The Pacific Northwest was on the cusp of this summer’s second major heatwave when the 2022 Chevy Bolt EV arrived curbside in front of my home. According to weather predictions, temperatures were expected to climb as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. They would actually end up in the upper 90s (or maybe the lower 100s), but that was partly due to nearby wildfire smoke, which ironically provided cover.
A few months earlier, my home city of Portland experienced a record-shattering high of 115 degrees. To offer a little perspective, the previous (documented) record was something like 107. This was the kind of heat that literally singed the leaves off of trees and murdered the veggie plants growing in our garden boxes. Being without A/C, my wife and I huddled in the basement, which was slightly cooler than the first floor turned makeshift sauna.
Where was I? Oh right, the 2022 Chevy Bolt EV. It arrived on Tuesday and slid in next to the curb. This was only the second time I’d be driving a Bolt and not much had changed during the interim. Similar to its predecessor, the latest model was an exercise in contrasts. It looked compact but was actually fairly roomy. The exterior featured sleek angles whilst retaining the familiar layout of a family-friendly hatchback. The interior was awash with digital features and buttons and yet still vaguely practical in spirit.
Nevertheless, this is a conspicuously modern vehicle. I realised as much upon slipping into the driver’s seat, the electronic displays springing to life in a burst of ambient-style music. Turning the car on is as simple as pushing the power button next to the steering wheel, which activates a sort of ambient hum. Without the hum, you might not even know the car was running. Through these musical gestures came a unique sense of calm, as if the whole experience had been co-created by Brian Eno.
Design-wise, the 2022 Bolt bears striking resemblance to its predecessor. The most prominent physical upgrades include new LED headlamps, new taillights, an improved interior, and a tweaked infotainment system. More importantly, DC Fast Charging is now standard on all models and it promises a range boost of 100 miles in as little as half an hour. A notable holdover is the one-pedal driving option, whereby the car automatically applies the brakes when you lift your foot off the pedal—it takes some getting used to but works wonderfully when you’re driving through neighbourhoods.
Another feature that takes some getting used to is the button-style shifter. Instead of a traditional gear stick, the Bolt has latch-style buttons for each respective control (drive, reverse, etc). There was occasionally a knee-jerk instinct to reach for a stick that wasn’t there, but this quickly passed. A number of built-in safety features—including both rear and overhead cameras along with various sensors—helped ease the transition. Put simply, you always feel like you’re in good hands and in tune with your surroundings.
The steering wheel was wrapped in a faux-leather-like material and absolutely smooth to the touch. Beyond that was a dashboard display, which showed that the car had about 240 miles of range left out of an estimated maximum of 259 miles. With extreme weather encroaching, I cranked the A/C and headed to the coastal town of Astoria (famously known as the setting of “The Goonies”). At first, I synced my iPhone with the infotainment and listened to a podcast. For the second leg of the journey, it was Tom Petty Radio on Sirius XM.
In terms of the actual driving experience, there’s a distinctly quiet or subdued aspect to EVs as opposed to their gas-guzzling counterparts. Whilst the Bolt still delivers familiar performance, there’s something of a buffer between the driver and the road. Because you can’t feel the rumble of an engine, the car tends to belie its speed on occasion. That said, it accelerates with ease and decelerates like an absolute champion. All the while, information such as speed and range are displayed prominently on the digital dashboard.
Ultimately, I took two trips out to the Oregon coastline, where the weather was significantly cooler than it was in Portland. The second was with my wife and we hit up the town of Manzanita, home to epic hiking trails, nice houses, and a quaint downtown area. No matter what the terrain, the Bolt remained effortless to control and navigate, though it did get a little bumpy out there on the winding backroads.
Between trips, I was tasked with charging the Bolt back to full power and this was where things became a little tricky. My garage is too full to accommodate a car and so charging at home wasn’t an option (extension cords are a no-go when powering EVs like this one). A ChargePoint account was included with the loan but I made the grave error of not reading the spec sheet beforehand, so I didn’t know that DC Fast Charging (i.e. Level 3) was a feature. Ignorant to this fact, I visited a nearby Level 2 station, which happened to be located in a vacated parking lot next to an abandoned fast food joint. To call the area unsafe would be an understatement and it was definitely no place to leave a car for hours at a time.
Thankfully, there was a local dealership with a Level 2 ChargePoint station out front, where I parked the Bolt for approximately 10 hours. This experience called into play the broader issue of charging EVs and the lack of supporting infrastructure. Most people charge their EVs at home whilst others live in apartment buildings with charging stations nearby. However, these are the kind of benefits one might only get when they live either in or near a major city or within a certain income bracket. For the general populace, charging an EV may require a second car or, at the very least, a certain amount of planning. Even half an hour at a charging station seems fairly long by modern standards and that’s assuming the station isn’t occupied.
Self-actuated charging issues (and ongoing recall saga) aside, the 2022 Chevy Bolt is a smooth operator with the near-silent performance to show for it. Unlike some of its peers, the car offers seamless practicality in lieu of showmanship. From the exterior design to the general layout of the interior, there’s something innately familiar to this EV. That’s not to mention the tremendous safety features, respectable range, and relatively approachable price point of US$31,000 and up.
One might wonder: why open this article with a bunch of stuff about a heatwave? I’m not one to proselytise and won’t do so here, but the weather in Portland was downright scary this summer. And yet it was nothing compared to September of last year, when nearby wildfires pumped a week’s worth of extremely toxic smoke into the area. It was so bad that we sequestered ourselves to a bedroom with an air purifier whilst PM 2.5 particle levels literally soared off the charts just outside our windows and doors. Excessive heat and its adjoining hazards are no longer the future; they’re here now.
So too are EVs, which don’t come without their own share of environmental issues but appear to be much cleaner than the alternative. They’re also a logical extension of our ever-expanding digital culture, to the point that it almost feels like you’re driving a massive smartphone. That said, the 2022 Chevy Bolt is a dependable and largely gimmick-free car, even with its outsized displays and button controls. It drives well, accommodates up to five passengers, and doesn’t cost a fortune. Call it the perfect starter EV as we collectively take to the road ahead.