bigger inside than it looks, with decent room for rear seat occupants (although with a roofline that taller passengers will find too low) and a decent 481-litre boot capacity on US testing methodology.
The size of the battery pack does knock recharging times, with Chevrolet saying it will take 10 hours to replenish it from empty using a 240V, 32A ‘Level 2’ charger. A fast charging port is being sold as an optional extra; that will be able to add around 90 miles of range in 30 minutes of charging from a compatible outlet.