Since its debut in 2017, the wee Chevrolet Bolt has gotten some big accolades from the automotive press and a positive reaction from consumers overall – though its sales have yet to take off, and it’s in tough against the likes of the Nissan LEAF, a well-embedded favourite among electric-car buyers. It’s smaller than that model and less refined inside, but it’s got substantially more range. Here are the results of our week-long test drive of Chevy’s firefly.
A flash of genius
Here at Auto123.com we were as impressed as most everyone else last year by the little electric bug, even naming the 2018 Bolt the Green Car of the Year during our 2018 Awards. For 2019? The new edition is one of our nominees once again, alongside the Nissan LEAF and the Tesla Model 3.
The concept of the Bolt, and this pertains as much to the new 2019 as it did to the outgoing 2018 model, is that of a car in which most of the automaker’s investment, in terms of the resources, time, energy and cost its engineers put in, is directed to the powertrain and economical functioning of the car. Hence the long(ish) range, for example, and the almost-lightning-quick acceleration the Bolt delivers off the line (0-100 km/h in 6.5 seconds isn’t bad for a firefly!).
The battery pack is placed under the floor of the Bolt, giving the car a nice low centre of gravity. This helps make up, in part, for the lack of an all-wheel drive system; the Bolt is front-wheel drive, and that’s final.
The flip side of Chevy’s focused philosophy is that the interior is rather denuded and minimalistic, and much of what's there is made of hard plastic (part of the dashboard even reminded me a bit too much of styrofoam!).
That said, the seats – and the interior as a whole - are not at all uncomfortable, and I actually found the front legroom to be quite ample, better in fact than what you’ll find in a sleeker car like the Toyota C-HR. Back row space is, well, more limited, though perfectly acceptable for shorter treks around town.
As for the trunk, it provides 478 litres of cargo space with the rear seats up. That’s not massive, to be sure – I filled it up to the brim quite quickly during a Costco run. Hockey bag test? Passed. Two hockey bags? Uh, no. In comparison, the bigger LEAF gives you significantly more, 668 litres to be exact. Oh well, you can’t expect miracles from a firefly!
Minimalistic as its decor is, the interior does come with the basic features you’d want as a younger-demographic urban dweller, starting with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, accessed via the 10.2-inch touchscreen, as well as proximity-key entry and push-button start. Add the Comfort and Convenience package, and you get heated steering wheel and front seats; the Confidence II package (previously only available in the top-end Premier trim, now available from the get-go in the LT) gives you more safety systems.
What’s new for 2019
Not much, actually. You can now more specifically set the charge-termination function in order to avoid needless charging costs. The Low drive mode has been tweaked so that the stationary Bolt won’t move when the seatbelt is undone. Chevrolet has also added new separate buttons for the A/C and heating.
The new Bolt is being offered in three new colour options for 2019: Green Mist Metallic, Slate Gray Metallic, and Shock. That last one is, well, yellow, like tennis-ball yellow, and it’s the one that beautified the tester we drove – check out our photo gallery.
That colour scheme is not for everyone, and some people around the office found it downright repellant, but it didn’t bother me much, and it certainly fits in with the image Chevrolet wants to project for its cute little electric city car. Remember the new Beetle when it was reborn? Same deal. I almost expected to find a pot of plastic flowers inside my Bolt. Anyways I wouldn’t choose Shock if I were buying the Bolt, but it did make it easy to find the car in the Costco parking lot!
The Chevrolet Bolt gives drivers the same official range as before, a reasonable 238 miles or 383 km. That’s just about enough to cure range anxiety, though it won’t get you much more than halfway from Montreal to Toronto, say, before you’ll need to recharge.
The other thing to keep in mind that that is an optimal, manufacturer-provided number. In the real world, when the temperatures hover just above freezing as they did during my week-long test drive, a 30-hour stint on my home “regular” electrical outlet did bring the battery to a full charge, but that showed as 340 km – best scenario. The indicator showed that if I drove like an average Joe, the range was actually 290 km.
That 290 is some distance from the official 383. On the other hand, when used principally as a city commuter and errand-runner, the 2019 Bolt still gives plenty enough range to be practical. The car’s regenerative braking system, meanwhile, works well and recovers quite a bit of range when driving in city traffic. I would have liked to see the system integrated in the accelerator pedal, in the style of the LEAF’s e-Pedal, but either way, you know you’re getting rewarded for having to brake a lot in heavy traffic.
One thing to keep in mind as the 2019 year rolls around is the looming arrival of the Hyundai Kona electric version, which promises a norm-busting range of 415 km. If it delivers on this, and depending on the price tag Hyundai sticks on its little electric crossover, consumers might re-evaluate Chevy’s little firefly – and the mighty LEAF, for that matter – quite quickly. Such is the lot of electric cars in this fast-changing environment.
There’s no denying that in the Bolt, you get a little car for a quite a bit of money upfront. Last year’s starting price of $43,000 has grown to $44,800 for the LT version, and a very hefty $49,800 for the Premier.
In both cases, though especially for the latter, it’s important to take a deep breath and do the math on how well this allows you the buyer to come out ahead after, say, five years of ownership. Government incentives available in Quebec and British Columbia allow you to reduce the initial cost somewhat, and the savings in fuel expenses and in maintenance will undoubtedly mean a net positive, but it’s still a big initial outlay. And there is that Kona (and others, inevitably) on the horizon.
As for the benefit you get from helping the environment? Priceless.