January 31, 2020


By: Vicki Parsons - IT

A two-day Chevy Bolt test drive from Miami to Naples to Babcock Ranch resulted in no sacrifices
January 29, 2020

Florida Weekly Automotive Writer

THE RELIABLE RANGE OF ELECTRIC CARS HAS LEAPFROGGED OVER the last few years. The standard used to be whether you could make it to the office on battery power, but it soon rose to seeing if it could fit into daily driving miles before needing an overnight charge. The 2020 Chevrolet Bolt has upgraded its range by nine percent to 259 miles maximum. That has the potential to move the standard for an electric vehicle to fitting into a full every- day lifestyle. Chevrolet demonstrated its new versatility by offering the Bolt for a weekend road trip. Starting in Miami, the theme was sustainability with the ultimate goal of reaching Babcock Ranch, the eco-friendly planned city south of Punta Gorda.

Chevy may have been about featuring conservation, but we were going rogue. Our journey would be dictated by what we wanted to see and the most comfortable way to do it. That included utilizing interstate travel, keeping up with traffic speeds, and using the air conditioning as much as desired — all of which is inefficient to EV usage.

The goal was not to beat-down our range as quickly as possible, but instead, it was just about using it exactly in the same manner as a traditional car. We wanted to see if the Chevy Bolt could get over the final hurdle: an EV that’s just as ordinary as every other vehicle.

Day one started in Miami on a full charge. The drive went through downtown and east to South Beach for a lunch stop. This is when an electric vehicle is in its element. The stop and go traffic of Florida’s largest city gave the Bolt time to recapture some of its energy through regenerative braking.

The rest of the day’s trip was about going from one sea to the other. The goal was to end on the Gulf Coast in Naples. That meant fighting 25 miles of Florida’s most congested interstates on the way to the Tamiami Trail. Once there, the sustained 45-55 mph speeds are not what electric vehicles like.

As we proceed, we eventually do the ecotourist thing, and get off the main road and into the Everglades. The Bolt has been quiet inside, but we really start to notice the benefit of how externally quiet an EV is. The loudest part was the small hum of the air conditioner keeping up with a constant 72 degrees. The sound of nearly silent tires wasn’t fooling creatures who were expecting a predator, but we did surprise a few nature photographers.

The entire trip, including side journeys, was less than 175 miles. We made it to Naples with range to spare. It means that day one of our forget-it’s-electric trip was a success. It’s a defining moment for a car that’s in the middle of the EV herd.

The Chevrolet Bolt starts at $37,495. There are less expensive all-electric vehicles from Hyundai and Nissan. Both the 2020 Ioniq Electric and Leaf had the potential to make the same trip without stopping, but they have a significantly lower range. So there would have been anxiety about draining the battery with 80-mph bursts on the interstate and the air conditioning constantly cooling.

There are up-market competitors like the Jaguar iPace that go about as far as the Bolt on a charge. However, a premium brand has more premium features, and so it costs nearly double.

Tesla’s base Model 3 and the Bolt are the true head-to-head competitors at the intersection of price and battery range. Tesla does a better job of owning the unique space of an electric car simply because they make nothing but electric cars. The Bolt isn’t exactly incognito, but it fits in enough with the rest of the Chevy lineup that owners probably get less unsolicited “How do you like battery power?” questions.

The Bolt seems to champion this everyday personality. Within its more traditional looks, it can accommodate a flat floor (new for 2020), more legroom and an overall more comfortable space than the Tesla. The Model 3 has one central touchscreen for everything from the speedometer to the GPS. It takes emphasis off the driver, and the interior looks like it’s waiting for the day that autopilot takes over. The Bolt has a more traditional layout with separate gauges and a central touchscreen infotainment.

The purchase process is also quite different. Tesla has boutique stores that can feel like an art studio. The Bolt comes out of the traditional Chevy dealer. While the experience might not feel as chic, it does mean the EV is eligible for many of the rebates and incentives that the rest of the Chevrolet lineup gets.

Day two of this road trip weekend was going to be a little more involved. Naples to Babcock Ranch and then back to the east coast was a route purposely planned outside of the Bolt’s maximum range. Not every road trip is a one charge/tank adventure, and so pit-stop refueling needs to be part of the test.

The fully charged Bolt headed north to Babcock Ranch on I-75. Running the full legal speed with the A/C set for automatic comfort cooling is one of the worst ways to be efficient. Still, the Bolt didn’t seem to taunt our uneconomical choice aside from consistently adjusting the mileage range downward.

Babcock Ranch is the kind of place that gets to decide what it wants to be. It had been a 91,000-acre mega farm that is becoming a planned community starting from scratch. So they are taking this as an opportunity to build in the latest connected technology, lay the groundwork for autonomous driving and utilize as much renewable energy as possible. This kind of green city is exactly the kind of place for an EV.

The great majority of the land remains a nature preserve. The parts that are developed for residential and commercial are often chosen based on reclamation. For example, the Founder’s Square downtown area is built on the shores of a lake. Nature didn’t make this. The site was once used for mining and was described as a “moonscape.” Adding water, fish and green-space turns a once-barren landscape into the perfect setting for a traditional-style downtown.

The same reclaiming space is done for the solar field. The different industries that once made up Babcock Ranch included sod farms. That means long stretches of cleared land, and an ideal place for hundreds of acres to capture solar energy.

Babcock Ranch can not only power itself on a sunny day, but also feeds energy back into the grid for the rest of Florida. There’s also a battery storage system that holds solar-generated energy for use on cloudy days.

With this much sun juice flowing through the city, we decide to borrow a little for the ride home. We charged up to 179 miles in real world range, and that wouldn’t be enough to get home. We could get over 200 miles driving economically, but that’s not what this trip was about. Besides, there was one more feature to test.

The MyChevrolet App may be the cleverest and useful tool for this EV. It’s able to connect with the car to see the battery range and it becomes the watchful eye for the destination. If the journey is farther than the Bolt’s charge, the app will suggest a station along the route. The amount of time the car needs to be on the charger is noted within the stop, and it’s all part of the total route time. So if the directions indicate a two-hour journey, it’s already taking into account the length of the stop. That alleviates both guesswork and range anxiety.

Our driving habits, battery charge and destination were showing that we going to be 40 miles short of getting home. Knowing that in advance meant we could choose an ideal place to enjoy the plugin time. That happened to be a Harley- Davidson dealership.

The motorcycle company is rolling out its own electric vehicle, and some dealers already have high-speed chargers in place. The ability to utilize DC Fast/Level 3 charging stations is a $750 option in the Bolt and quite worthwhile. A quick walk through the motorcycle shop felt like another tourist mini-stop on our weekend road trip, and the Bolt soon had enough juice to make it home.

Renewable energy, sustainability and an eco-friendly attitude are easy ideas to like the car. However, practicality is key to continue moving deeper into the mainstream. We just completed a weekend tour of South Florida in our Bolt, and didn’t make one sacrifice.