I should start off by saying that I am not a car guy. If you know me, you’ve probably never heard me talk about a car, and you likely will never hear me talk about one again.
My dad is a car guy. He rebuilt Porches before I was born. At some point, he sort of tried to teach me how to change belts and brake pads and things that you could do on cars before they were 95% electronics, though little of that stuck. For all my car-guy pedigree, I could just never really care less about cars.
In fact, I would really rather not own one at all. When we lived in Paris, we never needed one. You can walk most places and there’s public transit for the rest. We lived for a year with no car and no real need of one and it would be amazing if we could do that in America, but it’s sadly not very practical here. So, own a car we must.
This post is my simple love letter to the first car I’ve ever really liked owning, the Chevy Bolt.
The story starts when we bought our first house recently. When we moved into the house, we decided that we should try getting an electric car. We live in Berkeley, we now have a driveway and a place we could easily install a charger, it seemed like a good call. We owned a Tacoma, but it’s big and gas-guzzling and impossible to park in Berkeley and San Francisco, and overall just not a very good car.
We researched everything out there and decided that the only two electric cars that currently get anywhere near the range we wanted were the Telsa and the Chevy Bolt.
Now, I do love the Tesla.
For our 14th wedding anniversary, we rented a Tesla Model S for the weekend and drove it to Napa. It’s a great car. The simplicity is amazing, it’s super safe and the acceleration is totally insane. Ludicrous, one might say.
However, there are two problems with the Telsa. The first is that it’s really wide — as in, the same width as our Tacoma. The other is that it’s really expensive. Which itself presents another problem, which is that even if I wanted to spend $90k on a car, which I absolutely do not, I still don’t really want to be the guy driving around in a Tesla. With apologies to any of my Telsa owning friends, if I have any.
So we took a chance on the Bolt and it’s the best car I’ve ever owned. It has all of the important advantages of the Tesla and none of the downsides. Let’s quickly go over the main things that are great about this car.
It’s inexpensive. There are exactly two versions of the car, one that costs $37k and slightly nicer version that costs $41k. After federal and state incentives, which I believe end up around $10k, it costs less than $30k.
Not only does it cost about the same as a Honda CRV, but it’s cheap to drive. PG&E has a EV plan where you can get cheaper electric rates after 11pm, and the Bolt has a setting where it won’t draw power until then, which means you can charge it only when your electric rate is $0.12 per kilowatt hour. This means you can drive it’s entire 240 mile range for less than $9.
If your car gets 30 miles per gallon on average, that’s the equivalent of about $1 per gallon for fuel. Put another way, for $1 in fuel costs you can drive 30 miles in this car. Unless of course you install solar panels, in which case your “gas” is essentially free for life.
It’s quick. Like nearly all electric cars, it has constant torque. Like the Tesla, when you step on the gas, all of its torque is instantly available and it accelerates linearly. It never switches gears. This little sub-$30k car goes from 0–60 in 6.3 seconds, faster than a 2006 Audi TT Roadster. Faster than an ‘84 Chevy Corvette. This is not as quick as a Tesla, but it’s still amazing and really fun to experience.
In my opinion, it’s nicer to drive overall than the Tesla. It’s possible that nobody will agree with me on this, but there probably also aren’t that many people who have driven both. For me, the smaller size and width of the car makes it more fun to drive around town. Plus, if you’ve ever actually tried to floor a Tesla, it’s too much — I nearly made my wife throw up twice when we rented it. Flooring the Bolt off the line makes the passenger ‘oomph’, but not vomit. (It literally made me make an ‘oomph’ sound yesterday when my wife floored it without warning me)
It’s insanely quiet. Also like most electric cars, I imagine, it makes almost no noise. This is pretty weird if you’ve never driven in a totally quiet car. There is no external sound when it turns on, no acceleration sound, no real moving parts to hear revving or grinding.
No fucking gas stations. This point cannot be stressed enough. When you drive an electric car, you do not ever spend a minute at a gas station ever again. Every night you plug in your car and every morning you have a full tank. It’s like free tiny gas fairies come and service your car every night whilst you slumber.
Hippie environment stuff. If you’re into it, it’s pretty cool that this thing isn’t burning gas. If you install solar panels and a wall battery, it’s possible to have an almost totally eco-friendly method of transportation. However, even if you don’t care about that stuff, you can get a white sticker in California, meaning you can drive in the carpool lanes. More importantly if you’re living in the Bay Area, you can go through the bus lane of the maze. That’s maybe worth $30k right there, environment-enschmironment.
The internal software UI is amazing. It is the best designed user interface in any car I’ve ever driven. I travel a lot, I’ve rented a lot of cars and I can say without a doubt that car UX designers are maybe the dumbest people on the planet, on average. Unless of course you happen to know one, that person is probably super smart but just stuck under horrible management, it’s hard to say.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself yelling at the center console of a car, madly trying to get something to work, in vain. They are constantly and without exception just plain thoughtless.
I drove a car once where every 45 minutes or so, if you were listening to music on Bluetooth, would randomly switch to the first FM channel in it’s memory for no reason. When listening to news about Asia on NPR in our Toyota, it shows a picture of the band Asia.
Have you ever used the little circle input device on an Audi to type in an address? Have you ever used any of the awful integrated GPS systems instead of just resorting to Google Maps on your iPhone?
Car software is just the worst.
However, every single thing I’ve tried to do in the Bolt was easy to find, straightforward to understand or simple to get working. It’s mind blowing. Like I just can’t imagine how it happened.
What’s even more amazing is that the screens are better than the Tesla’s in my opinion. The Tesla screen is enormous, which is kind of cool, but ultimately not very additionally helpful, and the interface looks like it was designed by someone who made WinAmp skins in the 90s. It’s not horrible, but it’s a strange juxtaposition to the slickness of the rest of the Tesla.
The Bolt is not magic. This is a debatable point, but there is no self-driving stuff or auto-parking stuff. There is an amazing generated top-down view when you’re parking the car that makes it look like a crazy video game, but it doesn’t do any of the actual parking for you. I actually like this and prefer it for now over the idea of the car being partially sentient and possibly plotting my demise.
It drives over 230 miles on a charge. The range is essentially the same as normal car. We’ve never come close to being low on it. On a full charge, you can drive the two hours from San Francisco to Monterey, then turn around and drive all the way back without a problem and without needing to plug it in once.
The entire car is like someone took a Tesla, removed all the insane from it, kept everything great and sold it for the price of a normal car.
If you’re waiting for a Tesla 3, I think you’re better off going out and buying a Bolt right now. I’m a real picky person when it comes to user experience and there is almost nothing on this car I would improve. I just can’t imagine anything that would make the Tesla 3 better than a Bolt.
My wife and I were just this week talking about getting rid of the pick-up truck we have and getting something smaller we could replace it with, and it’s hard to not land on simply getting a second Bolt. It seems weird to own two of exactly the same car, but there aren’t any really good reasons we can think of to choose something else.
So, why am I writing this?
I suppose that I just really appreciate good design and good product. I complain about everything, I’m easily frustrated. It’s rare that there’s a product I use, even very simple things, where I’m so impressed with the thought put into it and the execution of it that there’s nothing practical that I can think of to improve. When it happens, especially if nobody else seems to be noticing it for whatever reason, I feel like it’s important to point out.
Truly amazing job, everyone who worked on the Bolt.