So after a serious consideration of the Zero DS-R electric motorcycle, we ended up with a three year lease on… this!
That’s the 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV, in Premium trim. I’ll try and explain how we got here, and maybe someone else will find the information useful in deciding on a car.
What I Need
Five days a week I commute to work. In the morning, I take this route:
Sixteen to seventeen miles, almost all freeway, basically zero congestion once I’m on the freeway.
In the evenings, I plan to use this route:
Here’s why, and this is key: Highway 15S has a carpool/HOV lane all the way down to 163, and it’s two lanes and very rarely slowed down. So if I can get an HOV sticker it’ll save immense stress and time. I’ve used this route a few times carpooling, so I’m confident here.
The alternate route, back down 805, is always a parking lot, even the HOV lane is slow, so that’s definitely worse.
Requirements from this: About 170 miles per week, HOV approval a must.
Other things that I want:
- Electric or fuel cell powered. I want the simplicity and reliability of electric, along with the lessened need for servicing. Fuel cell is an interesting alternative that I’ll consider because it’s New and Cool and worth some effort to me. I’m not interested in hybrids. Also, Intuit has free EV chargers and I’d like to use them.
- Fun to drive – ‘good’ acceleration and agility; I drive calmly but I appreciate these even during a commute. My benchmark is our 1998 Audi A4 sport, which was a 2900 lb turbo with 150HP.
- Compact, wheels towards the ends, so that it’s easy to park and maneuver. Locally the parking spaces tend to be narrow with little room to turn as land is expensive. City car, basically, but balanced with a long enough wheelbase to be stable on the freeway.
- Apple CarPlay. It’s so much better than automotive software that I won’t get a car without it.
- Good backup and if possible 360 cameras. Once you’ve had them, they’re worth it.
- Price is an issue. The Tesla S and X are out of reach. As of this writing, the model 3 is only available in higher-spec versions with purchase only.
There was a local (southern California) promotion that offered $10K off of a BMW i3 and $3K off the Nissan Leaf, until July 31 2018. That provided the impetus to get me looking, and if you move fast the offer is still open. There’s also the $2,500 CA rebate and $7,500 federal if you buy and $2500 CA for a lease.
If you read carefully, HOV stickers expire after three years and cannot be renewed. So if, like me, you want continued access, a lease is suddenly quite appealing. Residual values on 3-year off-lease EVs are mostly terrible, by the way, partially because of this and partially because the technology is improving very rapidly.
I was initially agog for the Zero DS-R but Chris made three points:
- If we get a car, it’s feasible for me to help with kid pickup and drop-off, which is quite limited with a motorcycle.
- Safety – she won’t worry nearly as much about me inside of a car.
- Cost – there’s no lease on the Zero, at $21K or so it costs more than a 3-year car lease.
The i3s is a small to medium sized tweak of the i3, increasing the power by about 10% and improving the tires and suspension. Range is about 110 miles, so it’d just exceed the current tank range of my Piaggio BV350. It comes with 2 years of free DC fast charging, is very fun to drive, has a supercool design and F1-grade materials. (Carbon fiber polymer chassis and most of the rest aluminum.) Purchase price at high trim is about $57K, minus 10K state/federal and 10K utility works out to $37K. Lease deal we were offered was $453 a month, about 5K down, 10K miles per year for three years.
You can get a hybrid version, the i3s REX, but I’m not interested and didn’t pursue it.
Negatives on the i3s:
- Short range. It’s 30kWh battery is small, so it’d be quite limited even with fast charge available.
- Suicide doors. I was fine with these, but Chris hated them and pointed out that kids in the back seat could not exit the car unless the front seat opened both doors; i.e. drop off and pick up is a hassle. This really bothered her.
- Expensive for the materials and range.
- The BMW brand, at least locally, has some social stigma and negative driver/owner stereotypes. Chris felt more strongly about this than I; personally I think that i3 drivers are behaviorally different from, say, 3-series sedans, but there we disagreed.
- The Alex on Autos video review of the i3 REX is the hybrid variant, but Alex is one of the reviewers that I quite like and recommend highly.
- Doug DeMuro thinks that it’s not worth $50K, and I agree, my question was if it’s worth $37K. 😉
- InsideEVs has a nice one-month review and they like the car and think it’s what the i3 should have been from the outset.
Nissan Leaf 2018
Friends of ours have a slightly older Leaf, and we’d tested the 2017 model, so we were hopeful for the 2018. Range has increased to 150 miles, the shape got less distinctive and the materials more luxurious; all good news to me. However, when we went to test drive it, the restyled center console wedged my knee into the steering wheel unmercifully; no way to fix it. And that was that for the Leaf.
But if you’re not 208cm (6 foot 10), it’s a fine car, well priced and well made.
Tesla Model 3
Several co-workers have these and they look to be fine autos. As noted above, I can’t currently lease one, wait times are 4 to 24 weeks, current models run about 45k after rebates and even that’s uncertain as Tesla has just exceeded the mandated cap of 200K vehicles for the federal max refund: costs are rising.
Other mild annoyances – I strongly prefer knobs for things like temperature and volume, and the 3 is almost all touch screen. It’s also shaped more low-slung, which for commuting I like sitting more upright.
