Tuesday, January 24, 2017

So....what's it like owning a Bolt?

Apologies for the huge gap since my last blog post. For some reason, something has been taking up a lot of my free time...😉

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Just chilling among some gasmobiles

I've been in possession of my Bolt for over a week now, so I think I have enough time in the seat to give some more in-depth impressions. Bottom line, the Bolt is pretty much what I expected, and even exceeds my expectations in a few ways. The Bolt is not perfect, but the positives waaaaay outweigh the few negatives. Since a lot of you guys have never driven a Bolt (or perhaps even seen one in person), I'll try to comment on aspects of the Bolt prospective buyers probably care about the most.

First off, I'm going to address the front seats (I have a loaded Premier with leather seats, btw). From reading online forums and social media, it seems that the front seats are by far the most polarizing item in the Bolt. I've seen quite a few complaints saying the front seats are "worse than a 10 year old Kia!", "horribly uncomfortable", and other comments along those lines.

My take? They are fine for me (not the greatest, but perfectly acceptable). However, I understand where the complaints are coming from. I am 6', 190 pounds, so I would rate myself "average" as far as body type goes. I find that when seated in a normal position, I can feel where the ridge of the seat on the left side presses against my thigh. It does not cause me pain or discomfort, but it is definitely noticeable. I've yet to log any long distance (100+ mile) drives in the Bolt, but for around-town driving, the seats are serviceable. The Bolt's front seats are narrower than both my Volts, and also have less cushioning due to the new, slimmer seat design.

Could the seats be made perhaps an inch wider to increase comfort? It sure looks like there is room to do that. My advice for any potential Bolt owner worried about the seats is to arrange at least a 30 minute test drive in the trim you are planning on getting. That should be good enough to let you determine whether the seats will be an issue for you or not.

Ok, now that I got that out of the way, let's get into more interesting items, like that "One pedal driving" GM has been pushing so much! Basically, it's a blast to drive the Bolt, especially in L! With the gear selector in "L", you will almost never need to touch the brake pedal except in emergency/sudden braking situations.

The regen level while in L is MUCH stronger than any plug-in I've driven to date (G1/G2 Volt, Spark EV, C-Max Energi). I've found that even without using the regen paddle on the steering wheel (for extra regen), I can stop at a light without using the brake pedal. In fact, there have been many times I've actually had to step back on the accelerator a little to inch up to the car in front of me because slowing in L was so effective. The regen paddle gives even more regen, which means you can come to a stop fairly quickly without ever touching the brake. For you tech nerds, max regen observed (either D or L) without the regen paddle was 50 kW, and 70 kW combined with the paddle. These regen numbers may vary based on the battery's state of charge, however.

Once stopped in L, the Bolt will not "creep" like many gas cars do. It will remain stationary until you step on the accelerator again. In "D", the Bolt will drive and function like any plain ole gas car, for those of you that find "L" driving not to your liking.

How about the gitty up? The Bolt has plenty! If you floor the Bolt from a stop, you WILL squeal the tires. In fact, you will want to grip the Bolt with two hands firmly if you do just that, because there is also some torque steer you will need to deal with. The Bolt's chief engineer said he actually had to tune down the "off the line" power, as the torque steer could literally rip the wheel from an average driver's hands if they weren't careful. I'd be interested to see how a Bolt fitted with stickier tires would fare. I've also only flipped to Sport Mode (increased throttle response, same max performance) once to make sure it works, since performance in normal mode is more than enough!

The driver safety packages are pretty cool. Here's a quick rundown of what each does and my take:

