On Jan. 6, one year after General Motors announced the plans for its all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV car, GM CEO Mary Barra went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and showed off the final model that will be going into production later this year. The compact car has a range of about 200 miles, can hit 60 mph in about seven seconds, and will cost only $30,000, placing it as a direct competitor to Tesla’s yet-to-be-released Model 3 car.
In a short test ride outside the convention center, Quartz got behind the wheel of what may well be the first all-electric vehicle that the average person might consider buying.
Unlike a lot of forward-thinking vehicles—from the Toyota Prius hybrid to Chevy’s own Volt—the Bolt doesn’t feel like something other than a car. But while the design isn’t wildly different from the average automobile, it does pack a lot of new technology under the hood.
The Bolt can pair, over Bluetooth, with up to 10 different smartphones, with which drivers can unlock their cars just by walking up to them with their phones in their pockets. The dashboard is dominated by a 10-inch touchscreen, which controls car functions and the entertainment system, and doubles as a (relatively grainy) backup camera when the car is in reverse.
The entertainment system wasn’t anything particularly amazing—the pre-production car I drove didn’t have the sleekness that Tesla’s system has—but then again, the Bolt also costs at least $40,000 less than a Tesla.
There are cameras around the Bolt, which the car stitches together to show everything that’s around the car while parking. It looks a bit like an old version of the overhead view in Grand Theft Auto videogames, but could prove rather useful when trying to get out of tight spots.
The rearview mirror also doubles as a screen. Drivers can either see what’s behind them out of the glass, or flick the mirror up to see a wide-angle view from a camera mounted on the tailgate. When testing the mirror in its traditional form, I noticed some blind spots where I couldn’t see what exactly was behind me, but looking through the camera rearview mirror, I could see everything.
Over the short test track, the car handled decently, and rode exceedingly smoothly. The whisper-level hum of the electric engine almost made it feel like the car wasn’t even on when it was moving. While the track was too short to really test out the engine, the car had a fair amount of pickup on the small straightaways.
The Bolt has a “low” mode that helps recharge the engine when the driver steps off the accelerator. Marketing director Steve Majoros told me that if you live at the top of a hill, you only need to charge the Bolt to 90%—it’ll actually charge the remaining 10% as it drives down the hill.
The Bolt is a smaller car than its hybrid predecessor, the Volt, as the all-electric engine allowed Chevy’s engineers and designers to save on space. The engineers used some of that saved space to make the overhang over the front wheels smaller—meaning it’s easier to park when there are obstacles in front of the car—while giving the Bolt ample trunk space and full-sized back seats. While it’s hard to judge how the car will perform based on a short test ride, or how comfortable it’ll feel on long road trips, I at least didn’t find it to be overly uncomfortable.
As charging stations continue to proliferate, electric vehicles are starting to become practical options even for those who spend large portions of their lives behind the wheel. Tesla more or less has the luxury market wrapped up for the time being—though stiff competition is on its way. But that doesn’t mean it’s leaving the mass market for the likes of Chevy; Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s next move is supposed to be an affordable electric vehicle that he will unveil in March.
Though Chevy has beaten Elon Musk to the punch, it remains to be seen whether average car buyers will choose a brand that’s been around for decades, or one currently dominating the media’s attention—or if they will ignore electric vehicles altogether. But, for better or worse, the Bolt feels very much like driving a Chevy. The next time Chevy fans look to buy a new car, they should definitely consider choosing the Bolt.