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ByBradley Berman, Editor

The Model 3 and Bolt are both long-range EVs, but that’s where the similarities end.

The Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt are the two leading compact electric vehicles that deliver more than 200 miles of range on a single charge. The Model 3 and Bolt are also, in theory, the first two battery-powered cars to offer that amount of range with a price tag that’s accessible to mainstream consumers, roughly translating to below $40,000. Beyond those similarities, comparing the sporty, premium Model 3 with the practical, familiar Chevrolet Bolt hatchback is fraught with challenges.

The Bolt comes with two trim choices but a single choice for battery size.

The main challenge is that the Model 3, from the perspective of its electric powertrain and battery, is not a single model. The Model 3’s multiple configurations and price points are a moving target. Just last week, Tesla discontinued the long-range $49,000, 310-miles version and introduced a $44,000, 260-mile variant. Our task will become simpler when Tesla next year begins selling the long-promised $35,000, 220-mile Model 3. The specs for that version and its price tag bear more resemblance to Chevy’s electric car.

Nonetheless, we are undaunted by the difficulties of a head-to-head look at the Model 3 versus the Chevy Bolt. It’s great to see such worthwhile choices for EV shoppers. Both of these highly capable electric cars represent the vanguard of our collective shift away from internal combustion and a victory for vehicle electrification.

How Far Can You Go on Electricity?

The Bolt carries a 60 kilowatt-hour pack delivering 238 miles of range.

BOLT: The Chevy Bolt comes with a single choice for battery size: a 60 kilowatt-hour pack that’s estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide 238 miles of range on a single charge. Let’s remember that American commuters commonly drive about 40 miles per day, so the Bolt’s ample battery pack can provide service for at least a few days before needing to be charged. The magic number for a livable amount of range for daily driving, with a cushion for impromptu errands, is about 200 miles. The Bolt surpasses that threshold.

What’s arguably even more impressive is how General Motors made the Bolt available with a post-incentive price as low as about $30,000. It achieved that milestone in long-range affordability in early 2017, well ahead of competitors. The Bolt is rated by the EPA with a thrifty efficiency rating of 119 miles per gallon equivalent in combined city/highway driving.

MODEL 3: One of Tesla’s many signature innovations is making its cars available with multiple battery packs that vary in size. Sales of the Model 3 with 310 miles of range – the only version delivered to date – are about seven times the volume of Bolt purchases so far in 2018. That fact alone should immediately silence Tesla doubters and end any discussion about a range advantage for the Model 3. The Tesla compact EV is the winner with its 75-kWh pack, which is bigger and utilized more efficiently than the Bolt’s 60-kWh battery.

The performance version of the Model 3 has a 75-kWh battery pack.

The EPA rates the efficiency of the rear-wheel-drive Model 3 at 130 miles per gallon equivalent in combined city/highway driving. (The AWD version achieves 116 MPGe.)

Of course, the 310-mile Model 3 can cost tens of thousands of dollars more than the Bolt. But Tesla isn’t done rolling out Model 3 variants. The mid-range, 260-mile version of the Model 3 will become available later this year at a price that’s in striking distance to the Bolt’s sticker. And early next year – if all goes according to plan – Tesla will begin selling its 220-mile, 50-kWh version of the Model 3, with a price that could match the cost of the Bolt Premiere. For a true head-to-head comparison of similarly capable and priced models, we’ll have to wait a little longer.

WINNER: TESLA MODEL 3
Depending which version you buy, the Model 3’s range is either similar to the Bolt’s or greatly exceeds it.


Which Car Is More Fun To Drive?

The Chevy Bolt is quick and capable.

BOLT: Nobody would confuse the upright Bolt hatchback with a sports car. Yet, due to its electric powertrain, the Bolt sprints from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a sprightly 6.5 seconds. It might look like a typical compact commuter, but the Bolt’s 200-horsepower powertrain, which gives 266 pound-feet of torque via a one-speed automatic transmission, is a blast to drive. The Chevy EV’s top speed, though, is governed to just 91 miles per hour.

There’s no secret sauce to the Bolt’s performance – that is, other than the inherent benefits of electric propulsion. The heavy battery pack beneath the cabin floor provides a low center of gravity and a desirable front-to-back weight distribution for solid handling and cornering. The fun of driving a Bolt is also derived when you shift into Low gear and Sport mode. The result is the coveted one-pedal EV driving experience, characterized by surprisingly quick acceleration when you step on the go-pedal and prompt deceleration all the way to a full stop when you lift your foot.

The Model 3’s acceleration, steering, and handling is comparable to German luxury sedans.