  • Lane Keep Assist (LKA): If you don't engage the turn signal and drift towards a painted lane divider, the Bolt will "nudge" you back towards the center of the lane. I've found it works well in the daytime as well as at night. The Bolt can even guide you around a slight curve on the highway all on its own with LKA active. However, anyone watching you from behind will think you are drunk, so you probably don't want to do that very often...especially if a cop is behind you. If you let it "bounce" around the lanes too much, it'll beep at you and display a message telling you to grip the steering wheel.
  • Rear view mirror camera: pretty cool. It gives a crisp view out the back and offers a wider angle view compared to the standard mirror. I've found I usually have the rear view mirror flipped to "video mode" during daytime driving. However, video mode fairly useless at night. Also, if it is wet or snowy, the view can get obstructed. The Bolt does have a dedicated sprayer for the rear view cameras, however.
  • 360 degree birds-eye surround camera: Very cool! Combined with the rear vision camera (along with the front camera), if you can't park the Bolt properly, you probably need to just give up your license. The 360 degree birds-eye view lets you see everything around your car out a few feet in each direction, so there should be no curbing of tires, bumping into other cars, or running over of pets or kids. 😉
    If you put the Bolt in "R", the backup/birds-eye cameras will activate on the center display. Put the Bolt back in "D" or "L", and the center display will switch to the front camera view, so you can see what's in front of you (will shut off automatically once you hit 5 mph). The Bolt does not have audible front parking sensors, however, so the front camera/birds-eye cam is all you get for judging front distance, along with your own eyeballs of course.
  • Rear cross-traffic alerts: ....they work. That's all I can really say about that. If you are in "R" and the Bolt detects a car approaching from the left or right, it will trigger an audible alert combined with some red arrows on the center display pointing in the direction the car is coming from.
  • Front Collision Alert (FCA)/Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): I've had the FCA trigger twice so far...both times on the highway when I was approaching traffic that had started slowing suddenly. The FCA will flash some red lights in the lower left corner of the windshield in addition to triggering audible alerts. There are 3 settings for FCA you can select via a button on the left side of the steering wheel that adjusts sensitivity. Also, in the settings menu, you can choose to turn FCA off, in addition to "FCA on, EAB off", or "FCA on, EAB on". I haven't had a chance to see how EAB works (nor do I want to).
  • Front Pedestrian Braking: Haven't had a chance to see that in action either, as I haven't tried to mow anyone down yet. If someone wants to volunteer and be a guinea pig and you're in Central Maryland, let me know. You'll have to sign a waiver saying it's not my fault if I run you over, though. 
The Infotainment Package adds Bose speakers, wireless charging for compatible smartphones, and 2 USB charge-only ports in the rear. I've yet to test the wireless charging feature, since my phone (Motorola Droid Z Play) needs an accessory to use it, but the phone (5.5") fits snugly without a case. Any phone bigger than 5.5" likely won't fit. The wireless charging pocket is located in front of the center storage compartment...big improvement over the location in the Gen 2 Volt, which was IN the center compartment. Also, the center armrest can be adjusted to slide forward a few inches.

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2017 Volt and Bolt side by side

What if people don't really sit in the rear, you don't care about wireless charging, and you aren't an audiophile? It's likely you won't find the infotainment package of much use, so you can probably save yourself $495. FWIW, the Bose speakers sound pretty nice, but I am definitely not an audiophile.

Also, there is a fairly large storage compartment between the driver and front passenger seats. Perfect for putting a purse (ladies), murse (metro guys), or other random items.

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Can also fit a large box of latex gloves for when you need to handle those bodies stuffed in the hatch.....wait, what?

I haven't had a chance to test out the DCFC port yet (too much range!), but I'll probably eventually end up using it sometime soon.

Android Auto works pretty much like in my Gen 2 Volt....except the Bolt's display shows these 1 inch black margins on each side, which is sort of annoying. According to GM, this is an Android Auto/Google issue, not a GM one. I recommend peppering Google via the Android Auto app's feedback section to get this issue fixed!

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"Squeezed" Android Auto display....bleh
If I were to give the (loaded) Bolt EV Premier a grade, I would give it a 93/100. Room for some improvement in a couple of minor nit-picky areas, but the main things (range, performance, utility) meet or exceed my needs!

p.s. completely random, but the center display will actually display Korean characters if you are streaming some Korean music via an app or something. As LG (Korean company) supplies a lot of components of the car, it makes sense. :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Bolt is Mine

So the words a lot of you guys following my blog have been waiting to see: I got my Bolt!!

