2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016Enlarge Photo
Better than a Model 3?
With its $35,000-ish price tag and 238-mile range, the Bolt has instantly made all other non-Tesla electric cars obsolete.
It’s now hard to imagine why anyone would buy a Leaf, i3, e-Golf, or any other current electric car. (Maybe $15,000 cash on the hood? I actually feel kind of sorry for all the other e-car manufacturers and dealers.)
The Bolt is so good that, on paper, it will challenge Tesla’s upcoming Model 3, which will have the same price tag, and a range that has so far only been promised to be “at least 215 miles.” (Although I’m sure Elon is now doing everything humanly possibly to get it up to 240.)
Will many of the 400,000-odd people who’ve put down deposits on the Model 3 switch to a Bolt tomorrow rather than wait a year or two for their Model 3?
That remains to be seen, but I doubt it.
Tesla Supercharger network, North American coverage map, Feb 2017 [graphic: Isaac Bowser]Enlarge Photo
Beyond the cachet of the Tesla brand, the Bolt has one major flaw compared to the Model S and Model 3: the lack of a long-distance DC fast-charging network.
The difficulties recounted in these pages last week by a new Bolt owner trying to make a long-distance trip were a sobering reminder of the primitive state of long-distance DC charging for non-Tesla cars.
It will take many years and hundreds of millions of dollars to match Tesla’s current Supercharger system, which makes long-distance travel practical virtually everywhere in the country.
And at this point, neither Chevy nor anyone else seems to be making a serious effort to even start such a network.
And then there’s the Bolt’s almost total lack of self-driving capability. While the Model 3 may well have some autonomous driving capabilities under certain circumstances by the time it gets into mass production, the Bolt is missing even a basic requirement for future autonomy: adaptive cruise control. (Chevy is currently testing fully autonomous Bolts, so that may soon change.)
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EVEnlarge Photo
I loved the Bolt. Like its predecessor the Volt, it’s a terrific car.
But a Tesla it ain’t. No chance I’ll trade in my Model S for a Bolt, or cancel my Model 3 reservation (which is actually a placeholder for the promised Model Y crossover version.)
There’s no shame in the Bolt falling short of the Model S, which costs twice as much.
But despite the Bolt’s breakthrough combination of range and price, the Model 3’s brand cachet, sleek styling, superior performance, long-distance charging, and potential for autonomous capability will eventually make it the clear winner, in my view.
Eventually. But if I were well down the Model 3 reservation list, with little hope of getting mine in the next 18-24 months—and virtually no hope of getting the $7,500 tax credit—I’d seriously consider buying a Bolt right now to tide me over.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article suggested that "the Model 3 may well have full level 5 autonomy by the time it gets into mass production" and that neither lane-keeping alerts nor automatic emergency braking were available on the Bolt EV. Both those statements are inaccurate. Level 5 autonomy is essentially the ability for a car to take occupants to any destinations they specify, under any circumstances, while they sleep. Or, as one commenter calls it, "blind people driving." That ability is widely acknowledged to be at least several years in the future, with most experts pegging it for 2030 or thereabouts, though Tesla believes it can deliver earlier than that. Also, while adaptive cruise control is not offered on the Bolt EV, lane-keeping alerts and automatic crash braking are available as options. Green Car Reports regrets the errors.