First Drive: Chevy Bolt EV 200-Mile Electric Car Development Vehicle

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If the production version of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV lives up to the engineering development vehicles we saw and drove today, it will debut a new world of affordable, 200-mile electric cars that should be desirable to a broad mass market.

Back in 2010, Chevy let journalists drive "integration vehicles" built to test the latest versions of software in the upcoming Volt range-extended electric car.

GM's Bolt EV team is clearly as confident in their car as the Volt team was back then, so that's what we got to drive and ride in.

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Compared to the latest Nissan Leaf, the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV will offer about twice the range, at least the same amount of passenger space, and a vastly more modern interior--for roughly the same price.

The silver "IV-er" Bolt EV we drove on a Las Vegas parking-lot course screened from the public had various angled black stripes that mildly camouflaged its lines.

But it's clearly the car whose uncloaked spy shots we published in December with a shape similar to last year's Detroit Auto Show concept, an upright five-door hatchback with a blunt nose and very short front and rear overhangs.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV spy shots

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV spy shots

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In fact, said Bolt EV chief engineer Josh Tavel, the car has the shortest overhangs of any vehicle in GM's global lineup.

And although it'll be built in the same Orion, Michigan, assembly plant as the next-generation Sonic subcompact, the Bolt EV rides on its own dedicated platform.

Some suspension components may be shared, but the body structure and underpinnings--built around a flat battery pack under the floor--are unique.

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The lack of an engine and transmission up front required some innovative crash engineering in the stubby nose, Tavel said, with a lower cradle that holds the traction motor and driveline, and an upper cradle containing the power electronics.

Each is attached at four different points, and both went through multiple design iterations to provide the needed frontal and transverse energy transfer and absorption to allow the car to earn the highest safety ratings--which GM is confident it will.

The nose has a Volt-like silver "grille" blanking panel, flanked by light units that wrap around and sweep most of the way back to the base of the windshield posts.

A larger opening below provides air intake, and gives the entire car almost a smile on its front face. The lights on our test car were not the final units, however, which will have clear, flush covers.

Engineering development version of Chevrolet Bolt EV, Las Vegas, Jan 2016

Engineering development version of Chevrolet Bolt EV, Las Vegas, Jan 2016

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The body crease sweeps up toward the rear, with the bottom of the window line climbing even higher at its back end. The rear has a relatively vertical hatch opening onto a spacious load bay with 16.9 cubic feet of cargo volume.

A portable 120-Volt charging cord is housed under the load bay; Chevy expects most Bolt EV users to recharge its large battery pack at 240-Volt Level 2 charging stations.

There's no spare tire, but neither is there an inflator kit; the electric Bolt will be the first car on the market to use the latest development of Michelin's self-sealing tire technology.

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