On Sunday, I got the call from the truck driver saying he would be stopping in my area in the evening for delivery. I had to meet him at a parking lot near a big box store a couple of miles from my house, since his truck would not be able to drive into the residential area I live in. No problem! I took a Lyft to the meeting area (whatever happened to those rumored Lyft Bolts they were supposed to get first? Whatever).

Upon arriving in the parking lot, I could see a huge transport truck with a bunch of cars on it. As I got closer, I made first contact with my Bolt in Maryland!

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There's my Bolt!

The driver, Max (not Brandon, it turned out), hopped out and told me it was a long drive from CA. He encountered plenty of rain and snow on his trip, and I could tell as my Bolt was covered in road grime and dust. Aside from being a little dirty, my Bolt had made it to Maryland unscathed. The unloading process was pretty cool to watch, as Max needed to raise up the vehicles on the 2nd level via hydraulic lifts in order to drive my Bolt off the trailer.

After doing a walk around inspection and finding no damage, I signed off on the delivery papers, handed Max 600 bucks, and wished him luck with his other deliveries. I had complained a bit about the shipping process in earlier posts, but it got to me roughly within the original time frame, so I really have no complaints about the shipper. Most people also aren't able to track their vehicles with an app, so a lot of the angst was self-inflicted.

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Dirty but arrived safe and sound.

I hopped in my Bolt for the first time, and noticed right away the range was very low (not a surprise since the dealer said they couldn't charge it before my shipper showed up). The GOM said 32 miles of range. After a few miles of driving, the range estimate hit 25 and I hit Propulsion Power Reduced mode, which triggers when the battery state of charge drops to under 10%. Despite being in PPR, I was still able to squeal the tires at a stoplight. 😊

First destination? A car wash! My Bolt was filthy, and that grime needed to be washed away ASAP!
I went to the Exxon a few miles down the road, and had to go into the store to pay for a car wash since I couldn't purchase one at the pump (can't buy a car wash without buying gas!). Made for a good photo op I just couldn't pass up.

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Won't see many Bolts at gas stations like this

After washing off all the road grime, I parked my Bolt at home to feed it some much needed EV-juice and also get acquainted with my Volts.

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Bolt, meet Volt. And other Volt.

I plugged the Bolt in overnight with my Clipper Creek LCS-25. It is rated at a max theoretical output of 4.8 kW, but I found that it only reaches a rate of around 4.5 kW while monitoring the charging status with my JuicePlug. No biggie, as the Bolt will rarely be fully depleted, and even if it is, an overnight charge of "only" 180 miles or so will be plenty for everyday driving.

The next day, I took a day trip to Baltimore! Stopped by the science center, and afterwards recharged MY batteries with some Shake Shack. Finding street parking is always a hassle in downtown Baltimore, but I managed to find a spot my Bolt squeezed in. A larger car would not have been able to park in the spot, but the Bolt was no problem with its small footprint. The 360 degree birdseye camera coupled with the rear vision camera + front camera made parking a breeze.

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Squeezed into a tight spot in downtown Baltimore no problem

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Shake Shack! nom nom nom

For those of you with kids, I took a few shots of the back seat with two Graco Turboboosters in the rear. I found that my 6', 190 pound self had room to squeeze in the middle, though I wouldn't want to do that for a long period of time. Still MUCH better than my 2017 Volt's "middle seat" though. Very similar space in the rear to my old, larger C-Max Energi. Moving one of the boosters to the middle would likely make a trip much more comfortable for an adult.

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Love that foot space

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Still a tight fit for an adult in the middle, though at least it's a real middle seat.

Here's a shot of my Bolt almost 100% fully charged. As it seems my Bolt spent a lot of time on while sitting idle during the shipping process, that number will surely improve towards the EPA figure (and likely above) once it gets used to my driving style.

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That's it for the time being. Now that I actually have my Bolt, I'll soon be able to post more detailed hands-on experiences.  😊

p.s. here is the route my Bolt took to get to me in Maryland. 5,401 miles in all of travel before I could drive a single mile, from the train ride out west to the truck ride back east.

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Would have been a much simpler trip direct from MI to MD, eh?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hit the road, Brandon!