MODEL 3: Tesla vehicles are known not only for ground-breaking range but breathtaking levels of power. That’s certainly what you would experience in the Performance Dual-Motor version of the Model 3, which is capable of sprints from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a supercar-like 3.3 seconds. If speed is your thing, then the Tesla Model 3 can certainly provide it. But given the cost to deploy two motors, and our task to make a reasonable comparison with the Bolt, let’s restrain our gaze to the single-motor, rear-wheel versions of the Model 3.

In that regard, the key metric is the Model 3’s 258-horsepower electric motor, compared to the Bolt’s 200-pony motor. The upcoming mid-range Model 3 will zip from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 5.6 seconds while next year’s 220-mile version might take nearly another second to reach speed. Regardless, the Model 3 is a faster car with a higher top speed of 155 miles per hour for dual-motor version and 125 mph for the upcoming mid-range, rear-wheel variant. The automotive press rightly compares the Model 3’s acceleration, steering, and handling to German luxury sedans. Edmunds says “power delivery is impeccably smooth and accurate” and the steering is “nicely weighted to make it a joy on winding roads.”

You can’t ignore these superlatives – or the Model 3’s cutting-edge, self-driving features. However, the Bolt earns points for its one-pedal driving capability and a curb weight that’s slimmer than the Model 3 by about 300 pounds.

WINNER: TESLA MODEL 3
Tesla’s electric motor is simply more powerful and its rear-wheel-drive platform is built for driving fun.

Charging Times for The Model 3 and Bolt

Using a quick charger, the Bolt can add 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes.

BOLT: The Bolt’s 7.2-kilowatt onboard charger means you can add about 25 miles of driving range in one hour when charging at home with a 240-volt supply of juice. On the rare days when you run the 60 kilowatt-hour battery down to empty, it would take a full overnight charge of eight to nine hours to restore all 238 miles of driving range. After a typical day of 40 or so miles of driving, replenishing the pack to full takes less than two hours.

Road trips beyond 200 or so miles require using a highway-based fast charger. Chevy offers an optional $750 quick-charge port for that purpose. If equipped with that port, you add about 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes using 50-kW DC chargers. Chevy quick charging works with charging stations using the CCS standard, which can still be difficult to find even on popular routes.

The Model 3 has access to Tesla’s vast network of Superchargers.

MODEL 3: The relative charging speed for an EV comes down to the spec of its onboard charger. The long-range Tesla Model 3 can handle 48 amps to yield an 11.5-kilowatt charging rate. That means adding at least about 40 miles of range per hour when charging via a 240-volt source. The faster rate makes sense for the longer-range Model 3’s 75-kWh battery pack, which needs an eight-hour session to top up from empty.

The 220-mile Model 3, when it arrives, will have a 32-amp (or 7.7-kilowatt) onboard charger. That’s faster than the Bolt’s onboard charger, but only slightly. Still, it’s plenty fast to add nearly 30 miles in an hour of charging.

Where the Model 3 takes a decisive lead is in having access to Tesla’s 120-kW Superchargers. The Superchargers can add as many as 150 to 170 miles of range in a 30-minute highway pit stop compared to the Bolt’s 90 miles while hooked up to 50-kW station. (The actual time for any specific charging event depends on a lot of factors.) Tesla strategically located Superchargers as part of a thoughtful and coordinated campaign to connect destination cities so you won’t struggle to find a compatible charger on a road trip.

WINNER: TESLA MODEL 3
The margin of victory depends on the version of the Model 3, which is either a little or a lot faster than charging the Bolt. The vast Tesla Supercharger network is icing on the cake.

Comparing Dashboards and Cargo Space

The Chevy Bolt’s dashboard design is not upscale but it works.

BOLT: The Chevrolet Bolt is a compact hatchback with a deceptively large amount of interior space. Its interior measures 94.4 cubic feet. With the seats up, there are 16.9 cubic feet of cargo space, but the capacity expands to an SUV-like 56.6 cubic feet when the seats are knocked down. Drivers also enjoy a high seating position with excellent visibility.

The most consistent complaint about the Bolt interior is its seats, which reviewers say are too small and lack sufficient padding. The dashboard design has a compelling gizmo aesthetic, and the interior uses enough hard plastics to also receive criticism. But those gripes didn’t stop the Bolt from earning 2017 Car of the Year awards from Motor TrendDetroit Free Press, and Popular Mechanics.  Those shortcomings are made up for by the ample passenger room and generous cargo space.

Minimal.

