I drove Chevy's answer to that Tesla everyone is going nuts over

Chevrolet Bolt EVBenjamin Zhang/Business InsiderChevrolet Bolt EV prototype.

Tesla opened up orders for is long-awaited Model 3 electric vehicle this week, and everybody went nuts.

The company booked 200,000 in orders by Friday, CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter, after people lined up to place $1,000 deposits to reserve a one of the cars. When its actually ready, in late 2017 at the soonest, they will have to plonk down another $34,000 or more to actually own one.

But before they do that, people looking to buy a “mass market” electric vehicle are going to have another option: Chevrolet’s Bolt.

Chevy rolled out its prototype for the Bolt in January, at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show and we got to drive one.

The compact electric car is expected to have a range of more than 200 miles on a single charge and eventually hit showrooms with a price tag of roughly $30,000 after incentives. (The Model 3’s range is also over 200 miles, and its price could be a bit below $30,000 if you count in the same tax incentives).

If Chevy, a division of General Motors, can deliver on its promises, the Bolt will eclipse every other electric car in its price range, such as Nissan’s Leaf or BMW’s i3 in terms of performance-per-dollar.

I got to drive one of the company’s advanced pre-production prototypes and my first impressions of the Bolt are very positive. As a pre-production model, the cars are relatively close to what will roll off assembly lines at the end of the year. However, there will also likely be changes to the car to smooth out some of its rough edges.

At first glance, the Bolt is a handsome and practical compact hatchback. In production guise, the Bolt will have a different head and taillight design.

The interior is open and roomy with more than enough space to seat four adults comfortably. Since it’s still at the prototype stage, the interior panels were camouflaged with black cloth to hide its appearance until it’s production-ready.

The Bolt features a digital driver’s instrument cluster as well as a 10.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system. As with other General Motors cars, the Bolt will feature 4G LTE connectivity and OnStar support, both of which we’ve been hugely impressed with in other GM vehicles.

To drive, the Bolt felt steady and composed even under hard braking and acceleration. It’s steering isn’t quite sports-car precise, but more than acceptable for daily driving. As for speed, it is unlikely the hatchback will ever produce Tesla’s supercar-shaming acceleration figures.

Chevrolet Bolt EV PrototypeBenjamin Zhang/Business InsiderChevrolet Bolt EV prototype.

However, push the start button, shift the car into drive, stomp on the pedal on the right and the Bolt accelerates smoothly and swiftly — giving the driver the impression that there’s plenty go power left in reserve. As with all EV’s these days, the electric powertrain offers great torque and even triggered the car’s traction control while accelerating out of a couple of corners.

GM has captured considerable attention since it announced the Bolt last year and then moved rapidly into an all-systems-go mode for the car, aiming to get it to market ahead of the Tesla Model 3. But it’s not like GM isn’t taking on a big risk by going all in on Bolt.

Chevrolet Bolt EV 2017Chevrolet2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV production variant.

Electric cars have underperformed for the major automakers, as cheap gas has eliminated one compelling reason to buy them. But at least GM is tackling two important EV issues: price and range. If it works, GM will swiftly rise to be Tesla’s main challenger for the Model 3 customer.

We are looking forward to seeing the Chevrolet Bolt in its final production form. And if this rough-around-the-edges prototype is any indication, Chevrolet’s newest electric car is (almost) ready for prime time.

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