It's been a few days since my last blog update, primarily because there was not much to blog about. After I found out my Bolt had been picked up by the shipper from the dealership, nothing of note happened....except lots of angst on my end.

The day after I personally arranged the pickup of my Bolt, I asked the shipper when my Bolt would be loaded on the truck that would eventually take it east to Maryland. They told me, "Yeah! The driver should be on his way soon!", and said my original delivery window of 11-14 January was still accurate. I said OK, great.

The next day, I used my OnStar Remotelink app to get the GPS location of my Bolt. It showed me this:

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Looking up the address, it was the address of the shipping company in Maywood, CA. So Bobby at We Part Out Cars R Us did not have it, so that was good. I concluded they were still probably finding cars to fill up the truck for the ride east, so the driver hadn't departed yet. There were still 6 days till the back end of their delivery estimate, so I didn't find much reason to worry. Yet.

A couple of days later I called the shipper again, as my Bolt was still sitting in the shipper's storage lot pictured above according to the Remotelink app. I asked, "Did the driver leave yet for Maryland?", and they responded "Oh yeah! He's on the road now, and should be in Maryland by the weekend!". Right after the call, I checked on my app again, and it still listed my Bolt as being in the same spot it had been the last few days. I was starting to question whether they were feeding me a bunch of BS, or whether the OnStar app was feeding me a BS location for my Bolt. Odds were 50/50 as to which was true. 

Yesterday, seeing my Bolt still hadn't moved an inch, I sent an email to the shipper asking explicitly whether the driver had departed for Maryland, and sent them screenshots of the Remotelink app showing my Bolt was still in their storage lot. They then told me that the driver had not actually left yet, but was eating lunch and he would definitely leave today and would still make it to MD by the weekend. Now I was thinking that the shipper had been feeding me BS the whole time, and the app was indeed accurate. I was starting to regret not ponying up a few more bucks for shipping at that point.

Later that evening (around 8PM PST, waaaay past lunchtime), I checked on my app again, and my Bolt was....STILL IN THE SHIPPER'S DAMN STORAGE LOT! Either the driver was eating a 72-course lunch, or the shipper had again given me inaccurate info. This was turning into a bigger debacle than my Bolt's trek out west to the California dealer.

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Are you freaking kidding me??

This morning, I used the app to get another GPS location update, expecting it to show me another disappointing shot of my Bolt still being in freaking Maywood, CA. This is what it displayed:

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Wait, what?! It was moving! Praise *insert religious figure you believe in*!! My Bolt was finally heading east!! Now to resist the temptations of requesting 89 location updates a day and drain the 12V battery. Delivery is still supposedly this weekend!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

(Future) Road Trippin' in My (Future) Bolt

I have already started envisioning what road trips would be like in my Bolt and how they may play out. I've already covered my analysis of a MD-CT trip to grandma's house (see http://www.chevybolt.org/forum/9-2017-chevy-bolt-ev-general-discussion-forum/5745-long-road-trip-my-volt-weekend-got-me-thinking.html for those details), and have found it would be rated, "dicey, but doable" with the current CCS network....but what about other local getaway destinations?

I plotted out 3 such routes via Plugshare, telling it to show me only CCS-compatible stations within 6 miles of my projected route. So there are actually a lot more CCS stations than what are pictured in the following maps.

TRIP #1: Rehoboth Beach, DE

This is a place my family typically goes to a couple of times each year during the summer. It would seem this would be an easy trip in a Bolt. From Columbia, MD to Rehoboth Beach, DE, it is only 119 miles. Theoretically, I could make the whole round-trip without charging at all if I did some hypermiling, but who wants to do that??

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There seems to be not much in the way of CCS fast charging options along my proposed route, though there is 1 station that would be a perfect top-off point on the return leg in Queenstown, MD if I needed to charge.

Rehoboth Beach has at least a half dozen free L2 charging stations located in convenient spots (2 beefy 19 kW L2 stations located at the north end of the boardwalk, as well as multiple locations at Tanger Outlets on the main strip). Even without fast charging, it seems it would be no problem to be able to recharge full during a trip to the beach or shopping at the outlet mall, 2 locations we usually hit when we go down to Rehoboth.

