The EcoRun test of the Bolt that never happened
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Each year, automotive journalists from across Canada assemble to road test the latest in ultra-efficient vehicles on the market.
This year’s Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) EcoRun was held in Alberta and one of the featured vehicles was the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV. As luck would have it, I was cheated out of the opportunity to test it.
A charger malfunction in Calgary meant the little Bolt left the city with a mere 150 km of charge on it in the morning. By the time I took the wheel in the hamlet of Longview, an hour south of Calgary, it had about 65 km left and there was no way I would make the next destination in the tour – Canmore.
Alberta is not known for its EV charging network (although this is rapidly changing), so it took some desperate calling and googling before we located a Level 2 charger at an auto repair shop about 15 minutes away from where I was. I dropped the car there and whisked away in a conventional gasoline-powered car.
But the Bolt was not to be denied! Janet Morris, a longtime work associate and friend in Windsor, Ont., approached me for advice on which EV to buy. She and her husband ended up scoring a Bolt.
I asked her to keep a diary of their first few weeks with the vehicle. Her report appears below.
I hope Janet will keep us up to date throughout their ownership experience.
– Doug Firby
A buyer makes the leap into an all-electric world
WINDSOR, Ont. – It was time to trade in my 2011 Buick Regal – it has more than 210,000 km, with a noisy exhaust system. My husband was keen on an electric vehicle (EV) but we had no idea where to start.
After checking out the ranges on EVs out there, we liked the Hyundai Kona for range and style, but there wasn’t one to be found anywhere. The Chevy Bolt was interesting to us for range, price and ability to fit large/awkward items in the back with the seats folded down – good for sporting gear.
We pulled the trigger on the Bolt, then the panic started setting in for me. I was most worried about long trips. Even with a range of 380 km, I couldn’t make it to the cottage without stopping to charge, and who wants to wait to charge during an already long drive
I started to pull back.
(Publisher’s note: GM claims the 2020 Bolt will have 417 km of range.)
I told my husband I would be more comfortable with a hybrid – that way there was no chance of getting stuck. Too late, I was told, he had already signed a purchase agreement!
Week 1: Paranoia and delight
The first three days were spent obsessing over keeping the car charged and marvelling at the quiet, clean feeling of driving it – especially when stuck in traffic.
As I learned, there are three levels of charging and Level 2 is most common. A full L2 charge takes about six hours for this car because of the longer range. It’s best to get a charging unit installed at home (cost is around $500) so you can charge overnight.
Level 3 chargers can be found (usually free) at dealerships and take about an hour depending on how much juice you start with. But there are plenty of free Level 2 charge stations around for me to use: four at my work, four across the street at a mall, four at a parking garage close by. If you’re frugal, you can manage not to pay a cent for charging your EV.
Week 1 has been all about obsessing over keeping the car charged and loving the way it takes off like a shot and is dead quiet.
Week 2: It’s MY car!
My husband and I both love the feeling of driving this EV and even though it replaced my car, I’m having to take turns with my husband, which means I sometimes drive his Cadillac CTS. It feels like driving a dinosaur or an army tank compared to the EV.
The anxiety over letting the charge deplete by more than 20 per cent has subsided. In the city, you can find charge stations easily using apps such as ChargePoint and ChargeHub. They are everywhere – we just didn’t notice them before.
I think this past week, we’ve settled in with the car and are very happy with it. We’re planning to head north soon with it.
Week 3: Flying around town
Neither of us want to drive the Cadillac now. I told my husband, “Just go buy yourself an EV and be done with it.”
The biggest change to get used to is that there’s no transmission. You’re expecting the little lull while gears change, but nope! You hit the gas and you’re gone. This is especially nice when you want to beat another car to a lane or manoeuvre off the light. You will win every time!
The BOLT is agile, yet has a solid feel. I suppose if you were up against another EV with more power, you might not beat them, but it hasn’t happened yet. Of course, you can reach 60 km/h so fast, you won’t notice you’re already over the limit.
We’re supposed to head up the cottage this week – Windsor to the Parry Sound area – about a 570-km trip. The plan is to charge up west of Toronto, then again in Barrie before making the last leg.
Week 4: Road trip
Our first stop was Woodstock, Ont., to charge up at a FLO Level 3 we found on Plugshare. We ate lunch at a nearby restaurant while charging for an hour. I think the cost was around $15 for the whole charge.
One thing is clear: battery charging has got to step it up in the coming years and come up with faster charging technology for road trips.
Next, we met up with my son and his girl in Toronto for dinner and with the lingering focus on getting a charge whenever possible, we ended up arriving late while walking around looking for a restaurant near the charge station. You can get carried away with exhilaration of free charges.
We had electricians install the plug at the cottage so we knew once we got there, we would be able to charge during the off-peak hours over night. We took our portable Level 2 Juicebox with us to provide the connection from the plug to the car.
On the trip back, we avoided Highway 401 for backroads and country driving. There was no shortage of Level 3 charge stations in smaller towns along the way. The only problem is that some of them can be in use (your app will tell you). We didn’t have to wait for any but I’m sure it will become as problem as EV become more popular.
But a road trip that would normally cost $100 in gas cost us just $20. The best feeling is that we aren’t emitting carbon.
Impressions: We’ll never go back
Apart from planning for long trips, I find the only inconvenience is having to get to work a little early to claim a charge station. This is only because I’d rather charge for free at work than pay at home. I’ve noticed that more people are moving their car once charged and accommodating others waiting.
It’s strange and wonderful not to have to turn into the gas station. As technology improves, I can’t wait to see what becomes available in the next five years!
If you make the leap to an EV, you will never want to go back to an internal combustion car again. I think it’s mostly to do with that ‘clean’ feel and the agility.
The charge area at work is getting busier with a few more Bolts showing up and I saw an all-electric BMW i3 this morning.
The Bolt is not a BMW. I didn’t think I’d go for a vehicle that looked like my first car (Pontiac Vibe) for what might be my last car – I had dreams of Audi, Tesla or even a Ranger pickup. But I’ve settled down with this EV, and I’m whipping around town and getting stares.
Janet Morris is a senior data analyst who lives in Windsor, Ont., and commutes to Dearborn, Mich.