At the pinnacle of Middle East’s raging summer, we thought to test an electric car to check on those pesky naysayers that claim electric cars and heat can’t work together.
Full of hope and eagerness, we ring-up those “Leaders” in electrification hoping to haggle a vehicle for a few days. We thought it would be easy. We were sadly wrong. Nissan, supposed leader in sales of the fully electric Leaf said the car was not ready for press yet. It would be soon. Which is what have been said for the past 6 months.
Tesla was ready to cooperate. They could give us the car for 24h. Not enough.
Renault did not pick up the phone, nor answered emails.
BMW said the i3 is fantastic, and is about to be here. They’ll call us when ready. Soon. End of the year latest. Surely.
Toyota does not bring the plug-in, nor does Hyundai.
Ford was nowhere to be found.
Beretta offered a suicidal gun.
But then, Chevrolet came back to us with the Bolt. We could take it for 4 days, but please be gentle as it is the showroom and customer test-drive piece. Cross my heart, hope to die.
After the masterclass on how to operate a moving washing machine that runs on batteries, we find the Bolt to be quite car-ish. Right pedal to move, left pedal to counter said move, round bit rotary at the center to shift direction, and various levers that engage an assortment of orange lighting displays on the sides of the car. Pretty much like the average car.
It has a key to enter, although our test model is keyless entry, a button to start, and even a digital speedo on the dashboard. It is, essentially, a car.
Now, in the past, we have been critical of cars that pretend to be what they are not, of cars that try to be something but aren’t, and cars that just want to fill a market gap. Examples of this are the Porsche Cayenne, which pretends to be a sportscar and an SUV and is neither, the Mercedes C63, which pretends to be a sportscar and is just an endless sink of tire money, or the Audi Q2, which is just a Golf, but a little taller, for those with just enough money to feel entitled to a higher seat on a premium brand.
The Bolt intends to be a transportation pod
The Bolt, however, is just a transportation pod. It intends to be a transportation pod, it is designed to be a transportation pod, and it caters to the transportation pod user. And it does is fantastically. Starting from the ease of access into the car, one of the best I have ever seen, the seat is just at the right height. Now, seats are more manual than electric, because it wants to use battery for range, not frills. Windows are electric, because it would be anacreontic not to have them nowadays. Steering wheel is adjustable, sensitive, and with the right amount of buttons. No touchpads on the screen, as Merc does, or multifunction toggles, like Porsche.
The seats are comfy, if slightly on the harder range of the spectrum. They are thin and light because weight is one of the prime directives to achieve distance. Rear seats are good for adults, and the boot is large enough for the daily use. It’s not designed to be the taxi for the family vacation, after all.
On the road, the Bolt is actually more fun than expected. I am of the James May’s school that fun is achieved when you drive close to the limit of the car. In a Ferrari, that is at 1.2G of lateral acceleration. In a Bolt, with extra-super-duper-low-friction tires, that happens on a roundabout at regular speeds. And the feeling of the front tires starting to give, the steering becoming light and fluid, and the lift-off oversteer that catches your throttle release, turning the dishwasher on wheels into a Russian ballerina on the stage of tarmac, is exhilarating.
Once you get out of the motoring-journalist mode, and return to concerned family man trying to earn a living, it turns out that the Bolt is easy to drive, that the L-mode on the gearbox is fit to engage engine brake as soon as you lift the throttle, and thus recharge the batteries, and that you forget this is an electric car. Which, come to think of it, seems is what Chevrolet really wanted. Well, success!
On the downside, the electric car promises a smooth and silent ride. The Bolt is one, but not the other. The electric engine is certainly quieter than those that have a continuous controlled explosion going on, yes, but it is not silent. It sounds… well… like a washing machine on regular cycle. And at speed, the aerodynamics are not as fine-tuned as one would wish. Hence, wind noise is present from 80KPH onwards.
In line with the gamification idea started with the Prius, the Bolt also tells you how good you are on saving energy, and you find yourself trying to please the happy gauge of the eco-warrior leaf. Trying to keep it on the green no matter how late you are to the next meeting. They can wait, the planet is more important!
With 50C degrees, full-blast A/C, and regular driving, the 420Km range goes down to about 320
On my 4 days with the car I had to charge it twice. Horrible experience. You have to, like, plug it to a machine, and leave it there for 40min to one hour. The 420Km range promised by the colorful leaflet is long forgotten in a land where driving with the A/C off means immediate dehydration, as the temperatures during our test reached 50 degrees Celsius. In these conditions, actual range approached 320Km, which is quite enough for daily use. The cooling, you ask? One of the best I have ever seen.
Charging the car twice in four days may seem a bit much though, seems to create a dependance on electricity availability, but then you need to think about real life conditions. And in those you will have a charging point next to the car, and you will be “topping-up” every day. As you do with your phone, and earphones, and tablet, and laptop, and fitbit… Doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, does it?
When it comes to price, though, in the region it goes for 40,800$. That is a bit high when compared with equivalent transportation pods. A VW Golf starts at 21,000$, and the cost difference of running both cars will hardly ever justify the extra expense. Yes, maintenance-wise you only need to top the screen wiper water, and perhaps change the brake pads and tires every three years, while on the Golf you will need oil, gas, brakes, sensors, coolant and an assortment of other unforeseen events, but those can’t ever reach the value of another Golf, which is what the difference is here.
I resist the temptation to compare the Bolt to the Zoe, the Leaf or the Tesla 3, but only because the transportation pod buyer needs it to go from A to B, and money seems more of a consideration than the nuts and bolts it purchases.