A week ago, my wife and I traded in our trusty 2013 Honda Civic Si for a used 2017 Chevy Bolt. Our biggest concern was that four days later we were planning a road trip to Newport, RI. We never worry about trips in the Model Y, thanks to the Tesla Supercharger network, but the Chevy Bolt was a complete unknown. I began having flashbacks to the Nissan LEAF we had a few years ago that was lucky to go 75 miles downhill with a tailwind.
The Chevy Bolt with the upgraded battery (our car got a new battery last month) has a range of about 265 miles. When we picked it up at the dealer, it was fully charged, but the range indicator (commonly referred to the “guess-o-meter” on Chevy Bolt forums) showed only 180 miles of range. When I asked our salesman why there was such a discrepancy, he said the battery needed to learn how we drive after the new battery was installed.
Much of our route involved backroads through the hills of eastern Connecticut — very scenic, but with lots of small towns where finding an EV charger seemed unlikely. Suddenly, I was having range anxiety. Where would we charge if the battery got low? We were taking a car we weren’t familiar with on a road trip, and had absolutely no idea how efficient it was. This was going to be a learning experience, for sure.
Charging A Chevy Bolt
We needed to start by giving our Bolt a full battery charge. We live in a manufactured home with 30 amp electrical service during the summer, so adding a 40 amp, 240 volt circuit was out of the question. I installed a weather-resistant outlet and plugged in. The charging status light turned green. Success!
Now I had to decipher the menu of charging options presented. Did I want to start at 7 am tomorrow? No, I wanted to start charging now. Did I want the Hilltop Reserve enabled, which limits charging to 80% SOC? (Or 88%. It depends on who you ask.) No, thank you. Would I like to set my time-of-use program to take advantage of lower electricity rates? No, my local utility doesn’t get involved with such folderol. Just please charge my battery. Eventually, I got everything set correctly and charging began.
When we got to Newport, RI, the midway point of our journey, we theoretically had enough charge to get back home, but we really wanted to find out how public charging worked. We had updated our PlugShare and ChargePoint apps and added an Electrify America account. PlugShare told us there were two chargers available at Fort Adams State Park, and one was available. So we went there only to find both in use — one by a Mercedes EQS and the other by a Rivian R1T.
We waited around for a half hour to see if either one moved, but they did not. So we meandered into Newport, where PlugShare said there were six chargers next to the local bus station, with five of them available. When we got there, another Chevy Bolt was charging, an F-150 Lightning was taking up two spaces, a Tesla Model S was charging, and one space was blocked off by orange cones because of construction nearby. There was one space available, and we grabbed it.
We spent two hours roaming around the shops on Thames Street, bought a hat, and had a great meal at the Brick Alley Pub — one of the best restaurants in Newport and half the price of the chi-chi places on the water. When we got back to our Bolt, we had added 13.5 kWh and ChargePoint said we were charged $3.80 for electricity. PlugShare said these chargers were free for the first four hours, but we didn’t complain. Parking at the charger saved us the $20 that all the parking lots required, and the time we would have spent hunting for a spot at a meter on a busy Sunday in tourist season. The ChargePoint experience was straightforward, although you need to have at least $10 in your account to start charging
The Chevy Bolt & The Guess-O-Meter
On the left side of the instrument cluster in the Bolt is a display that shows how many miles the computer thinks you can go before running out of battery power. It’s based on your state of charge, your driving history with the car, the outside temperature, the temperature of the battery, whether you are using the heater or air conditioner, and a bunch of other parameters. On the Chevy Bolt forums, it is customarily referred to as a “guess-o-meter.”
With nothing to compare it to other than the Nissan LEAF we used to own, I expected to see the range meter drop like a rock with every mile. It didn’t. In fact, the regen in the car seemed to be particularly effective. After 40 miles of driving, the guess-o-meter showed a decrease in range of only 20 miles.
Things will change when we get on the highway, I thought. They didn’t. Keeping up with traffic at a steady 65 mph, the range dropped slower than I anticipated. My range anxiety was rapidly evaporating. When we got to Newport after 84 miles, the range estimate was only 40 miles less than when we started. What a relief!
