EV Shopping & My First EV
Not many new cars in my past
The first new car I bought was a Chevy Chevette, for which I paid $3,900 in 1980. I did not like it at all. I had buyer’s remorse and could not sleep the next night. Luckily, two days later I was able to return it to the dealer.
My second new car was a Renault Le Car, which I bought a week later for $4,400. I liked this car and I drove it for 15 years, until I gave it to a friend with close to 200,000 miles on the odometer and running very well. It always got 40 mpg on the freeway.
My third new car was a Ford Taurus I bought in 1987 for $12,000. Two years later, I sued Ford Motor Company, and after another year, I won in court. They gave me my money back with interest and I returned the car.
For the next 36 years, I drove only Hondas, Toyotas, and a couple of Lexuses. I never sold a car; I just drove them to the end of their life, or gave them away while still running well. I never paid more than $12,000 for any car, new or used. I never imagined I would buy an American car again.
Until last week, when I paid $41,000 for a 2023 Chevy Bolt EUV.
Checking the EV Landscape
I started to look at EVs last year. Tesla was the obvious one, since almost everybody on my street owns one and the Fremont factory is only 20 miles away. I test drove a Model 3 from the dealer, and I borrowed one from a friend. I liked a few things, but the negatives were overwhelming.
It seemed when Elon designed the first Tesla, he forgot it needed a control panel. He pushed it into production with great determination, as he does everything in life. Many people tried to tell him: “Elon, how about a control panel?” but he would not have time to listen. When the car was ready for production, he realized he made a mistake. He took a tablet and glued it on the dashboard. The rest was in software.
Concentrating all the controls on the tablet is a silly idea. I read once about a guy who had an accident with his Tesla and the tablet cracked. He could not open the glove box, where he had his papers, because there was no release latch. You can do it only from the tablet. This is childish.
Add to this the price, and the loss of the tax write-off, and you have a loser. Tesla was out. (Editor’s note: to be clear, you can currently get a US tax credit on a Model 3 or Model Y. You couldn’t for a couple of years, but the incentive was revived with the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.)
Next I test drove the Kia Niro EV. It was OK, but I could not deploy either the Lane Keep Assist or the Smart Cruise. The dealer saleslady who assisted me did not have any idea why. I moved to the next on my list, the Hyundai Kona EV. They did not have it in stock, so I drove a Genesis, just for fun — I was not looking for a $100,000 EV.
I walked into a Volkswagen dealership without an appointment and drove the ID.4. The car was the speediest of all, but the “gear shift” knob is placed behind the wheel, in a blind spot. You have to crane your neck 30 degrees to your right to see it. The dealer explained that it’s just a matter of time until you learn how to use it without looking. I did not like the idea.
Reconsidering a Chevy? Really?
I started reading about the Chevy Bolt, and I kept looking for bad things but could not find many. The main negative was the “only” 200 HP — so the 0–60 takes 7 seconds. Not important, since I will never do it in less than 20. I have a 100HP Suzuki motorcycle which can do probably 3 seconds, but I am not pushing it. The price was very attractive, starting at about $27,500 for the base model, less the $7,500 tax credit.
I test drove the Bolt, and I liked everything about it. The dealer asked for $5,000 “market price adjustment” over the MSRP. I told him to call me when the “adjustment” is out.
I went home and contacted 10 dealers across a range of about 200 miles on the Chevy website. I sent the same message to all. “I want a Blue Cobalt Bolt EUV Premiere with Super Cruise. Call me when you can sell one at MSRP.”
I got many calls, and they all wanted $3,000 to $5,000 over MSRP, due to “market prices.” Until Sunday, March 12th, when a dealer called and offered to sell one for the list price: $35,495. The dealer was 120 miles away, and a few hours later I picked up my first EV. I bought 3 years of extended warranty for $2,000, mainly because the car has so many electronics which could be costly. After taxes and fees, the out-the-door price was $41,000. Next year we’ll get $7,500 back from Uncle Sam, so our final price will be $33,500.
