Want to drive tailpipe emission free in an electric vehicle? Chevrolet has the car for you – the Volt. Or, rather, the Bolt. OK, either one could work, but which is a better way to go?
Aside from the names that are confusingly similar even for well-spoken Americans, and which can give speakers of other languages fits, both cars are capable tools intended for a similar job in life.
To General Motors’ credit, these two gems adorning its alternative energy portfolio arguably represent the pinnacle of their respective segments.
The extended-range Volt is technically classified as a plug-in hybrid, and its 53-mile e-range means it offers more all-important electric mobility per charge than any other full-range plug-in hybrid sold.
Alternatively, the just-being-introduced Bolt blows away every other EV in its price class with a 60-kWh battery and 238 miles range.
But these are otherwise two different ways to achieve a similar task. Does Chevrolet have a dilemma on its hands, or a complementary pair?
It’s too soon to tell, but in the meantime let’s do an overview of attributes to help determine what makes more sense to you.
Make no mistake, these cars’ advanced powertrains including thermally managed batteries and electric motors are what set them apart from comparably styled conventional cars, and why they cost before subsidies from the mid 30s to mid 40s.
The 2011 Volt was introduced as a bridge technology to compensate for earlier generation EVs’ shortcomings, and built on the premise that 40 miles was enough for three-quarters of all drivers’ daily needs. The 2016/17 generation-two Volt now has 53 miles range meaning it can work like a pure EV for even more people day to day.
Backing it up is a 1.5-liter aluminum Ecotec engine for zero “range anxiety” because gas stations are plentiful and fast filling. When the juice runs out, the engine kicks on seamlessly and the car morphs to a 42 mpg hybrid.
By contrast, the 238-mile Bolt is all-electric, with enough miles for nearly anyone’s daily needs, and more than double that of the still-first-generation Nissan Leaf. This over-200 mile range is unprecedented at its sub-$40,000 price. It’s so remarkable, in fact, Motor Trend was compelled to compare the small Chevy to a large $72,000 as-equipped 60-kWh Tesla Model S as the next-nearest competitor range-wise until the Model 3 gets here next year.
But the Bolt can still run out of juice in a world where car charging is less plentiful and its “50 kW” charge rate is slower than a Tesla’s.
The charging infrastructure picture is improving, but recharging from zero still takes 9 hours on 240-volt equipment, or if you know where a level 3 CCS charger is, GM says 90 miles range can be restored in 30 minutes or 160 miles in one hour at today’s charging rates. So, for longer trips, it is less convenient for sure.
Are you OK with that? Can you work around it? If not, the 53-mile Volt could let you drive what is essentially a pure EV day to day that lets you keep going until you find time and place to recharge. This takes overnight on 120-volt house current, or around 4.5 hours at 240 volts.
Both the Volt and Bolt are positioned as “fun to drive,” don’t you know? That descriptor has been nearly obligatory PR-speak by EV advocates to help stand-offish and uninitiated folk become interested, but it is relatively true.
Though they can’t pull extreme gravity around bends, and acceleration is shy of a Tesla Model S, the plug-in Chevys’ torque from 0 rpm – AKA “instant torque” – make them feel quicker than they are, and they handle respectably with quiet drive.
“Fun” therefore is also that novel whispery operation, and if there is one thing Volt owners want more of, it’s electric range so the mildly droning gas engine stays off and the pure EV experience can keep going. If EV drive is your priority, chalk a point up for the all-electric Bolt, then, as you are guaranteed to never hear an engine turn on and burn gas.
Beyond that fun factor, numbers can help quantify the question of visceral rewards.
According to Car and Driver, the Bolt’s performance data make it look like a pocket rocket next to the Volt. Its top speed is just 93 mph, versus the Volt’s 102, but it is otherwise free to focus all its 200 horsepower and 266 pounds-feet torque to run with greater authority up to maximum velocity. By contrast, the Volt serves up 149 horses and 294 pounds-feet of torque.
According to Chevrolet, the only place the slightly more torquey Volt outdoes the Bolt is in a 2.6-second 0-30 mph sprint, versus 2.9 for the Bolt. To 60 mph, the Volt takes 7.5 seconds, and the Bolt takes 6.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Other comparisons showing the difference include: 30-50 mph – Volt: 3.2 seconds, Bolt: 2.6 seconds. And then there’s 50-70 mph – Volt: 5.1 seconds, and the higher horsepower Bolt is really coming on stronger at 3.1 seconds. The standing quarter mile sees the Volt take 16.1 seconds at 85 mph; Bolt does it in 15.0 seconds maxed at 93 mph.
The Volt’s time to reach 100 mph is 24.8 seconds, and the Bolt – which cannot go that fast – saw 90 mph in just 13.2 seconds.
Before being overawed by that massive 11.6-second gap, understand those last 10 mph are the hardest for either car.
The 3,569-pound Bolt’s curb weight as tested by Car and Driver is very close to the 3,523-pound Volt, but the Bolt’s battery is all in the floor lowering center of gravity, whereas the Volt’s T-pack sits down the middle tunnel area.
On the 300-foot diameter skid pad, both are compromised by low rolling resistance tires, with the Volt seeing a decent 0.84 g, and Bolt managing 0.78 g – about the same as a then-sporty 1970s Alfa Romeo Spyder Veloce.
For all the fun-to-drive accolades, while these numbers are enough for excitement, this is a fair bit below sports cars that register above .90 g thanks to tuned suspensions and sport tires. If one wanted to retrofit stickier rubber to the Volt or Bolt, it would improve road holding, at the expense of some efficiency/range.
