I drove the Tesla Model 3 and one of its biggest rivals, the Chevy Bolt — and the winner was clear

Image
The Tesla Model 3 Long Range I rented from the car-sharing app, Turo. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

The Tesla Model 3 sedan and Chevrolet Bolt EV hatchback are two of the best-selling electric vehicles in the US. (It’s a small market, but the Model 3 is the top seller by far.) And since the Bolt debuted at the end of 2016, they have been pitted against each other.

General Motors surprised observers by releasing a mass-market EV before Tesla, and the Bolt’s positive reviews indicated that it was much more than a public-relations stunt. The Model 3’s debut was marred by production difficulties, but it also received significant praise and generated massive sales for an electric vehicle.

I tested the Bolt for a weekend last year and drove the Model 3 in September of this year. I was impressed by both, but the Model 3 was the clear winner.

Here’s how they stacked up.

Are you a current or former Tesla employee? Do you have an opinion about what it’s like to work there? Contact this reporter at [email protected]. You can ask for more secure methods of communication, like Signal or ProtonMail, by email or Twitter direct-message.


The Chevrolet Bolt EV I tested cost $US43,905.

Image
Chevrolet Bolt EV. Mark Matousek / Business Insider

I rented the long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 I drove from the car-sharing app Turo, so I didn’t know its exact price. But based on the features that were included, the vehicle would likely cost around $US50,000 brand new.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

Both cars are quick and have good handling, but the Model 3 has a significant edge in terms of driving dynamics.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

The long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 is the second-“slowest” vehicle trim Tesla sells, but the acceleration was quicker than I’d experienced in any other vehicle.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

And the Model 3’s steering was exceptionally precise, so much so that I almost didn’t feel the sensation of centrifugal force (the feeling that I’m being pushed to the left if I’m turning right, for example) when turning.


I preferred the Bolt’s regenerative braking.

Image
Chevrolet Bolt EV. Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Regenerative braking slows the speed of an electric vehicle when you take your foot off the accelerator and uses energy that would be lost in a gas-powered car to recharge its battery.


The Bolt’s most aggressive regenerative-braking setting can bring the vehicle to a complete stop, at times eliminating the need to use the brake pedal.

Image
Chevrolet Bolt EV. Mark Matousek / Business Insider


Read more:
Former Tesla employees reveal what it’s like to work with Elon Musk


Regenerative braking can bring the Model 3 close to fully-stopped, but you still need to use the brake pedal.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

Built-in navigation gave the Model 3’s infotainment system an edge over the Bolt’s.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance system, which allows the vehicle to control steering, acceleration, and braking in some circumstances, wasn’t perfect, but it did have one feature I wish the Bolt had.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

Adaptive cruise control, which controls the car’s speed and keeps it at a set distance behind the vehicle in front of it, didn’t work flawlessly in light traffic on the highway, but when traffic slowed to a crawl, its value became clear. Not having to constantly brake and accelerate the Model 3 myself removed much of the stress I would normally have felt in that situation.


The Model 3 I drove had an all-black interior, which looked better than the two-tone interior in the Bolt I tested.

Image
Chevrolet Bolt EV. Mark Matousek / Business Insider


See also:
Apply here to attend IGNITION: Transportation, an event focused on the future of transportation, in San Francisco on October 22


And the Model 3’s seats were more comfortable.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

Each vehicle’s dashboard had an advantage over the other.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

From a design perspective, I preferred the clean, spartan look of the Model 3’s dashboard, which eliminates most buttons, knobs, and a traditional instrument cluster in favour of a 15-inch touchscreen.


But by placing a digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, the Bolt makes it easier to monitor its speed and battery life.

Image
Chevrolet Bolt EV. Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The Model 3 has a big edge in exterior design.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The vehicle’s sleek proportions and contour lines make it look better than most luxury sedans.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The Model 3’s biggest advantage comes in the ease of finding and using charging stations.

Image
A Tesla Supercharger station. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

Tesla’s Supercharger stations were easy to find using the Model 3’s navigation system.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

I could immediately determine how many spots were open at a station before driving to it.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

The station I chose was tucked into the corner of a strip mall parking lot, but the distinctive appearance of Tesla’s charging stalls made them easy to spot.

Image
A Tesla Supercharger station. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

With the Bolt, finding a charging station was very difficult.

Image
A ChargePoint charging station. Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Four of the five charging stations I navigated to weren’t visible from the street. I wasn’t able to find the first two. The third, pictured above, was down for maintenance, and the fourth was occupied.

Image
An U-Go charging station. Mark Matousek / Business Insider

It took about two hours to find a charging station that worked and had an opening.

Image
A ChargePoint charging station. Mark Matousek / Business Insider

While the Model 3 is better in most respects, the Bolt is better-suited for city driving.

Image
Chevrolet Bolt EV. Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Its more-aggressive regenerative braking makes it easier to navigate heavy traffic on city streets.

Image
Chevrolet Bolt EV. Mark Matousek / Business Insider

And its smaller size makes it easier to park.

Image
Chevrolet Bolt EV. Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Much of the Model 3’s appeal comes from the driving experience, which can’t be fully appreciated unless you can take it on the highway or on open, winding roads.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider

But overall, while both are compelling options for electric-vehicle shoppers, the Model 3 has a clear edge.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Mark Matousek/Business Insider