MODEL 3: Compared to the Bolt, the Tesla Model 3 is nearly two feet longer, three inches wider, and a half-foot shorter. These sportier dimensions result in the Model 3 offering 97 cubic feet of passenger volume – beating the Bolt by nearly three feet. However, the Model 3’s cargo space of 15 cubic feet is nearly two feet smaller than the Bolt.

Those measurements are likely to go unnoticed compared to the two EVs’ radically different interior aesthetic. While the Bolt provides traditional buttons and a decently sized 10.2-inch touchscreen, the Model 3 takes dashboard minimalism to a new level with nearly no physical controls or gauges. The center-mounted 15-inch, horizontally oriented touch screen handles almost all of the car’s functions. When combined with the car’s optional panoramic glass roof, the Model 3 creates a futuristic vibe that many drivers love while others find it distracting and confusing to use.

WINNER: CHEVY BOLT
It’s nearly a toss-up based on personal taste, but the extra cargo space and familiarity of the dashboard give the Bolt a slight edge.

The Price For a Bolt Versus Model 3

After incentives, the Bolt can be had for around $30,000.

BOLT: The Bolt’s base LT trim, at $36,620, comes with a 60-kWh battery pack. So even at its lowest price, the Bolt delivers the car’s advertised 238-mile driving range. When you consider that most shoppers will qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit, as well as some state and local incentives depending on where you live, the Bolt is the EV that best delivers on the promise of long-range affordability.

That said, it doesn’t mean that the Bolt, even in the form of the $40,905 Premier trim (before incentives), is the most luxurious and comfortable EV.

It’s not, but the Bolt is also not an econobox. The Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier includes leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, and a heated steering wheel, as well as Surround Vision (for a bird’s-eye view of the car’s surroundings), blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and rear parking sensors. Unlike the Model 3, the Chevy Bolt is available in a variety of colors and packages for a same-day purchase at dealerships throughout the United States. There’s no waiting for the 238-mile Chevy EV.

MODEL 3: Although you’ve probably heard about how the Tesla Model 3 will bring long-range EVs to the masses, the 3s produced in 2018 commonly sell for more than $50,000. That’s based on the long-range, 310-mile version starting at $49,000 and the price ballooning with the addition of a $5,000 Premium upgrade, a $5,000 Enhanced Autopilot package, and special $1,000 paint colors. Dual motor configurations mean even higher prices; we’ve seen prices climb to nearly $80,000.

To make matters worse, because Tesla has sold more than 200,000 cars in total, the federal $7,500 tax credit its cars are eligible for will be cut to $3,750 in January 2019 – and will be further reduced to $1,875 by the end of the year when it entirely goes away.

Despite these factors, the Tesla dream of EV domination is alive and well. One step at a time. The company will soon begin offering a more affordable mid-range, rear-wheel Model 3 that starts at $44,000. Better yet, Tesla promises that its $35,000, 220-mile variant will go on sale in spring 2019. That’s the version that will compare most closely in features, range, and price to the Chevy Bolt. We’ll redo this comparison using that version of the Model 3 when it’s available.

WINNER: CHEVY BOLT (today)
Things will change when Tesla delivers its $35,000 model. But for now, purely based on economics, the Bolt is a better deal.

Model 3 vs. Bolt: By the Numbers

  Tesla Model 3 Chevy Bolt
Driving Range 220 - 310 miles 238 miles
Battery Size 50 - 75 kilowatt-hours 60 kilowatt-hours
Onboard Charger 7.7 - 11.5 kW 7.2 kW
Interior Space 97 cubic feet 94.4 cubic feet
Cargo Space 15 cubic feet 16.9 cubic feet
Starting Price (before incentives) $44,000 (mid-range version) $36,200

The Tesla Model 3 is faster, prettier, and goes further.

BEST OVERALL: TESLA MODEL 3
The Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model are both great EVs. But the Tesla Model 3 is a better vehicle overall. It’s faster and has better styling. The Model 3 is available with longer range, faster charging, and greater access to highway pit stops. While the passenger and cargo space of the Bolt and Model 3 are competitive, the Tesla compact EV is more comfortable while providing a driving experience that fully embodies the spirit of innovation represented by electric cars. The main gripe against the Model 3 is its price and availability, which will be remedied by less expensive versions in 2019.

BEST VALUE AND AVAILABILITY: CHEVY BOLT

BEST TO IMPRESS: TESLA MODEL 3

BEST FOR A FIRST-TIME EV OWNER: BOTH

ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:

Category: Comparisons
Makes: Chevrolet, Tesla
Models: Bolt, Model 3
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