It’s hard to believe that it’s been 13 years since a handful of us early EV advocates founded Plug In America, coming off of our unsuccessful effort to save the last of the EV1s from the crusher and our somewhat more successful effort to save the remaining original Toyota RAV4 EVs from the same fate. As a 16-year-plus owner/driver of four fully electric vehicles, I was hardly the earliest of the EV warriors, but I am one of apparently very few PIA members who currently own both a 2017 Chevy Bolt and a 2018 Tesla Model 3, and so I’ve been asked to compare the two.
I’ve had my Bolt for 18 months and about 15,000 miles, and have taken it on four 800-mile-plus road trips. I’ve had my Model 3 for three months and just a couple of thousand miles, and will be taking it on its first 800-mile road trip adventure in about a month. My Bolt gets well over the estimated 238 miles of range per charge, even on road trips. I have yet to fully test the estimated 310 miles of range per charge of the Model 3. The Bolt’s price was about $46,000; the Model 3 was about $60,000. Here’s what I have to say about the two cars. I love them both, but there are many differences between them besides the higher price and range of the Model 3, and there are things about the Bolt that, for some drivers, might give it a bit of an edge.
To start with, the Bolt is the most driver-friendly car I have ever owned. It has cameras front and back and an amazing virtual overhead camera that make the Bolt the easiest car to park of any I’ve ever driven. The Model 3, in some situations, can autonomously park itself and that autonomy really tells the story of the differences between the two cars. While the Bolt has more visual tools, like those cameras and blind-spot warning lights, the Model 3 is loaded with state-of-the-art self-driving tools. This is why cameras for the eyes of the driver may have been deemed unnecessary in the Model 3 (although I’m hearing there might be an upgrade coming soon that will offer additional blind-spot warnings; I hope so!). Nor are controls and gauges within easy reach of the driver in the Model 3. Very few controls are located on the steering wheel or on the dash. Almost everything is controlled by the computer screen in the center of the dash, off to the right of the driver. Am I saying I don’t like the minimalist design and the assignment of just about every functional setting to that computer screen? No, but I do miss having certain things right at my fingertips and closer to my line of sight while driving. I also have a particular beef about the navigation details being off to the far upper-right corner of that computer screen, far away from my eyes.
Although both cars offer one-pedal driving, with regenerative braking when the driver eases back or releases the accelerator, I really love the additional regenerative braking offered by the Bolt through the paddle on the left side of the steering wheel yoke. Whenever I’m in the Model 3, I find myself reaching for that paddle, and I’m always disappointed it isn’t there. Finally, on a personal note, I find I miss the “Car Play” compatibility of my audio sources and smartphone navigation that the Bolt allows me to use and that are restricted or less convenient to use in the Model 3. (And, at least right now, there is no Internet hot-spot service for those tools in the Model 3 as there is via OnStar in the Bolt.)
But now let me heap some praise on the Model 3. Its styling and performance are second to none! Gorgeous and way fun! For someone like me, who loves to drive — to actually get my hands on the wheel and drive — the Model 3 is a hoot! I keep mine set in the Sport Steering option that, combined with the wicked Tesla acceleration, makes the Model 3 drive like the power sports car I’ve always longed for! Interior styling, comfort, leg room, and the very cool full-glass roof are all super-great pluses for the Model 3. (I’m one of the few who have no problem with the seat design in the Bolt, about which I have read many complaints. To be fair, I’m only 5’8 ½” tall and not so big, but I loved the Bolt’s seats from day one! They fit me like a glove!) Lots of extra gadgets and goodies in the Model 3 memorize the seat, mirror, and steering-wheel position settings for each driver, and the Model 3 has an amazing climate control system that is more advanced than the one in the Bolt. The sound from the audio systems is great in both cars, as are their Bluetooth and phone command.
I’m guessing that the game changer that will solidly put the Model 3 in the lead for me and all drivers looking for a road trip car will be the Tesla Supercharger network that I am about to experience on my first Model 3 road trip. As wonderful as it was to finally give away our last internal combustion vehicle — our 2005 Toyota Prius that we used solely for out-of-range trips that our 2011 Leaf or 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV couldn’t handle — it was still somewhat challenging to make the couple of 90-minute stops necessary for recharging during each of our 400-mile-one-way trips in the Bolt last year. Not impossible — not at all. And in fact lots of fun. But the longer range and the twice-as-fast charging speed of the Tesla Superchargers will make the one stop to charge on our first road trip in the Model 3 this summer something to really look forward to! Not to mention the thrill of Tesla’s extra performance and the adventure of trying some hands-still-on-the-wheel autonomous driving on Highway 5! In so many ways, the choice between the two cars is a toss-up (if we set aside the significantly lower price of the Bolt), as there are real pluses and minuses to each. I am very happy to have both of them, and I am certain that they will be our only two cars now and for a very long time.