By Jodi Lai
The first time a Tesla silently rolled up to a drag strip, everyone probably thought it was lost.
What happened next is that the electric car obliterated every other competitor at the drag strip. It didn’t matter that it was a Lamborghini or some other famously fast car — the Tesla continued to devour quarter-miles quicker than everyone else and, in doing so, legitimized its status as a serious competitor and one of the most advanced electric cars money could buy.
I think the Chevrolet Bolt EV is on a similar path, except with autocross events instead of drag strips. The little electric hatchback/crossover (and the Volt as well) is beginning to form a subculture of autocross fans who are getting used to blazing through courses and setting times that impress onlookers in the same way the Tesla did at the drag strip.
I recently autocrossed a Chevy Bolt EV. Here are some surprising things you might experience if you did the same thing:
1. You Discover Your Love of Instant Torque
The most rewarding thing about autocrossing a Chevrolet Bolt EV is the instant torque that the 60 kWh lithium ion battery pack provides. Burying your foot into the accelerator is met with an instant surge forward, and there’s so much torque that the little tires squeal as they try to find grip during a full throttle launch — the turn of speed at launch is delightfully zippy. The Bolt EV can go zero to 60 mph (zero to 96 km/h) in just 6.5 seconds and has a top speed of 92 mph. It also outputs a generous 266 pound-feet of torque and about 200 horsepower. To put that into perspective, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the darling of all autocross days, has just 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque.
2. You Realize How Much Fun You’re Having
More power doesn’t equal more fun at an autocross, and the Bolt EV has other things going for it that help make it more fun. One of the hallmarks of a good autocross car is balance. No, the Bolt EV isn’t a Miata, but it does display surprising balance on the tight turns of an autocross course. The batteries are situated low and bolted right onto the chassis, which keeps the center of gravity low and stiffens up the ride, which gives the Bolt EV a planted and confident feel when being jerked around autocross cones, which is surprising considering how tall the Bolt is.
Combined with the instant torque, it makes a convincing and surprisingly fun autocross car — you can just imagine how fun it could be on the daily commute. You wouldn’t think that an electric car Chevy classifies as a crossover would be any fun at all in a setting like this, but if autocrossing it proved anything, it’s that EVs aren’t the boring cars they once were. The Chevrolet Bolt EV even has a sport mode and allows you to turn the traction control off!
3. You Hear Nothing Except Tires Squealing
And turning the traction control off is hilariously fun because you notice how strange it is to hear nothing but tires squealing at an autocross event. There’s no aggressive revving and no howling exhausts — just silence and the happy sound of tires getting fried. Driving the Bolt EV on regular roads, the silence can be a bit jarring at first, but you get used to the serenity very easily.
4. You Realize Maybe a GTI Isn’t as Fun as You Remember
Chevrolet did something bold and brought out a brand new Volkswagen GTI so we could autocross it back to back with the Bolt EV. That alone shows huge confidence in the product. As a performance car that’s generally loved by autocrossers, track rats, and automotive enthusiasts alike, it’s remarkable how strangely unsatisfying the GTI felt to autocross after the Bolt EV. The biggest difference was the Bolt EV’s instant torque. When you’d still be waiting for the turbocharger in the GTI to spool up, the Chevy was already lighting up its tires and surging ahead. The professional lap times for the GTI and the Bolt EV weren’t even that far apart. Sure, on a big track the outcome would be entirely different, but it’s still a truly impressive feat for a little electric car to hold its own against the king of hot hatches in an autocross.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Review
5. You Still Have Enough Battery to Make it Home
Even after about three hours of incredible abuse, the tires were absolutely roasted, but I was surprised and impressed to see the Bolt EVs each had more than half their battery life left. On a full charge, the Bolt EV has 238 miles (383 km) of electric range in combined driving, and some particularly frugal drivers have pushed that range even further. The best part of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, as we discovered during the autocross, is that range is impressive even if you’re not driving with efficiency in mind — you can drive the vehicle like a regular person (or like a maniac like we did) and still not be terribly afflicted with range anxiety.
The Verdict: Autocrossing a Chevrolet Bolt EV
If Chevrolet was using this autocross to change the conversation around electric cars, it has succeeded. Where EVs used to have a singular purpose of making every electron count, the Bolt EV does that all while being fun and not being so quirky and strange that it draws unwelcome judgment and confused looks (hello, Prius). The Chevrolet Bolt EV could be the electric car that leads to broader adoption: It’s green, practical, actually affordable, comfortable, versatile, and, as I learned during the autocross, it can perform.