How much it costs to drive the Bolt
The dashboard showed the car was fully charged, had 10 miles on board, had an estimated range of 241 miles, and informed me it runs 2.9 miles/kWh. I did a quick mental calculation. If the average cost of kWh is 15¢ (at home), this car would cost 5¢ per mile?!? Almost too good to be true. I knew the price could be 2 or 3 times higher at fast charging stations, but still, the number was excellent. My other car is a Lexus ES350, which gets 30 mpg on the freeway and 15 mpg in town, and at $5/gallon it costs about 25¢/mile for gas. At first glance, the Bolt-equivalent mpg is indeed over 100.
We drove home in down-pouring rain, with my wife tailgating me in the Lexus. I kept the Bolt under 65 mph, both because of the rain and to get used to it. The 120-mile trip home took about 121 miles from the battery. I got home with 120 miles left in the “tank.” Pretty good estimate.
The dealer offered either $500 cash or free installation of a Level 2 charger at home. I opted for the latter. I was a little disappointed the installation was scheduled 3 weeks later, but we are almost there.
My wife and I both work from home. We bought the car mainly for shopping. The longest trip planned would be 120 miles to Sacramento, where our two granddaughters live. When I got home, I plugged the car into a normal outlet, planning our next trip to Sacramento on a full charge.
Charging the battery
On a Level 1 charger (120V outlet), the Bolt adds about 4.5 miles of range per hour. I do not see any reason not to install a Level 2 charger, since the factory is paying for it. The advertised charge time is 7 hours, which I have not checked yet, since my charger is not installed. I see the charging time as no problem at all. You can drive 200 miles per day if you have a long commute and still charge comfortably overnight.
In the next few days, I drove the car around town and noticed a pleasant surprise. The fully charged range started to creep up. At the next charge, it went up to 250 miles. Today, the car has close to 1000 miles on board, and the range shows a whopping 262 miles. I think the car figures out the average based on the driving history. The miles per kWh also increased from 2.9 to 3.9.
After the first full charge at home, which took a couple of days, we proceeded to our first “long range” trip to Sacramento. I planned to charge once at a fast charging station.
The car navigation has a convenient “Charge Stations” tab, where it shows the nearest stations and the charging power available. After 150 miles, with 100 miles left, I selected a 50 kW Level 3 station right off the freeway. The advertised charging estimate was 100 miles/hour. Another pleasant surprise was that charging 80 miles took about 30 minutes and cost $12. At about 150 miles/hour, it was 50% better than advertised. The 15¢/mile price was more than at home, but acceptable.
I learned I can charge the car at three stations: ChargePoint, EVGo, and, yes, Tesla. Tesla is opening its Supercharger network to non-Tesla cars, and the app shows where you can charge. I tried ChargePoint and EVGo, and both are pushing about 150 miles/hour. I do not plan to use them much, since electricity at home is much cheaper (or free if you have solar, as I do). Both ChargePoint and EVGo charged $12 for 80 miles, including 10¢/minute for parking.
Driving the Bolt was another pleasant surprise. All the EVs I tested before, Tesla included, had two modes of operation, which you can change from a switch. In one mode, when you take the foot of the acceleration pedal, the car starts to brake, quite heavily, and charges the battery. In the other mode, when you take the foot off, the car is coasting and you have to use the brake pedal. Tesla was braking so heavily that my friend informed me he never uses the regenerative braking, because it’s too annoying to have the car brake on its own. [Editor’s note: I find that surprising, as pretty much every Tesla owner I’ve ever communicated with loves the regen braking, and I can’t imagine not using it. It’s one of the best features of the car!]
Unlike all the others, the Bolt does not have a mode-switch. Instead, it has a convenient lever behind the steering wheel, right next to your left-hand fingers. When you take your foot off the acceleration, the car is braking mildly and charging the battery, if it has enough momentum. If you have to brake harder, you can use the hand level and all the braking energy is used to charge the battery. If you have to brake even harder, then you push the brake pedal. Excellent design, very much appreciated. Bravo, GM.
