It wasn’t scary at first. “It will be fun,” my friends at Jalopnik said. But I was anxious. I’d never done autocross before. I’ve barely driven new cars, and I’d never driven an electric vehicle at all.
(Full Disclsoure: Chevy invited Gizmodo to drive a 2018 Chevy Bolt EV in an autocross near Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. I’d never driven an electric vehicle before, and I’d never tried autocross before. But Jalopnik said it’d be fun, so I snuck a Jalopnik producer into the event and put my driving skills on display.)
Perhaps owing to my mom’s hobby of racing little Italian sports cars in the ’70s, I actually learned to drive on a 1981 Fiat Spider. After that, I saved up for nearly two years to buy an impossibly cheap 1984 Jaguar XJ6, only to watch my brother blow the engine before I got to drive it more than five miles. Then came a series of Volvos, all of which I killed through various embarrassing accidents. I’ve never owned a new car, and I’ve never even driven an EV.
Maybe that’s why I was apprehensive about driving a Bolt, and why it felt so futuristic.
Everything about the Bolt feels new, if a little nerdy. It’s a butterball of a car, like someone took a minivan and squished it on both ends. Its drive, however, assuages any doubts that this is a slow-cruising machine meant only for dropping kids off at soccer.
With 266 lb-ft of torque and 200 horsepower, Chevy says the Bolt can go 0 to 60 in just 6.5 seconds. That’s just a half second slower than a 2018 Volkswagen GTI, a legendarily autocross-friendly car. Some might say that acceleration time is a useless metric that electric car companies use to show they’re making something more powerful than a golf cart. Still, the Bolt does jump off the line a lot faster than a GTI. I know this now, because Chevy brought a GTI so we could compare the two.
Perhaps more important than handling is range, and that’s mostly how Chevy is marketing the Bolt. GM claims that the $37,495 Bolt EV—which costs around $30,000 after federal tax refunds—that I drove can go 238 miles on a single charge. That makes the $44,450 BMW i3 and its 129 miles of range look embarrassing.
The $35,000 Tesla Model 3 supposedly gets 220 miles of range, but Tesla can’t seem to manufacture the dang things dependably. At the very least, you can probably go to your local Chevy dealer and buy a Bolt without a hassle.
All that said, the specs don’t describe the experience of cutting one of these futuristic buggies around an autocross course. Me, I’d describe it as the most memorable time I’ve had in a parking lot since that one time I set my Volvo 740 on fire.
The immediate acceleration from the electric motor served me well when getting up to speed on the autocross course, and I was incredibly surprised to feel how it handled around the tight corners. A Chevy engineer with a background in autocross explained that the handling was a result of not only car’s shock valving and spring rates, but also the battery stretching the full length of the vehicle’s floor, giving the Bolt a low center of gravity.
Despite my novice driving and inexperience with EV acceleration, I did not flip or crash the Chevy Bolt. I didn’t even come close. In fact, I managed to shave about five seconds off my time (on a course that took less than a minute). I also drove the GTI around the course and shaved another second off my time. Still, it’s impressive that Bolt was actually competitive with the gas-powered autocross regular.
By the end of the day by Citi Field, I can’t say I’d buy a Chevy Bolt. I wouldn’t know where to charge it dependably where I live in Brooklyn. I’m also still a sucker for classic cars. I’ve never forgiven my brother for blowing the engine on my Jaguar and have always wanted to buy another. But if I owned an electric vehicle, I wouldn’t have to worry about that, and the Bolt is better at autocrossing than you probably expect.
Oh and if anybody from Chevy is reading this, please invite our friends at Jalopnik to your next event. Invite me, too. I want to race them.