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With 238 miles of range and a starting price under $30,000, Chevy's new compact electric vehicle is a game-changer

DOUG BERGER/NWAPA - The 2017 Chevy Bolt won two awards at this year's Drive Revolution competition in Portland, including Northwest Green Car of the Year.Automotive writers have proclaimed the 2017 Chevy Bolt a game-changer, and they are right. The new all-electric compact will go an EPA-estimated 238 miles on a full charge and can be bought for less then $30,000, after a federal tax credit. Not only that, but its fun to drive and can be loaded up with practically every available infotainment and safety in the highest trim level.

For me, having a range of over 200 miles completely changed my opinion of electric cars. Although I've always understood the environmental benefits of not burning gasoline or requiring oil changes, testing them has always been a challenge. Since I don't own one, I've never installed a 240 volt charger in my home. I've always recharged them using a conventional extension cord, which takes a very long time if the battery is even halfway depleted.

Since most EVs up until now get l00 miles or less on a full charge, I've always felt pressured to plug them in every second I'm home. My regular reporting job can take me across three counties in a single day, and public recharging stations are not always located where I'm going. Or they can be occupied, preventing me from using them. So running out of electricity on the road was always in the back of my mind.

COURTESY GENERAL MOTORS CORP. - The interior of the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV is surprisingly roomy for a compact car and it can be ordered with leather seats and the latest automotive technologies.But not in the Bolt. Some days, I didn't plug it in at all. And I wasn't afraid to use the air conditioner and radio, both of which draw from the battery. Or drive fast, which drains the battery pack quicker. No, the Bolt is the first EV that I could drive like a regular car.

Tesla owners have always felt that way because they get such incredible mileage. They are all so expensive, they are out of reach to average consumers. But the Bolt starts at under $38,000 and qualified for a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Premium version I tested was priced at $43,510 and qualifies for the same credit.

Even after the credit, both versions of the Bolt are admittedly more expensive that most compact cars — even when you consider owners will never pay for gas or oil changes. But the final price is low enough that average consumers can afford them, which is makes the Bolt a viable option.

COURTESY GENERAL MOTORS CORP. - The 2017 Chevy Bolt EV can be ordered with a DC Fast Changing port that enables the battery to be charged up to 90 miles of range in 30 minutes.If that was all the Bolt accomplished, it would be a big deal. But in a week of test driving, I realized the Bolt is also an extremely well made, enjoyable daily driver. It is remarkably quiet, with no electric motor noise apparent in the cabin. It is also very solid, with a suspension that easily absorbs bumps and potholes without excessive vibrations. And there's enough room for three adults in the back seat.

The exterior styling is more conventional that earlier green cars like the Nissan Leaf and all versions of the Toyota Prius. If you aren't familiar with the Bolt, you'll probably thinks it's just another compact. And although the interior is more adventurous, it is not intentionally weird. All controls are easy to fund and use. And the materials in out top-of-the-line model were all high quality, including the leather seats.

Since it was introduced just a few months ago, the Bolt has won numerous automotive awards. Among others, it was named Northwest Green Vehicle of the Year and Northwest Battery-Electric or Fuel Cell Vehicle of the Year by the Northwest Automotive Writers Association at its annual Drive revolution competition for green vehicles in Portland.

COURTESY GENERAL MOTORS CORP. - A reconfigurable screen in the instrument cluster of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV offers the choice of several layouts to display vehicle information. "The Bolt EV more than doubles the range of other affordably priced battery-electric vehicles," said event co-chair Sarah Shelton of U.S. News & World Report. "With the ability to travel up to 238 miles on a single charge, the Bolt EV is a game-changer in the green vehicle market and a glimpse of things to come."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

2017 Chevy Bolt EV

Base price: $37,495 (7,500 available federal tax credit)

Price as tested: $43,510 (7,500 available federal tax credit)

Type: Compact five-door hatchback

Motor: Permanent-magnet synchronous elecrtic AC with battery pack (200 hp, 266 lb-ft)

Transmission: Direct drive

EPA estimated mileage: 119 MPGe

Range: 238 miles on full charge

Overall length: 164 inches

Curb weight: 3563 pounds

Final assembly: Lake Orion, Michigan

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