If I had a longer commute or unavoidable traffic I’d have considered it more; co-workers who use Autopilot to survive gridlock have praised it to the skies. Used Model S with Supercharger access are also of similar price.
Chevy Bolt Premier
I required quite a bit of research to even consider this car. When I was growing up, American cars were crap, unreliable, poorly made and overpriced. That logo presented a formidable mental block!
However, as I read and learned more, I was impressed enough to go and drive one and came away very surprised. Frankly, it feels as well made and as luxurious as the BMW i3s, and is just as fun to drive.
Yeah, I was shocked too.
Check this out: the BMW i3s is 181HP and 3005lbs, so 15.1 pounds per horsepower. The Bolt is 200HP and 3569 lbs, so 17.8 pounds per horsepower.
Pardon the units; the point is that the Bolt is close in power to weight ratio and the 0-60 times bear that out at 6.5 seconds for the Bolt versus 6.8 for the i3s! Yeah, the Bolt is faster. Note that 6.5 seconds is sports-car quick; this is a great car for darting, passing and zipping around.
The other deciding factors for us were:
- Increased range of 238 versus 107 miles. I can go a week or more of commuting which makes for easier logistics and a greatly reduced need for a home level 2 charger. At 238, I can charge at work most of the time, which is just awesome.
- Normal doors, so kid drop-off is easy.
- Price. We got a 1-payment lease, three years at 10K miles/year, for a total cost of $17K USD including $1100 of ‘excess wear and tear insurance.’ That’s for the Premium trim, with DC fast charger, driver safety package and upgraded stereo.
It’s a really nice car: leather seats, 10.2″ LCD display which excels for maps, excellent Bose stereo, super quiet and a great city and highway car. I would have preferred LED headlamps, but the HIDs are quite acceptable; I liked them on our Audi allroad and they work here. Lots of space and headroom, even for someone as tall as me, and the back seats are good too, two fit well with three in a pinch. I was able to haul all four of us plus luggage for a 1 week trip without blocking the rear window; it’s quite large inside. You sit up with excellent visibility all around, and the camera-in-the-mirror feature is super for situation awareness.
I love that the phone slot in the center is a wireless charger. I use the Lightning cable to connect CarPlay, so wireless is redundant, but it’s still cool.
Pro tip: Pay the extra $115 for ‘Black bow tie logo’ and they replace the gaudy gold logo with black on the front and back. I go in next week to get mine replaced.
Others have complained about the seats; I don’t know why but they are excellent for me at least. Shrug. Dunno there, try before you buy as many have dinged them as uncomfortable.
Negatives so far
- No electric seats; manual only even with leather. Odd but no big deal for me.
- No sun or moonroof; I like those.
- No cooling in the seats. In this warm climate, that’d be nice and our gas Hyundai has them. However, they seem rare in EVs, neither the Leaf nor the i3s has them.
- Lower social prestige than BMW or Tesla.
- DC fast charging is advertised as ‘up to 80kW’ but its actually much worse, max under 50kW and dropping fast after 50% charged (image links to full report):
- To get remote updates in the ‘my chevrolet’ app, you have to pony up for OnStar, which goes up to $60 per month. Hell no.
- No factory nav system; so you really need an iOS or Android device for navigation or pay up for OnStar.
- No free DC fast charge. The BMW and Leaf both have deals for a couple of years of free charges, but given my work situation I’m OK with this.
- Everyone, including Chris, gets it confused with the Volt hybrid. Shitty names, Chevrolet! B versus V? Really?
- Doug DeMuro’s video asks a very good question: Why is the Bolt uncool? Well worth your time to watch.
- AutoTrend’s long-term review is also excellent.
- GeekWire has an excellent long-term review by a family.
- Of course, the Alex on Autos reviews are must-watches; I love his work. Separate reviews of the car and the infotainment system.
- TheDrive has a good long-term review that’s also worthwhile.
- I paid for a month of Consumer Reports to get their verdict; they like it and rate the 2016 and later as reliable.
Tips and Such
This post has gotten long, so I’ll keep these brief.
- Few people know that HOV stickers are max three years. Factor this into your decisions if you live in California.
- We also looked at the Honda Clarity fuel cell, and would have loved one but they have a six-month or more wait. Maybe next time.
- SDG&E has time-of-use rates for those who charge at home, see their pages for details.
- The Costco auto purchase program is excellent; if you are a member its a good way to remove the hassle of haggling for lowest price. We used it for the Leaf, i3s and Bolt and recommend it. The TrueCar program is similar and free.
- I would not buy any car without the DC fast charge option. It’s $750 on the Bolt but means that you can recharge halfway in 30ish minutes versus 5 hours.
- The upgraded stereo is also worth your money; consider that EVs are much quieter so you actually get quite a bit more enjoyment out of it since the audio details are much easier to hear.
- The Supercharger really is the killer feature on Teslas; if an EV is your primary vehicle then the reduction in recharge time is huge. You will need to plan more around charging, since even fast chargers are slower than gasoline or fuel cell refills.
- If I make enough money, the combination of solar roof and Tesla Powerwall (big battery) would be elegant and compelling, actually refilling my car from the sun. How cool is that?