After taking on a few electrons, we meandered our way through Bristol and Barrington to Providence and then headed back to Connecticut. Along the way, we dared to turn the A/C on briefly. When we got home, we had 40% SOC remaining and had driven 180 miles. It turned out that we could have done the whole trip without the charging session in Newport. My range anxiety fears were gone. The Bolt is actually quite efficient, and it is fun to see miles be added to the range estimate as the regen does its thing at stoplights and down hills.
If I was doing a movie about this trip, I would title it, How I stopped worrying and learned to love my Chevy Bolt. The car’s information center shows almost six miles per kWh, which is spectacular. But I suspect that has something to do with the battery being new and the algorithm not being fully programmed yet. Nevertheless, the Bolt seems quite efficient.
Lessons Learned About My Chevy Bolt
The Chevy Bolt is a seriously good car. It is efficient, quiet, and comfortable. Is it a Tesla? No, not by a long shot. The interior is not nearly as refined as our Model Y. The fit and finish of the body is below that of the Tesla as well. But it has some features the Tesla doesn’t have that I really like.
First, it has those little orange lights in the side-view mirrors that let you know if there is a car in your blind spot. This system works really well, and is in my opinion, superior to the video that pops up on the Tesla touchscreen. It warns you before you put your blinker on, something the Tesla does not do. It also has an excellent rear cross-traffic warning that recognizes cars and pedestrians well, something that was helpful while backing out of parking spaces in a busy seaside resort town.
This is a car you can road trip with. It has enough range that you are grateful for the opportunity to stop and stretch your legs by the time you need to charge. I have not used a DC fast charger with the car yet, and I know it is limited to 50 kW, so it takes about a half hour longer to charge than some other cars. That’s a minus, but not that big a deal given how we intend to use the car. Most of our driving will be local, with a few road trips during the summer, when PlugShare will do a pretty good job of helping us find chargers along the way. Apple CarPlay also displays all the route information we need on the central screen.
One observation — public chargers are becoming more common. Many townhalls have them in rural communities. They don’t give you the jolt of a fast charger, but they can take away the fear of being stuck on the side of the road with a depleted battery.
Button, Button, Who’s Got The Button?
My goodness, the Chevy Bolt has a lot of buttons! After the simplicity of the Tesla touchscreen and its de-cluttered interior, the Bolt has buttons and dials and gauges everywhere you look. Some of them are useful. I actually don’t mind operating my own windshield wipers — something the Tesla sometimes overthinks. The shift lever is not intuitive, but works OK once you get used to it. The climate control system is easy to use after a little trial and error.
The steering wheel has buttons everywhere. Cruise control on the left, menu options on the right, a regen paddle on the back on the left, radio volume controls on the back of the wheel on the right, and a “favorites” panel in the lower left quadrant. There are menus galore, and they will take some getting used to. I sometimes complain about the Tesla trying too hard to think for me and I wish for more buttons and knobs, but the Bolt has too many buttons and menus available and they are a distraction. Some people are never satisfied, I guess.
The One-Week Wrap-Up
The takeaway after one week with our Chevy Bolt is that this is all the car most people need. It’s built well, with no squeaks or rattles. And although the range meter is based on an algorithm, it seems to do a better job of conveying the information drivers need about their state of charge than the Model Y does. Tesla assumes the best and projects range numbers that people seldom see in actual driving. The Bolt takes a more realistic approach that does a better job of telling drivers what they need to know.
Overall, the Tesla is clearly the future. The Bolt has one foot in the past and one foot in tomorrow and can’t quite decide between the two. Once you put all that aside and just drive the car, the Bolt is impressive in many ways. If there is a next-generation Bolt and it is priced correctly, it will be an excellent car for those who are new to the EV revolution.
For those who are comfortable with a used EV, a low-mileage Bolt with a new battery — which comes with an 8-year warranty from the date the battery was replaced — is an excellent choice, especially now with the $4000 federal tax credit available. I am happy to give our “new to us” Chevy Bolt 4½ stars. It’s a darn good car that we are looking forward to driving for years to come.
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