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Chevy Debuts Bolt EV, the Electric Car for the Rest of Us

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

After much anticipation, Chevy unveiled its new Bolt EV today at CES. Yes, one of the largest automakers in the world has debuted a vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show. These are indeed strange times we live in.

The big deal about Chevy’s Bolt is that — unlike competing electric vehicles — it’s expected to get up to 200 miles on a single charge and cost less than $30,000. In other words it will cost less than a Tesla, and get more mileage out of a charge than Nissan’s Leaf.

The price-point and range make many in the auto industry see the Bolt as the first truly consumer-friendly electric vehicle.

Related: More coverage of CES 2016.

How friendly is it in actual use? To find out, I spent some time driving the Bolt around a course set up in a parking lot outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. The verdict: I was impressed.

Not what you’d expect

As with all electrics, acceleration is extremely quick. And, since there is no transmission, you never hear or feel any gear shifts.

Like BMW’s i3, the Bolt offers one-pedal drive which, when active, automatically slows the vehicle to a stop whenever you take your foot off the “gas.” Doing so even recharges the Bolt’s battery, thanks to its regenerative brake.

It’s jarring to use though, as it causes the car to brake rather aggressively. Fortunately, the feature is only active when you switch the shifter into Low. In Standard drive, you activate regenerative braking by pulling on a paddle to the left of the steering wheel.

(Speaking of the battery: According to Chevy, the Bolt can charge from empty on a standard 120-volt outlet in 36 hours. With a 240-volt outlet (the same kind you’d plug a washer or drier into), the Bolt will charge from empty in just two hours. And if you use DC fast charging, you can charge the car in an hour and a half.)

Inside, the Bolt is deceptively roomy, thanks to some innovative space-saving features.

The seats, for example, have been designed to add an extra inch of legroom for backseat passengers. To achieve this, engineers used just 10 millimeters of padding on the Bolt’s seats and a special plastic membrane with a suspension system that absorbs bumps and bounces while driving. The result is a driver’s seat that’s far thinner than your average driver’s seat, yet surprisingly comfortable (at least it was during my short time in the car).

There’s plenty of room in the back seats, too; even the trunk is relatively large for a car of the Bolt’s size. The Bolt is basically a clown car in that respect.

User interface

Of course, a high-tech car needs a slick dashboard interface. The Bolt certainly checks that box.

First, there’s the 10-inch touch screen display with a customizable interface divided into four sections. Not only can you customize which features you want displayed in each of those four areas, but you can magnify each section so it takes up most the screen or shrink it to a small box.

The setup looks bright and clean, and should be relatively easy for most smartphone users to figure out. If you don’t quite understand what you’re looking at, though, there’s a Help button at the top of the screen that, when pressed, tells you exactly what the screen you’re looking at does.

Behind the wheel is an 8-inch digital cluster that displays everything from your vehicle’s charge state to your speed.

Chevy says the Bolt will also launch with Android Auto and Apple Car Play integration, so you’ll be able to use your smartphone and certain apps behind the wheel, hands-free of course.

Naturally, the Bolt also comes equipped with all manner of driver assist technologies including lane keeping and blind spot warning. But my favorite, and perhaps silliest of these, is the additional camera that Chevy strapped to the back of the car that runs a feed directly to the rear-view mirror.

To activate the video feed, you simply flip down the mirror and immediately see an unobstructed view of what’s behind you. It’s a pretty neat trick to show your passenger and provides you with a much greater field of view than the traditional mirror. And if the camera gets dirty, Chevy equipped it with a special spray washer.

So will the Bolt be the car that blows the EV market wide open for the average consumer? It’s too early to tell, as Chevy has yet to announce exact pricing details, and we still haven’t seen a final production version. But based on my quick test-drive, it absolutely has the potential.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+.

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