- I drove an electric vehicle, a Chevy Bolt, for the first time on an autocross course.
- The Bolt’s acceleration wasn’t remarkable, but it handled well. I felt like it was always under control, even when I pushed it into a series of hard turns.
- I came away with a positive impression of the Bolt. Almost none of the maneuvers required by the course would apply to everyday driving, but the course demonstrated how the Bolt could hold up in unusual circumstances.
A Chevy Bolt is not the first car you might think to use on an autocross track.
Autocross is a timed competition in which cones are arranged, often in a flat and spacious environment like a parking lot, to create a course that tests a driver’s ability to make a number of tight turns with precision. A modestly-priced car might not seem like the most logical choice for this sort of event, but on a 2017 list of the cars best suited for autocross, the automotive publication Road & Track included affordable vehicles like the Ford Fiesta and Honda Civic alongside a Porsche Cayman and Corvette.
Like the Fiesta, the Bolt is light and compact, which helps with agility and tight turns. And its 266 pound-feet of torque tops competitors like the Nissan Leaf (236 pound-feet) and the BMW i3 (184 pound-feet). While it won’t provide blistering acceleration (it takes 6.2 seconds to go from 0-60 mph) or race car-level handling, the Bolt can navigate tight turns and frequent changes in speed without spinning out of control.
The Bolt was also the first fully-electric vehicle I’ve driven. First released in late 2016, the Bolt is General Motors’ mass-market electric car, beating Tesla’s mass-market vehicle, the Model 3, to market by a year. With 238 miles of range, the Bolt set out to ease range anxiety without breaking the bank.
While my first experience with the Bolt – and electric cars in general – came under unusual circumstances, it demonstrated how electric vehicle technology has progressed to a point where early stereotypes about electric vehicles being flimsy and impractical no longer apply.
Here’s how the Bolt held up over three hours of runs on an autocross track.
The autocross course was set up in the parking lot of Citi Field, the New York Mets’ baseball stadium.
Five total cars were available to drive — four Chevy Bolts and a gas-powered Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Two of the Bolts had all-season tires, like the one in this photo.
The other two had summer tires, like the one in this photo.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI was provided as a point of comparison.
My first few runs in the Bolt were somewhat nerve-wracking. I’d never raced a motorised vehicle — aside from go-karts — before, and performing a sequence of tight turns at even a moderate speed was jarring.
On some parts of the course, I even felt slightly nauseated.
But as I slowly adjusted, I was able to become more aggressive and got a better sense of how the Bolt performed in abnormal conditions.
The Bolt’s acceleration wasn’t remarkable, but it handled well. I felt like it was always under control, even when I pushed it into a series of hard turns.
The Bolt performed best when regenerative braking wasn’t activated.
After the driver’s foot is taken off the accelerator, an electric car with regenerative braking can slow down more quickly than a gas-powered car would.
And while the car is slowing down, some of the kinetic energy that would normally be wasted as heat is captured and used to charge the car’s battery.
Regenerative braking is better suited for everyday driving. In this context, the Bolt’s normal braking mode allowed for more control over how much the car would brake before and during a given turn.
With or without regenerative braking, the Bolt compared well to the Golf. While it felt like the Golf was a bit faster and had slightly better traction than the Bolt with all-season tires, I didn’t sense much of a difference once I switched to the Bolt with summer tires.
Though the other drivers’ top times indicate that the Golf might have a slight edge over the Bolt, even with summer tires. (I attribute the large disparities between my top times to my increasing level of comfort with the course rather than any significant differences between the cars.)
Overall, I came away with a positive impression of the Bolt. Almost none of the maneuvers required by the course would apply to everyday driving, but the course demonstrated how the Bolt could hold up in unusual circumstances.
And it was clear how its regenerative braking mode could be useful in heavy traffic or on residential roads.
While I learned that I don’t have the temperament or skill to be a successful autocross driver, I was able to see first-hand that, from a performance perspective, electric vehicles are ready for the mainstream.
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