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The Chevy Bolt is now a compact SUV with 250 miles of range and ‘hands-free’ driving

The original hatchback Bolt EV is also getting a refresh

The Chevy Bolt is undergoing a growth spurt. General Motors unveiled two new versions of the Bolt on Sunday: an updated Bolt EV hatchback with longer range and new high-tech features, and the brand new Bolt EUV — essentially a compact SUV — with more legroom room and less range than the Bolt EV.

Due out this summer, the refreshed Bolt EV will sell for $31,995 — or about $5,000 less than the current model year Bolt EV. The Bolt EUV (which stands for “electric utility vehicle”) will also be less expensive, costing $33,995. A limited-edition “Launch” version, with unique wheels, special badging, and an illuminated charge port, will be available for $43,495. The Bolt EV and EUV were expected to go into production at the end of 2020 but were delayed until this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

First introduced in 2016, the Chevy Bolt was intended to be General Motors’ first stab at a mass-market, purely battery-electric vehicle with 200-plus miles of range and an affordable price tag. But sales have been anemic since the release of the Tesla Model 3 in 2018, which has come to dominate the EV market in the US and abroad. The Bolt’s compact hatchback size is not what most American car buyers are looking for these days. And a recent recall of 2017-2019 model year Bolts related to a flawed battery certainly hasn’t helped GM’s image problems with the EV.

GM hopes to lift the Bolt’s fortunes with these two new versions

The automaker hopes to lift the Bolt’s fortunes with these two new versions, but that may be difficult given that the technology that powers the Bolt is quickly becoming obsolete. Both the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV will be built on GM’s BEV2 platform, which is distinct from the new “Ultium” battery pack announced in early 2020. The recently unveiled Cadillac Lyriq and the GMC Hummer EV will be the first vehicles to be built on this new architecture. GM has said that Ultium’s advanced battery chemistry will enable its future electric vehicles to travel further on a single charge and re-charge at a faster rate. But the automaker has no plans to move the Bolt over to the Ultium platform, according to Chevy’s lead engineer.

As a consolation for its approaching irrelevance, both versions of the Bolt will come with Super Cruise, the “hands-free” advanced driver assist system that previously has only been available in Cadillac vehicles. The Bolt EV and EUV are the first non-Cadillac vehicles and first electric vehicles to have Super Cruise.

The price helps make up for the Bolt’s shortcomings. When it was first introduced five years ago, the automaker was still eligible for the federal government’s $7,500 tax credit, which effectively made the Bolt a $30,000 vehicle. But in 2019, GM sold its 200,000th EV in the US, triggering a phase out of the tax credit. No longer eligible for that incentive, GM decided to stick with the reduced price for these latest versions, which is encouraging.

GM claims that the Bolt EV’s 65 kWh battery pack will enable 259 miles of range on a single charge, while the slightly heavier Bolt EUV will have 250 miles of range — basically the same as the current year model. The original 2018 Bolt had 238 miles of range, but typically got less due to cold weather or other external factors. Neither vehicles’ range has yet been certified by US or European regulators.

Chevy is also including an active thermal management system that uses coolant to maintain the battery’s temperature. Late last year, General Motors was forced to recall over 68,000 Chevy Bolts manufactured between 2017-2019 after several battery fires were reported. Federal regulators are investigating and a class action lawsuit was filed alleging that the Bolt’s battery is “prone to burst into flames.”

the new Bolts utilize a different battery chemistry that will help prevent fires

According to Jesse Ortega, chief engineer at Chevy, the new Bolts utilize a different battery chemistry that will help prevent future incidents, the same chemistry that allowed the automaker to increase the range from 238 miles to 250 miles.

Both versions of the Bolt come with a single-motor drive unit that can deliver 200 horsepower thanks to 150 kW of power, and 266 pound-feet (360 Newton meters) of torque. Like previous models, the new Bolts will have regenerative braking and a one-pedal driving mode that is fairly common among EVs today.

The Bolt EUV and redesigned Bolt EV share an architecture, but their designs are unique. No exterior sheet metal parts are shared between the two vehicles, after some owners complained about lackluster sheet metal in previous versions. The EUV is approximately 6 inches longer and will have about 3 inches of extra rear legroom than the Bolt EV.

The grille has been tweaked, swapping the dual-tone look of the previous Bolt with a more monochromatic fascia. Chevy is keeping small ventilation panel rather than embrace the completely flat front-end of other EVs like the Tesla Model 3.

The Bolt’s interior has always been more practical than inspiring, with hard plastic abound. Now the Bolt EV and EUV’s interior has been redesigned to include more screens and sensors, mostly to help power Super Cruise’s promise of “hands-free” driving. Chevy has even ripped out the Bolt’s oft-criticized seats and replaced them with seats that feature a triangular geometric pattern and contrasting color stitching, which the automaker claims is a “premium design that gives a consistent and upscale atmosphere.” Not words you typically see used to describe a $30,000 vehicle.

The main 10.2-inch infotainment screen is still embedded in the dashboard, but is integrated more seamlessly into the center console than the original Bolt’s design. The physical buttons are smoother and less chunky. And Chevy swapped out the gear shifter for a series of electronic buttons to free up more interior space. There’s also a new one-pedal driving button that keeps the system active between drive cycles.

Other new additions include the light bar in the top of the steering wheel and the infrared sensor on the steering column. These are components of GM’s Super Cruise assisted driving system, which uses cameras, radar, and mapping data to allow users to drive hands-free on divided highways. Super Cruise is not a self-driving system, in that it still requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road and engaged enough to be able to take over at a moment’s notice. Notably, the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV will only come with the standard version of Super Cruise, not the enhanced version that includes automatic lane-changing.

EV charging in the US is a bit of a mess, and while Chevy can’t solve some of the more intractable problems, it is doing what it can to make charging a little less of a headache. A dual-level charge cord is included with the Bolt, which Chevy said will eliminate the need for many people to purchase a separate charger for their home. The changeable plug allows customers to plug into a standard 120-volt three-prong outlet for Level 1 charging and a 240-volt outlet for Level 2 charging up to 7.2 kilowatts. Both vehicles are also capable of 11 kW Level 2 charging, but separate charging equipment is required.

Bolt owners will get free installation of a Level 2 home charger

As an added perk, anyone who buys or leases a Bolt EUV or Bolt EV will get free installation of a Level 2 charger in their home through GM’s partnership with Qmerit, a home charger installer. For charging on the go, GM is partnering with public charging station operator EVgo to include over 80,000 public chargers in the My Chevrolet app.

But charging times will still be subject to the power levels of each individual charger. When plugged into a normal 120-volt system (ie, most home outlets), the Bolt EV and EUV will only get four miles of range for every hour of charging. Plugged into a 240-volt outlet will get the Bolt to a full charge in seven hours. And a DC fast charger will add up to 100 miles in 30 minutes for both vehicles.

Affordability has always been the Bolt’s strongest selling point, offering a decent size battery and adequate range for under $35,000. Chevy wanted to ensure the Bolt stayed affordable even as it added new features, like Super Cruise, or leveled up to crossover status, said Steve Majoros, vice president of Chevy marketing. Keeping the price low will help spur EV adoption from its current status of only 2 percent of US sales to upwards of 15-20 percent of the overall car market, he said.

“ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicles will be around a long time,” Majoros said. “But the EV movement is real.”