Blind Spot Assist
The Bolt has cameras in all directions and does a good job using them. Both mirrors have a little icon with a car and a star next to it. When a car is passing you on either side, the icon lights up in orange. I find this very convenient and reassuring, especially at night.
Lane Keep Assist and Cruise Control
In normal driving mode, if you steer off close to the edge of your lane, the Bolt nudges the wheel a little — just a small jolt, to inform you might lose control. This does not happen if you use the turn signal to change lanes.
All the cruise control controls are conveniently placed on top of the steering wheel. There are two Cruise levels. When you deploy the first one, the display informs you “Smart Cruise set to XX mph.” Like all cars, you can adjust the speed up or down from a wheel. In this mode, it keeps constant distance from the car in front. You have three settings for the distance: near, average, or far.
Tip: if you are short on battery, go behind an 18 wheeler and set the cruise to “near.” The power consumption goes from about 20 kWh to about 10 kWh, and your range increases proportionally. Keep your eyes on the truck’s brake lights and your foot ready to brake, even though the Bolt will brake faster than the truck if needed.
GM Smart Cruise is excellent in high traffic. The Bolt adjusts the distance to the car in front based on the speed. If the traffic stops, it stops at about 15 ft behind. The only negative I find is that when it goes to a complete stop, it does not start on its own — you have to restart it manually. But maybe this is a safety feature.
The next level of cruising is Super Cruise. Before deploying it, you have to be in the center of the lane, and preferably not in a curve. When Super Cruise takes over, a large section on top of the steering wheel turns green and the car maintains the center of the lane.
I can compare the Bolt only with the Toyota Camry, which has a similar feature. In my estimate, the Camry was looking ahead about 40 ft. When the road took a turn, the car was approaching the side of the lane to almost one foot before starting to turn. The Bolt does a MUCH better job. It seems to be looking ahead at least twice as far as the Camry. The Camry was driving in a zigzag, while the Bolt keeps the center of the lane almost perfectly. Bravo, GM.
If you change the lane while Super Cruising, the green section of the wheel veers to blue. When the car is centered in the new lane, it goes green again, informing you it will take over the wheel. You do have to keep one hand on the wheel; else, after a few seconds, Super Cruise flashes a red light and disengages. But all you have to do is touch the wheel, not steer it.
On the left hand, behind the steering wheel, right below the braking lever, I found two buttons with embossed markings. I tested and found out they move to the next station on the radio. Good placement, easy to control. Then I thought, another pair might be somewhere to control the volume. I did not have to read the User’s Manual or Google it. I searched blindly with the right hand fingers and there they were. Bravo, GM.
And finally, some negatives
My wife is not happy with the comfort of the seats. This is not an issue for me, but if you consider a Bolt, you must judge for yourself. The seats have heating and ventilation, not important in our mild California climate.
She is also not pleased with the size of the sun shades. I agree with her, they are too small. Also, I would very much like the shades to have an extension on the lower side, which you can pull out when the sun is right in front of you. I have not seen this in any car, but I think some might have it.
My wife also thinks the car is noisier than she expected. I think her expectations were too high. At low speed, the car is quiet as a whisper, and even at 65 mph, I find it quieter than I expected. Other people seem to agree with me.
AND THE BIG, BIG NEGATIVE: NAVIGATION FAVORITES
After I called OnStar and it turned on the navigation, I set up the first destination and added it to the favorites. I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to give it a name. Obviously, I know the names of all my destinations, but I do not know the addresses. I could not figure it out.
I called OnStar from the car phone. The operator on the other end stayed with me for 30 minutes and he then concluded there is no way to name your favorites.
I consider this just mind boggling. I’ve never seen a GPS device, on the phone or in a car, where you could not name a location. How GM or OnStar or both could do this is beyond my imagination. I hope they fix it soon — it should take a good programmer maybe just one day of work. Please fix this, GM
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