- I tested the Chevrolet Bolt EV for a weekend last year and drove the Tesla Model 3 in September of this year.
- I was impressed by both, but the Model 3 was the clear winner.
- The Model 3's driving dynamics and exterior design, combined with Tesla's Supercharger charging network, gave it an edge over the Bolt.
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The Tesla Model 3 sedan and Chevrolet Bolt EV hatchback are two of the best-selling electric vehicles in the US. (It's a small market, but the Model 3 is the top seller by far.) And since the Bolt debuted at the end of 2016, they've been pitted against each other.
General Motors surprised observers by releasing a mass-market EV before Tesla, and the Bolt's positive reviews indicated that it was much more than a public-relations stunt. The Model 3's debut was marred by production difficulties, but it also received significant praise and generated massive sales for an electric vehicle.
I tested the Bolt for a weekend last year and drove the Model 3 in September of this year. I was impressed by both, but the Model 3 was the clear winner.
Here's how they stacked up.
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The Chevrolet Bolt EV I tested cost $43,905.
I rented the long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 I drove from the car-sharing app Turo, so I didn't know its exact price. But based on the features that were included, the vehicle would likely cost around $50,000 brand new.
Both cars are quick and have good handling, but the Model 3 has a significant edge in terms of driving dynamics.
The long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 is the second-"slowest" vehicle trim Tesla sells, but the acceleration was quicker than I'd experienced in any other vehicle.
And the Model 3's steering was exceptionally precise, so much so that I almost didn't feel the sensation of centrifugal force (the feeling that I'm being pushed to the left if I'm turning right, for example) when turning.
I preferred the Bolt's regenerative braking.
Regenerative braking slows the speed of an electric vehicle when you take your foot off the accelerator and uses energy that would be lost in a gas-powered car to recharge its battery.
The Bolt's most aggressive regenerative-braking setting can bring the vehicle to a complete stop, at times eliminating the need to use the brake pedal.
Regenerative braking can bring the Model 3 close to fully-stopped, but you still need to use the brake pedal.
Tesla's Autopilot driver-assistance system, which allows the vehicle to control steering, acceleration, and braking in some circumstances, wasn't perfect, but it did have one feature I wish the Bolt had.
Adaptive cruise control, which controls the car's speed and keeps it at a set distance behind the vehicle in front of it, didn't work flawlessly in light traffic on the highway, but when traffic slowed to a crawl, its value became clear. Not having to constantly brake and accelerate the Model 3 myself removed much of the stress I would normally have felt in that situation.
The Model 3 I drove had an all-black interior, which looked better than the two-tone interior in the Bolt I tested.
And the Model 3's seats were more comfortable.
Each vehicle's dashboard had an advantage over the other.
From a design perspective, I preferred the clean, spartan look of the Model 3's dashboard, which eliminates most buttons, knobs, and a traditional instrument cluster in favor of a 15-inch touchscreen.
But by placing a digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, the Bolt makes it easier to monitor its speed and battery life.
The Model 3 has a big edge in exterior design.
The vehicle's sleek proportions and contour lines make it look better than most luxury sedans.
The Model 3's biggest advantage comes in the ease of finding and using charging stations.
I could immediately determine how many spots were open at a station before driving to it.
The station I chose was tucked into the corner of a strip mall parking lot, but the distinctive appearance of Tesla's charging stalls made them easy to spot.
With the Bolt, finding a charging station was very difficult.
It took about two hours to find a charging station that worked and had an opening.
While the Model 3 is better in most respects, the Bolt is better-suited for city driving.
And its smaller size makes it easier to park.
Much of the Model 3's appeal comes from the driving experience, which can't be fully appreciated unless you can take it on the highway or on open, winding roads.
But overall, while both are compelling options for electric-vehicle shoppers, the Model 3 has a clear edge.
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