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Plenty of free L2 charging at convenient locations.

Final rating for a Rehoboth Beach excursion: Easy Peasy, CCS not required

TRIP #2: Shenandoah National Park, VA

Another place we frequent is the Big Meadows campground at Shenandoah National Park (SNP) in Virginia. This location is 127 miles away from my house, but the campground is at 3,000 feet above sea level, and there is a pretty steep 6-7 mile climb up the mountain to the park entrance which would surely devour a few extra EV miles.

In the past, we would usually take the direct route that would take us onto Route 211 that goes through Warrenton and Sperryville, VA, en route to the Big Meadows campground. There is a single 240V, 6.6 kW Clipper Creek charging station located at the Byrd Visitor Center less than a 1/4 mile from the campgrounds that could be used to "top off" during the visit. Also, there is a dual CCS/Chademo DCFC fast charging station located near the northern entrance of SNP in Front Royal, VA (96 miles away from my home).

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If I wanted to play it safe, I could take the route that goes through the northern entrance of SNP, allowing me to hit that Front Royal CCS station for a quick charge, with the option of still "topping off" at the L2 station at the Byrd Visitor Center. Assuming I could hit either the Front Royal CCS station or Byrd Visitor Center L2 station once during my visit, I would be able to make it back home on just a single charge in the park from one of those 2 charging sites....or both if needed. 

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6.6 kW L2 station at the Byrd Visitor Center

Due to the fact the first ~25 miles or so of the return trip would be nearly all downhill, much of that drive could be considered "free", as I would be using regen driving down the mountain. If anything, my Bolt's SoC % could actually end up higher at the bottom of the mountain than what it started at up top!

Final rating for a Shenandoah round-trip excursion: Slight sweat broken, 1 charge stop required

TRIP #3: Deep Creek Lake, MD

Now for the most difficult trip: Deep Creek Lake, MD. The distance from Deep Creek Lake (DCL) from my home is 175 miles. In addition to the distance (which would take the Bolt to its range limits during the winter) there is also a net elevation gain of ~2,000 feet. Add in the fact we would most likely be traveling to DCL in the dead of winter too. A 175 mile trip with a 2,000 foot elevation climb in freezing conditions in the winter...that's already 2.5 strikes. Now looking at the charging infrastructure map, and you may think the Bolt strikes out completely:

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How about a CCS station west of Hagerstown? Anyone? Bueller?

There are a couple of CCS stations in Hagerstown, MD, and then.....scorched earth as far as CCS charging infrastructure goes. Not a single CCS station west of Hagerstown...nothing till Columbus, Ohio actually. In fact, there is only 1 "public" L2 charging station in the DCL area that really isn't even public...it is a Tesla destination charging site at the Lake Pointe Inn in McHenry, MD that hosts a single Bolt-compatible L2 charging unit alongside the Tesla-only stations. According to Plugshare, you need to ask the front desk to gain access to the charging stations.

So for all intents and purposes, it would seem 120V trickle charging would be the only reliable way of charging a Bolt during a winter ski trip to DCL (a shaky proposition at best). There IS a place of lodging we've stayed at in the past where it would be feasible to hook up a 120V charging cord, so 120V charging is a realistic option. Only question (a big question) is whether 120V overnight charging would provide enough juice for local driving around the DCL area in addition to giving enough charge to make it back to at least the Hagerstown CCS station 109 miles away. I simply do not know the answer to that question.

Final rating for a Deep Creek Lake trip summed up as a gif (as in the kind of intestinal fortitude you would need to make this trip):
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Huge balls!

So in closing, 2 out of the 3 trips seem like they could be completed without much concern. The Deep Creek Lake trip, however, would be a daunting task indeed. It would seem without either a CCS station located smack dab in the middle of DCL and Hagerstown (or a CCS/true public L2 charging station in the DCL area), a trip out there in the winter in a Bolt is a sketchy proposition. Maybe I should hit up the local ski resort and inform them of the benefits a couple of L2 charging stations on their property would bring...