2019 Chevrolet Bolt

MIAMI — Though the electric car may be viewed by some as a recent development, its history dates back well over a century when, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the work of innovators in the 1800s led to the first electric vehicle on the road in the U.S. in 1890. By 1900, electric cars were a popular choice among budding automotive enthusiasts, more convenient than steam-powered vehicles and cleaner and easier to drive than the gasoline-powered versions.

Of course, we all know what happened. Steam cars died a natural death, and, thanks to the more economically feasible Ford Model T and a support system of filling stations throughout the country, gasoline-vehicles took over the market.

Now, however, we see renewed interest in electric cars. thanks in part to the introduction of hybrid gas-electric vehicles like Honda’s Insight and especially Toyota’s Prius in the 1990s and concerns about the environment and future supplies of fossil fuels.

More recently, fully electric cars have come to market, but two issues may be slowing their development: their range (or lack thereof) and powering them up.

Progress is being made on both fronts, but slowly.

I recently spent a week in the 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV, which unlike its stablemate the Chevy Volt, is an electric vehicle that the auto buff magazine Car & Driver rates the best  “everyday” electric car on the market today.

For C&D “everyday” apparently is code for “affordable” as compared to Tesla’s luxury models. The Bolt EV comes in two versions with the base LT carrying a starting MSRP of $36,620 and the more upscale Premier edition starting at $40,904, so I don’t know if that really falls into the “affordable” class.

This is especially so for a vehicle that lacks the refinement and niceties you usually find in vehicles in that price range. Standard equipment on the Bolt EV Premier model includes items like heated front seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and auto-dimming inside mirror in a Comfort and Convenience Package that is optional on the LT along with other features like keyless entry and push-button start and leather-appointed seats, but seat adjustments are made manually and cabin ambiance is more economy than premier.

A Driver’s Convenience Package (automatic high beam headlights, Forward Collision Alert, Lane-keeping Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Front Pedestrian Braking with Pedestrian Alert), Infotainment Package (wireless charging, Bose Premium sound, USB charging ports), the DC Fast Charger, and the $875 destination and delivery charge) ran the total for my Bolt EV Premier to $43,510, which is getting up there for a non-luxury compact hatchback.

Of course, being an electric vehicle, there are tax credits and other current (pun intended) incentives from the government to knock some off that price. The Bolt currently (again pun intended) qualifies for up to the full $7,500 U.S. tax credit.

The reason for the C&D’s recognition of the Bolt, however, doesn’t have so much to do with the MSRP as it does with the Bolt’s technology. Chevy boasts a range of 238 miles on a full charge, though that may vary.

Once I got my test vehicle up it showed a range of 267 miles, but that wasn’t until I was able to leave it hooked up to my household outlet for an extended time (well over a day) that I was able to get it up to that number.

That’s the rub that no doubt many overlook. If you are going to go with an electric vehicle, you really need to invest in a Level-2 charging (240 volts) system.

Depending on where you work, you may be close to a charging outlet that will allow you to charge up your car during the day, and you can top it off when you get home at night. A DC fast charger also can give you a range of up to 90 miles in about half-an-hour.

But what about those family vacation trips? You’ll have to rent a conventionally powered vehicle or be prepared to add time to your journey. Motor Trend magazine reported that an 800-mile trip using a DC fast charger took nearly twice as long than doing a similar trip with a gas vehicle. Or maybe you’ll just fly to your destination.

What I liked about the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV: The handling and throttle response is excellent. This can be a fun car to drive (it even has a Sport mode), one that is roomy and quiet as well. Zero-to-60 mph times of less than seven seconds have been reported. The false floor in the cargo areas gives you a place to hide items from view.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV: Without a 240-volt charger, charging times are long, and max range is difficult to get to. The interior has a cheap feel to it especially for its initial price. Built-in navigation isn’t available. The gear shift pattern is unnecessarily complicated, and the car seems to have a mind of its own when it comes to locking the doors after you get out. Beep! Beep!

Would I buy the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV? Not likely. Range (I have mileage anxiety) and charging times (no patience) are issues with me. Spur-of-the-moment trips to the Keys? Forget them. Even with the Fast Charger, longer excursions are impractical. The Volt doesn’t have the electric range of the Volt (only 53 miles) but at least it has a gas engine to kick in, resulting in up to 1,100 miles driving between fill-ups with regular charging.

— Paul Borden