A Quiet Day Experiencing an Electric Car at the Limit
Consumers are slowly but surely recognizing the benefits of owning an all-electric vehicle. Auto manufacturers have a primary message of driving miles and miles without ever having to buy gasoline. This is exactly what the public needs to hear and fully comprehend for EV sales to increase. While never having to stop at a gasoline station again is a very strong, appealing and sexy selling point, a car has to have more going for it than the ability to get from Point A to B cheaply. It also has to be a pleasant place to hang-out and it must perform.
Chevrolet thought it would be fun (and they were right!) to invite automotive journalists to an autocross course in Southern California, to demonstrate that the 2018 Bolt is more than just a commuter and around-town compact. After a couple hours tearing around tight corners, we were convinced it was.
Power, Traction and Performance
Powered by a 150-kW electric motor driving the front wheels, the 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque were instant and available at all times. Zipping around in the Bolt was great fun. Chevrolet claims a 6.8-second 0-60 time and 91 mph top speed. But, when on an autocross course, these figures are moot as the top speed might be 35 mph—for a brief few seconds. What we cared about was how to get the 3,560-lb. Bolt around the tight course and not smash too many cones in the process.
The key to the Bolt handling so well starts with the batteries being located under the seats. With the weight placed only a few inches off the ground, the low center of gravity is the envy of race car engineers everywhere. The next factor affecting handling were the tires.
Three of our autocross Bolts had the standard-equipment Michelin Energy Saver 17-inch all-season tires that are designed for low rolling-resistance. To make it more interesting, two of the autocross Bolts were shod with summer tires. According to Mike Burns, Bolt vehicle performance engineer/vehicle dynamics and chassis control, there should be a minuscule difference in grip between the two tires. Maybe in the lab, but not on the track—and certainly not on this day. Depending on the driver, there was a one-to-two second difference in lap times, with the summer tire easily giving a better road feel, with less tire spin and more grip when braking and diving hard into corners.
A third factor for good handling was the electric power steering not being too light. Many of the cars reviewed by Clean Fleet Report have dumbed-down steering, to the point of a loss of road feel. This is never good, but ever more so when driving fast on tight corners.
Lastly was braking, which was very good and didn’t fade even with repeated hard stomping on the pedal. As with all electric vehicles, the Bolt has a regenerative braking system that, when braking or coasting, converts friction into electricity, which is then returned to the batteries. The Bolt comes standard with an anti-lock braking system, power-assisted front vented and rear solid discs. Handling and driving confidence was aided by dynamic rear brake proportioning and electronic stability control.
Just to spice it up a bit, Chevrolet brought-in a 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI, a hot hatch known for its great handling. While it certainly did handle well, it traversed the autocross course slower than the Bolt wearing the summer tires. The most likely reason for the Bolt having faster times goes back to the electric motor providing instant torque and horsepower at any speed. The GTI has a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, which is a blast to drive, but on the autocross course where you are on-and-off the accelerator pedal constantly and quickly, waiting even a split second for the turbo to spin-up was enough for the Bolt to out perform the VW. A small thing, but Chevrolet proved its point vividly how much fun the Bolt EV can be to drive.
Design Assumption vs. Reality
The Bolt has a tall stance, placing it between a hatchback and a crossover. So, the initial impression is that handling will be affected by a higher center of gravity. But with the under-seat battery placement, weight being almost at ground level and the wide-set wheel placement, the minimal body roll was predictable and not an issue, even on the hardest and fastest corners.
Observations: 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV Autocross – Handling and Performance
The 2018 Chevrolet Bolt is not a race car, nor can it be considered sporty. However, a day at the autocross course on timed laps proved it should be seriously considered more than a way to drive around without having to stop at a gasoline station. The quiet performance of the motor might lull people into thinking that the “corners ahead” sign means to lift off the accelerator pedal. The opposite is more like it.
Request from the Chevrolet sales associate a test drive that lets you try out the handling. Don’t scare them, but don’t hold back seeing how much fun you can have in a Bolt.
Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!
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