by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV follows in the tire tracks of historic automobiles like the original Volkswagen Bug and Ford’s Model T and Model A. But not in the way you might think.

In the early to mid-20th century, cars were evolving so quickly that sometimes people would buy a new car and then find out that next year it was obsolete as the manufacturer made extensive changes.

Part of the appeal of cars like the Model A and the VW Bug was that they retained their essential goodness from year to year. For some buyers annoyed by obsolescence, that clinched the deal. Over the years since, the industry has subtly returned to the changes for change’s sake in a highly competitive market.

But not the Chevy Bolt. A friend of this reviewer bought a new 2017 Bolt — the first model year it was on the market — and has driven it since. So, when the 2021 model came up for a review, she agreed to drive it and share her impressions.

Except for a slightly more comfortable driver’s seat, her conclusion was that the new Bolt was the same as the 2017. That has all sorts of implications for buyers. But first, a check of the specifications, which have barely changed, bears her out.

The two four-door hatchbacks are the same length — 13 feet 8 inches — have the same passenger and cargo space — 94/17 cubic feet — and weigh within a few pounds of each other. Each has an electric motor that delivers 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. Because electric motors develop maximum torque from rest, there is no need for a transmission, so call it a single speed automatic. The 0-60-mph acceleration is in the six-second range, with a top speed of about 93 mph.

There is some refinement in the 2021 model. For example, its stated range is 259 miles on a full charge, where the 2017 model advertised 238. But charging times are similar: About 9.5 hours on a 240-volt charger, nearly 60 hours on standard 120-volt house current. An overnight charge of 15 hours delivers about 60 miles of driving. Figure four miles of range per hour of charging. 

However, a welcome major change on the 2021 Premier model is an added system that enables commercial DC fast charging, which can deliver up to 90 miles of range in 30 minutes. 

Even after four years, the Bolt’s prices have not changed much. In 2017, the top-line Premier had a starting price of $41,780, including the destination charge. That has increased $115 to $41,895 for the 2021 model. With options, the 2017 started at $41,780 and had a bottom-line sticker of $42,760. The bottom line for the 2021 Premier is $43,735.

Standard equipment on the Premier included lane-change alert with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, pedestrian safety signal, leather upholstery, front and rear heated seats, automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, wireless smartphone charging, remote starting, roof rack with side rails, and aluminum alloy wheels with all-season tires.

The friend said her 2017 Bolt had been utterly reliable, though she doesn’t put many miles on it — about 8,000 so far. But she said her only maintenance had been checking the tires and pumping them up when needed.

So, the implication here is if you hanker after an all-electric car and can find a clean Bolt with at least average mileage, you can save a pocket full of money and still have the nearly the same advantages of a new one. An added incentive: Early on, the Bolt qualified for a $7,500 federal tax credit, which now has expired. 

Chevrolet actually had a solid competitor that preceded the Bolt.

It was called the Volt, a plug-in hybrid that could run up to 50 miles or so on pure electric power, then switch to hybrid operation, eliminating the so-called “range anxiety” that accompanies purely electric vehicles.

It was a stylish hatchback that had a run from 2011 to 2019, when Chevrolet dropped it as sales of crossover sport utility vehicles soared and sedan sales tumbled. 

The company toyed with a hydrogen-fueled electric platform that could have underpinned any number of electric cars. Instead, it introduced the Bolt as a 2017 model, which is about as good as any of the other sparkies out there.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier four-door hatchback.
  • Motor: Electric, 200 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 94/17 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,575 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 127/108/118 MPGe.
  • Range: 259 miles.
  • Charging times: Nearly 60 hours on 120-volt household current; 9.5 hours on 240-volt charger.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,895.
  • Price as tested: $43,735.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Chevrolet