Chevrolet Bolt EV what it’s like on an autocross course
Like it or not, electric vehicles are coming. Each new year, manufacturers present more electrified offerings in a wider variety of products — look no further than Jaguar Land Rover’s recent announcement that all new products 2020 and beyond will include some kind of alternative powertrain, not to mention the super cool E Type Zero. With Mazda as a notable exception, everyone is jumping on the permanent magnet bandwagon. So why not have a little fun with it?
Chevrolet did just that with an invitation to autocross a Bolt. At first glance, this may seem odd. The Bolt is a hatchback, just like a GTI, but a fairly tall and innocuous looking one. It also comes with ho-hum all-season tires and, let’s not forget, is electric. But hold on, it’s 200 horses worth of electric, which provides immediate access to 266 lb-ft of torque. And, yeah, it’s a tall hatchback, but with a low center-of-gravity height at 20.7 inches. It’s certainly worth a go.
Chevrolet set up an autocross course about a half-mile long, so the 238 miles of range provided plenty of juice to lap. And, honestly, I was quite curious to see how the car behaved. If a car is tuned to be comfortable for family hauling as well as getting to and from work, it can’t be that good for hustling around a tight, cone-laden course. But Chevrolet felt comfortable enough to set this up, so they must have confidence in its capabilities.
The course starts with a, maybe, 100-foot-long straight before a quick dart to the left. Right away it was apparent you mustn’t simply peg the throttle, lest you wish to waste time as all-season tires spin to oblivion. Too torquey to floor it, that’s a good start. With a carefully pedaled throttle, tires barking and I’m off.
After a left-right wiggle the course enters a slalom that immediately reveals two things. First, the Bolt does carry a heavy set of batteries, but second, those batteries feel like they’re low enough to scrape the street. All the mass down low allows the Bolt to switch left to right and back again without too much fuss, but not very quickly either. Attempt too much speed and you’ll easily overwhelm the tires and slide around, but because everything is so low to the ground, body motions are minimal and non-frightening.
Even better, the stability and traction control system largely stays out of the way, the only time you feel intervention is delays in throttle response and that’s only when the tires are in mid-slide, so you shouldn’t be asking for throttle anyway. Shame on you.
The course included a decreasing radius sweeper, a couple chicanes and another slalom. It ended with a narrow and sharp left-hander, which you took at 15 mph, if you nailed the apex just right.
Overall, the Bolt held up and held its own. It felt like a hatchback with torque boost. Was it an absolute riot? No. But the Bolt certainly entertained and its heavy-for-its-size nature forced tidy driving and strict line discipline for a good lap-time, which is good training for any competitive driving.
Chevrolet wanted to prove itself as more than builders of a good electric car, but builders of a good car that happens to be electric. To emphasize the point, they also provided us a chance to autocross a DSG equipped VW GTI. And no surprise, the GTI was quicker, by a lot, over 3 seconds a lap in fact (41.1 sec vs. 37.8) And more fun too, but surprisingly, not by that much. The Bolt even had the advantage off the line and exiting the tight stuff. It performed extremely well against the enthusiast benchmark for a fun hatchback. I call that a win.
Chevrolet showed you can fairly easily bridge the gap between Bolt and GTI with tire. To prove it, they offered some Bolts with Michelin Primacy summer tire rubber. That move improved turn-in response and dropped laptimes down to 39.3 sec, still one and a half seconds away from the GTI, but a solid improvement with a simple change.
What does this all mean? In the narrow sense, it means the SCCA might want to think hard about what class the Bolt belongs in, as more owners than they think my get the racing bug. I’d bet H-Stock. But more broadly, it means, us car enthusiasts can breathe. Over time wonderful engine noises might leave us, along with the sweet perfume of spent hydrocarbons wafting in the air, but the core joy of cars, the joy of driving, will stay with us for a while.
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