2017 Bolt EV First Impressions

2017 Bolt EVThe first Bolt EV that I saw with my own eyes was the one I picked up last Saturday, and ordered a couple of months ago (before it was actually for sale). People ask me why I would buy a new car sight unseen… When I first drove a Volt, I knew it was a glimpse of the future. When I heard about the Bolt, I knew that future had arrived. Like the Volt before it, the Bolt EV is the future I want to believe in.

I first read about the 2017 Bolt about a year ago in the Wired cover story “How GM Beat Tesla to the First True Mass-Market Electric Car” [wired.com]. I promptly called up Kurt at Fremont Chevrolet [chevroletoffremont.com], to whom I entrust all of my electric vehicle purchases, and he offered to call me back when Bolts were available to order. A few months ago, my phone rang, and after a quick meeting at the dealership to choose colors and options, my Bolt was scheduled for production. It was waiting for us upon return from Christmas vacation, when we traded in our 2010 Equinox, and drove home in a Nightfall Gray 2017 Bolt EV.

227 MilesFirst impressions: A full battery with 227 miles of range is an impressive sight to behold. Responsive, solidly built, and fun to drive. Surprisingly spacious inside and small outside. Ample headroom front and back, with seating for five. Instrument panel and large center touchscreen are clear and bright, evoking the glass flight deck of a spaceplane. Interior trim and body panels are sculpted and modern, and controls are well positioned and intuitive. An abundance of high tech options, and a corresponding array of menus and preferences.

The fly-by-wire “gear shifter” requires a special touch sequence to engage, which takes a few days to feel normal. When reverse is successfully engaged, the large center screen displays a magic drone’s eye view of the car from above, with the views from multiple cameras fused into a 360 degree view. This is a neat trick at first, and shortly thereafter an indispensable aid for obsessively centering the car parking spaces. Flip a switch on the rear view mirror (as if to deflect the high beams of trucker behind you) and a hidden digital screen projects a wide angle view behind the car. This car is like an augmented reality video game. Except it is actual reality, and the controllers are much better.

In addition to all of the cameras, the car can also monitor following distance, and check for cars in adjacent lanes. In a fast stop, when following distance closes quickly, a red light flashes on the windshield, the car mutes the entertainment system, and “beep-beep-beeps” an urgent warning. According to the manual, it will assist with breaking if the situation gets more dire (I do not plan to test this). The driver’s instrument cluster can display following distance (in tenths of a second), one indicator changes color if the following distance is less than safe, side view mirrors flash to indicate cars in the right and left blind spots, and dash indicator blinks if the car drifts out of its lane. These are passive robots that cross into active mode in case of emergency. They augment the driver’s senses and actions, but it is clear that these systems will grow up to be our fully self driving chauffeurs of the not too distant future.

I chose to lease this car (a first for me) because I have a sense that the future is approaching faster than ever. This car will supposedly receive over-the-air software updates, but I’m not expecting to find a robot-car upgrade waiting for me some random morning. Self driving (as promised by Elon for the Tesla Model 3) or a more ambitious autopilot style cruise control would require hardwire beyond the cameras and sensors in this car, but I suspect that these upgrades will be in place for new Bolt EV’s by the end of this lease.

Top five hits:

  1. Range. Any point around the SF Bay and back again with zero anxiety.
  2. Tech. Screens, cameras, iPhone CarPlay integration, Siri integration.
  3. Acceleration. Very zippy, noticeably more so than the Volt.
  4. Size. Big inside, and small outside.
  5. Rear heated seats. For my son, this would be 1,2,3,4 and 5 on the top five list.

Bottom five misses:

  1. No Homelink (integrated garage door opener). Not even an option. Why not?
  2. No power seats. Would be nice to have seat/mirror memory for different drivers.
  3. No onboard map. Maps require a plugged in iPhone, and CarPlay supports only Apple Maps (which isn’t as bad as people say, but still isn’t as good as Waze)
  4. Occasional infotainment glitches. Siri button sometimes doesn’t work, Pandora stations sometimes don’t load, volume changes mysteriously, settings sometimes revert and need to be reapplied. Many of these may be “user error”.
  5. Regenerative braking paddle. There’s a paddle on the steering wheel that engages regenerative braking, but it seems to work only in “binary” mode: either on or off, causing unpleasantly jerky deceleration. I would expect it to be variable, like a brake pedal. I don’t use it. Instead, I use the “L” drive mode, also known as one-pedal-driving or “go cart mode”, where the accelerator pedal modulates both acceleration and regenerative braking, and the brake pedal is necessary only for more urgent stops. This is delightful, especially in stop and go driving.

The Bolt EV a great car, and I think it is just the beginning. I can’t wait to see what Kurt will sell me next!

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