Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

Will the big range EV from Chevy reverse polarity with our resident electric car skeptic?

By Shahzad Sheikh

Click below now to watch my video of the Chevrolet Bolt First Drive review in the UAE.

In my world the combustion engine is king, and the sweetest sound is the exhaust note of a performance petrol car at full chat. So here I am with a car that has no engine that we traditionally recognize, and makes only a whiny and whooshy noise.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

Chevrolet Middle East are intent on converting me to the EV cause, about which they are understandably very passionate. And they are aware that one of the biggest concerns when it comes to these battery-powered cars is range-anxiety: ‘Will I make it to a recharge socket before I run out of volts and end up stranded in the desert?’

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

And yet according to Chevrolet, 30% of new car buyers would in fact consider going electric because of environmental concerns, and keep in mind that the UAE wants to hit a target of having 10% of all cars as EVs by 2020 – that’s just a couple of years from now.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

The Bolt is following Tesla EV cars already on sale, as well as the Renault Zoe. And when the Bolt officially becomes available to purchase by the end of this year, it will see competition from Nissan’s Leaf and other contenders rumoured to be coming next year. So both myself and you guys have no choice but to take EVs a little more seriously.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

Chevrolet of course has not come to this point from scratch. It introduced the Volt as far back as 2011 – that was a range-extender plug-in electric hybrid. And then followed that up by offering the full-electric Spark EV in 2012.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

However whilst the Spark EV provided a 130km range, the new Bolt is the segment leader boasting a very impressive range of over 500km from its 60kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It also serves up hot-hatch-like performance thanks an effective equivalent of 204bhp and 266lb ft (361Nm) from its motor, and despite being weighty at over 1600kg it’ll do 0-100kph in 7.3 seconds.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

The mass is mostly battery of course and that’s placed under the floor and below the rear seat so centre of gravity is extremely low.  A single speed transmission drives the front wheels.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

So in my first longish-distance drive of an EV, we covered about 250km from Dubai to Fujairah. Having done that you’d expect half the tank, or rather battery charge, to be remaining, and from the displays it certainly appeared to have that much at least. Theoretically I could’ve turned around and driven it right back, though that range-anxiety might have started to kick in just a few clicks outside Dubai on the return leg.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

But how does it drive? Well it’s comfortable, spacious and practical enough. Easy to see out of it, with generally user-friendly and familiar controls. It drives like a modern hot hatch to quite an extent. Feels a bit heavier but certainly stiffer and more rigid, particularly in the platform, so I would like to have taken it on my favourite twisty road and hammered it a bit to see how it would cope, but that will have to come another time.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

That’s if I can get into the right frame of mind to do that. You see, what happens with a car like this is that you start focusing on your own driving efficiency, especially with all the displays and read-outs telling you much precious juice you’re using and how much range you have, plus you can literally monitor the thriftiness of your driving style.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

There’s an L mode which effective turns the car into a one-pedal driver – that is that you can use the accelerator pedal both for moving and stopping. Sure the brake pedal is still fully effective for sharp or emergency braking, but for normal driving for upto 90% of the time – especially at slow speeds around town, you can drive it on just the one pedal.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

The advantage of this, is that it has a regeneration effect, which actually puts charge back into the battery as the energy generated by slowing is used to feed the power packs. You can actually claim back range by adjusting your driving style – I regained 10km on the final bit into Fujairah which was downhill.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

They tell me you could eek out as much as an extra 30% of range through this technique. And even if you don’t have it in L-mode, there’s a paddle behind the steering wheel that provides you with regen braking. So you can even slow the car with a hand control!

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

So overall I was very impressed and taken by the Bolt – well taken all the way to the East Coast in fact. And without any unsettling of the nerves at all! It was generally an enjoyable drive too. I would like to get it to myself at some point soon to drive it like an actual hot hatch to see how it copes, and if it delivers driving thrills, and also to see if the range-anxiety still stays away in less orchestrated circumstances.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

Am I a convert to EVs then? Woah there, hold your horses. There’s still the issue of having to wait to charge it again when you do eventually run out of juice, and where and how convenient it is to use those chargers (though the power is free till the end of 2019) and whether you could actually live with an EV in the UAE given the as yet limited infrastructure. But I am up for the challenge of trying to see if I could daily drive an EV, despite not having anywhere to charge it at home.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

And then there’s the price, not yet revealed, but I suspect not quite as cheap as a conventional car of similar size and ability. Plus I still genuinely believe that in the short to medium term, hybrids are the stronger and more logical prospects for economy and environment, though I concede that electric cars are certainly part of our future mobility solutions, if not the final answer – which I suspect might be hydrogen fuel cell cars.

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

Nonetheless, Electric Vehicles, you have my attention. That’s for sure!

Chevrolet Bolt First Drive

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