2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016Enlarge Photo
The Bolt has a conventional center console-mounted shift lever. But the Park mode, which involves various buttons and levers, is needlessly fussy. The Tesla, by contrast, uses a Mercedes column-shift lever that is boringly simple: Move the lever to P. Duh.
Although the front seat area doesn’t feel as roomy as the Model S, the rear seats are surprisingly spacious.
Sitting in the back seat of my Model S, my knees brush the back of the driver’s seat when it’s set for my 6-foot-2 frame. But in the Bolt, I had several inches clearance.
Similarly, my head brushes the ceiling in the back seat of the Tesla, but not in the Bolt.
Smaller car, roomier back seat. Chevy has done a superb job of space engineering in the Bolt.
The Bolt is a blast to drive.
Although of course not up to Model S standard, the Bolt has excellent acceleration. Official 0-60 time is 6.5 seconds, better than any non-Tesla electric car, including the BMW i3. And 0 to 30, the Bolt feels like it could hang in there with some pretty heavy ICE iron.
A couple of times, I inadvertently chirped the tires—without even flooring the pedal.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EVEnlarge Photo
Like its predecessor (and now stablemate) the Volt, the Bolt has a Sport mode that increases throttle response, making the car feel even livelier. Nothing like that in the Tesla.
With all this low-end torque and front-wheel drive, you’d expect some significant torque steer—the tendency of the car to veer right under sudden acceleration. But I noticed very little torque steer in the Bolt—unlike a friend’s high-performance Mini Cooper, which practically yanked the steering wheel out of my hand when I floored it.
The Tesla, with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, of course tracks straight and true under even the most extreme acceleration.
On the road, the Bolt has a solid, stable feel. Again, not up to the standard of the Model S, which after all has a much longer wheelbase and weighs a half-ton more. But the Bolt feels far more solid than the twitchy, jittery i3, which is of comparable size.
I was entirely comfortable cruising along the 101 Freeway at 75 mph, mixing it up with some fairly heavy and aggressive traffic.
President Barack Obama sits in 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car at Detroit Auto Show, Jan 2016Enlarge Photo
In the normal D mode, the Bolt has mild regenerative braking that makes it feel pretty much like a standard ICE car. But shift to L, and you get some serious regen, comparable to the Tesla’s.
The Volt has a similar regen system, and during my three-year stint as a 2011 Volt owner, I always, always selected L mode. I’d do the same in the Bolt.
Unlike the Tesla, the Bolt in L mode has no “idle creep” option. The car simply comes to a complete stop with foot off the gas.
For even more regen on demand, the Bolt has paddles behind the steering wheel. They may work okay in D mode, but in L mode—high regen already—I could barely tell the difference when the paddles were activated.
2013 Tesla Model S owned by David Noland, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2015Enlarge Photo
In the Model S, by contrast, regen is blissfully simple: as soon as you buy the car, you select “normal” regen on the touchscreen (as opposed to “low”) and never think about it again.
In terms of efficiency, the Bolt beats my 85-kWh Tesla by about 20 percent, according to the EPA. (119 MPGe vs. 89.) My drive was too short to generate an accurate efficiency figure, but Green Car Report’s earlier 240-mil test drive of the Bolt in California registered 4.1 miles per kWh.
Under similar conditions, my Tesla averages about 290 watt-hours per mile, which translates to about 3.4 mi/kWh. So that 20-percent EPA advantage appears to hold up in the real world.