Originally published on CleanTechnica.
This article serves as a complement to my first review of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, which was a summary of my takeaways from my first 24 hours with the car. Disclaimer: I didn’t sleep in the Bolt, so there’s admittedly a gap there in the review process. 🙂
A 2017 Chevy Bolt with the DC Fast Charging package is capable of charging at 50 kW out of the box — though, the word on the street from the Consumer Electronics Show in January is that the onboard hardware is actually capable of 80 kW charging, which may be unlocked with a software update in the future. Chevrolet had no comment on the 80kW rumor, so take that for a grain of salt. There aren’t more than a handful of DC Fast Charging stations out there that can push power at faster than 50 kW today, so it’s really a non-issue at this point anyway.
ABB and EVgo installed a station in Fremont, California that is capable of 150 kW charging today and upgradable to 350 kW in the future, so it is clear that charging station manufacturers, operators, and station hosts see the future of fast charging, but having vehicles and stations that can all play together is still somewhat of a chicken & egg story.
The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt can make use of Level 1 (120 volt) or Level 2 (240 volt) charging. With the optional $750 DC Fast Charging upgrade, the vehicle comes equipped with a CCS-compatible DCFC port that allows it to utilize the growing network of DC Fast Chargers around the nation. I’ll unpack each level of charging to talk more about how each is applicable to the Bolt.
Level 1 (120 volt)
The included Level 1 (120 volt) Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE) — aka, the plug to charge the car — will serve as the onboard backup charger for most owners. The Level 1 EVSE pulls power at a mere trickle of power compared to the massive capacity of its battery — at just 8 (recommended) or 12 (max) amps.
At this rate, which Chevy call “Basic” charging in its Bolt Charging Guide, it would take the vehicle around 60 hours (!!) to reach a full charge from empty. It is better than nothing and will get you out of a bind but is not extremely functional beyond that. A 12 hour overnight charge with the included Level 1 EVSE would add around 48 miles of range, or 4 miles of range per hour. That is enough to recharge for the average commute but not much else.
Level 2 (240 volt)
Most EV owners opt to install a Level 2 (240 volt) EVSE that can slurp down 32 amps of current from the home to the vehicle. A 240 volt EVSE, which Chevy calls “Fast” charging, will fully recharge an empty Bolt battery in 9.5 hours. Scaling that down, a Level 2 charger can add 50 miles in just 2 hours or 100 miles in around 4.5 hours. On average, a Level 2 charger will add about 25 miles of range per hour.
The downside of a Level 2 charger is that a Level 2 EVSE is not included with the Bolt and generally requires a new electrical circuit in the home + professional installation. This can be challenging for some but adds peace of mind and gives drivers more options when charging. At my house, our full home electrical service is limited to 100 amps, so we are not able to install the additional circuits required for Level 2 charging until we upgrade our electrical service to 200 or 250 amps, which is costly. We typically charge with Level 1 charging at home with occasional stops at the Level 2 chargers around town to make up for any longer trips we take. It is not ideal, but it works for now.
Level 3 (480 volt)
For road trips or the occasional top-off around town, Level 3 (480 volt) DC Fast Chargers are the best option. As I type this, I am sitting at a ChargePoint DC Fast Charger in town, pulling down 21 kWs of power. This is one of the slower fast chargers around, which is an important matter to understand in itself. The broad banner of “DC Fast Charging” — also known as Level 3 charging — does not have any speed requirements and only means the charger uses 480 volt DC to charge the battery “fast.”
The typical DC Fast Charger delivers power at 50 kW, which equates to an 80% charge in a Bolt in just over an hour. As any EV driver knows, real-world charging times vary based on a number of variables, including the state of charge (SOC) of the battery, the specific charger being used, and any load balancing it has to deal with, to name just a few factors. Chevrolet’s official numbers show that “Super Fast” charging the vehicle will add 90 miles of range in 30 minutes, or 160 miles in an hour.
The 2017 Chevy Bolt EV has not received an official safety rating yet, but the official rating is expected soon. Chevrolet expects top safety marks across the board for the vehicle.
While we do not have an official rating on the vehicle yet, we can see the safety features it includes. The Bolt is packed with safety features, including 10 airbags and a rigid steel-frame designed to keep its occupants safe.
As I mentioned in my review of the first 24 hours with the Bolt, the navigation in the car requires the use of OnStar. For the uninitiated, OnStar is a General Motors built-in concierge service. It can help you to find a charging station, call a tow truck, or help you find a restaurant.
Three months of the service comes with the car, but after that, OnStar requires a subscription to use. Functionally, that means drivers lose the ability to use the turn-by-turn direction capability in the Bolt after 3 months unless they subscribe to the OnStar service. Whether that is worth it or not is up to each user, but it may prove challenging for more budget-conscious drivers.
The infotainment screen is a minimalistic take on integrating a sizeable touchscreen into a vehicle. The base functionality of the infotainment system accomplishes what it set out to do but it is clear that the bar was not set very high. The screen looks and feels like a tablet but lacks the intuitive usability of a tablet, leaving the system stuck somewhere between a digital photo frame and an iPod from 2010.
For the week I spent with the car, I used my Android phone with the vehicle, which connected to Android Auto. I found the experience lackluster with a clunky user interface and limited functionality. That all changed when I plugged my wife’s iPhone in to charge. It immediately pulled up Apple Carplay and presented a beautiful Apple display with a clean layout, usable icons, and a responsive interface.
The functionality of the Maps app was of prime importance and I found it to be extremely intuitive, responsive, and beautifully displayed on the car’s in-dash display. Text messages could be viewed and responded to from the car and things … just worked. If I were a Bolt driver, I would switch to an iPhone just for the Apple Carplay experience. It fixed just about everything I found difficult with the built-in infotainment system and the clunky Android Auto experience.
The Bolt offers built-in 4G LTE backed WiFi. For the uninitiated, that means that while the vehicle is charging, you now have something to do. On multiple occasions, I would stop to charge and then pull out my laptop to write about it while connected to the internet through the car’s internet connection. That’s a beautiful thing and something that not even Tesla can do (yet).
On the downside, the Bolt requires owners to subscribe to a mobile plan for the car … BUT, Chevrolet already went to the negotiating table for you and locked in an optional unlimited data plan for just $20 per month through AT&T.
Overall, I am very impressed with the Bolt. It is by far the best electric car I have driven in just about every way with the exception of the Tesla Model S, which costs at least twice as much. That being said, Chevrolet is at a disadvantage without a true network of super-fast charging stations. Because of that, charging on road trips is going to be difficult and take at least twice as long as in a Tesla.
The charging stations are not built into the (non-existent) built-in navigation and the OnStar representatives I talked with couldn’t tell me if the stations they were able to pull up were fast charging stations or not. That’s a problem and it will make getting around outside of familiar areas difficult in a Bolt.
The Bolt is loaded with technology that iPhone users will appreciate and the rest of us will struggle with. The WiFi is a huge bonus and will make up to 7 of your family members happy (max 7 devices connected at a time) while you charge or look for charging stations on your device.
The Bolt is super efficient, which saves drivers money and optimizes charging time. The charging network should grow, but everything Chevrolet can do to get more DCFC stations installed and integrate them into the vehicle (built-in plugshare app?), the better.
Reprinted with permission.