Most people however will likely be fine with the cars’ legal and extra-legal capabilities, although C&D did nick the Volt a bit.
“Because the Michelin Energy Saver tires prioritize low rolling resistance over grip, the 190 feet required to stop from 70 mph is longer than desirable, and we discovered rather bizarre cornering behavior,” said Car and Driver.
By contrast, the Bolt brakes from 70 to 0 in a bit-better 181 feet, is further aided by its lower center of gravity, and C&D was less critical of it, despite its lower skidpad rating.
“The Michelin Energy Saver A/S tires deliver a modest 0.78 g of grip around the skidpad while the low-mounted battery pack helps keep handling relatively flat,” it said.
Form-factor wise, both are hatchbacks, and both hide their true identity.
The Volt is designed to look like a sedan, and Chevrolet has classified the Bolt as a “compact crossover” – that’s marketing speak for tallish-hatchback-but-we-call-it-a-crossover-because-Americans-don’t-prefer-hatchbacks-but-do-desire-crossovers-so-that’s-what-we-call-it.
Both are compact in size, though the Volt is the largest a “compact” can be by U.S. EPA reckoning, and the Bolt, a “small wagon,” would be called mid-sized by interior volume if classified as a regular car.
Volt dimensions are: Wheelbase: 106.1 inches, length: 180.4 inches, width: 71.2 inches, height: 56.4 inches. Bolt dimensions are: Wheelbase: 102.4 inches; length: 164.0 inches; width: 69.5 inches; height: 62.8 inches.
So, the Bolt on its 3.7-inch shorter wheelbase is 16.4-inches shorter overall, 1.7-inches narrower, and 6.4-inches taller. It also proves superior in internal space maximization: passenger volume: 94 cubic feet; cargo volume: 17 cubic feet. In contrast, the Volt’s passenger volume is 90 cubic feet and cargo space is 11 cubic feet.
Chalk one up for the Bolt’s skateboard chassis, a design GM originated and featured on last-decade concept vehicles, but which Tesla, Nissan, and BMW adopted first.
Stowing the battery in a long and wide floor cavity creates a flat open palette above for designers to optimize interior volume, and the Bolt takes advantage of this, while the Volt gives up interior room with a battery along for the ride.
The Volt’s rear seating is thus also compromised. Theoretically, it’s a five-passenger car, but the middle rear “seating position” is not as generous, and neither is rear legroom.
GM designed the Bolt as a commercial-capable vehicle, positioned for its Lyft operation, while the Volt is not bad, some may find it less than desirable, though ultimately it would be best to sit in it to determine for yourself.
Both these Bowtie brand cars are relatively premium as Chevrolets go. Outwardly, the Volt’s design is very similar to the Cruze, and the Bolt is not dissimilar to a tall Sonic. Inside, both get gee-whiz dash displays, and accoutrements. The Bolt’s 10.2-inch touchscreen does outdo the Volt’s 8-inch screen.
As far as aesthetics, both are contemporary, mainstream-oriented, with design language adopted from the family line which in turn, frankly, borrows heavily from others.
Both are serviceable, and useful designs. To those who have strong feelings one way or the other, to each his own.
The Volt’s lower stance does cut the air far better with a 0.285 coefficient of drag, versus the Bolt’s number believed to be between 0.312 and 0.32. Notable is the Bolt’s superior 119 MPGe compensates for the Volt’s 106 MPGe/42 mpg powertrain.
The Bolt is meant as a utilitarian runabout for urban/suburban settings, whereas the Volt could be this too, but is the better car for long-distance convenience.
The Bolt meanwhile has greater overall cargo capacity, better people hauling ability – and too bad there is no DC fast charge network like Tesla has to help accommodate electric touring, though this picture is due to improve in coming years.
If you want a sleeker looking EV, hold out for the Model 3, or a next-gen Nisan Leaf, assuming they get that redesign the way you like it.
The Volt starts at $34,095, and the Bolt starts at $37,495. So, by Chevrolet reckoning, the Bolt is better because it costs $3,400 more, right?
Both are priced to come in below $30,000 with a $7,500 federal tax credit for those to whom it will apply. State-level incentives and rebates may be the same for each, or lower for plug-in hybrids, as is the case in California.
Actual cost of ownership depends on factors including financing terms, insurance, taxes and fees, estimated depreciation, fuel/energy costs, anticipated maintenance and repairs – and of course the tax credits/rebates as the case may be.
Historically, the Volt has not had great resale value, in part because the federal credit was assumed. How the Bolt may fare is anyone’s guess.
These vehicles may also be leased, and leasing has been preferred by plug-in consumers to compensate for resale values that drop more quickly than internal combustion models due to fast-changing technology, and other factors.
Which ever way you go, a test drive is always desirable, though many at this stage will buy these cars based on their research and gut feeling.
Both promise to be well engineered, and despite the Volt’s being downgraded recently by Consumer Reports, it has previously topped its list for owner satisfaction, and anecdotes attest that the Volt has been a relatively reliable car.
GM has also never had to replace a Volt’s battery due to it wearing out before its 100,000 mile warranty was up, and it says it has applied powertrain lessons learned to the Bolt.
At this point, there is no reason to believe otherwise, though the most conservative advice is waiting a year to let any bugs get worked out.
If you take that recommendation, then the Volt is the only choice, but many won’t want to wait for the first sub-$40,000 EV with over 200 miles range.
We shall see therefore how they do, how Chevrolet markets them, and what the court of public opinion otherwise decides.