We autocross the Chevrolet Bolt EV at Santa Anita Park. The end result? Tires torn up, minds blown.

By Glenn Oyoung

Every once in a while, I get an email that makes me do a double-take. The invitation from Chevrolet to autocross their 2019 Bolt EV made me do a triple-take. “EV” and “autocross” are not words commonly placed next to each other. As a track junkie and aspiring gentleman racer, I never turn down track time. As a gear head I could not turn down the chance to see how the Bolt EV would compare against traditional gas-powered cars in an auto-cross.

Chevy rolled out the red carpet for local journalists and influencers at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. Flanked by the mountains of the Angeles National Forest and the historic horseracing track, we were greeted by a small fleet of Bolt EVs — some on all-season tires and some on stickier summer tires — as well as a Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Prior to hitting the track, we heard from Kevin Kelly from Chevrolet communications and Bolt EV  vehicle performance engineer Mike Burns. According to Kelly, the Bolt EV has sold over 30,000 units since its 2017 launch and made good on it promise to deliver a range over 200 miles per full charge at a price point at $30,000.

The Bolt has a range of 238 miles and comes in at $29,995 after a Federal tax credit of $7,500.

Mike Burns stepped in to share his thoughts on the Bolt EV’s performance characteristics, honed by Chevy’s engineering team with plenty of seat time in the winding roads of West Virginia and Tennessee.

These tires are toast

Burns shared that his team had three overarching goals with the Bolt EV – to make it handle well, to put down power (always tricky with instantaneous torque on EVs), and allow for a sporty drive.

In the handling department the 2019 Bolt EV’s battery pack provides a lower center of gravity and a more rigid frame since it is integrated into it, resulting in less body roll. Burns and his colleagues spent countless hours fine-tuning the traction control system to strike the balance between intrusiveness and sportiness. The Bolt EV comes with 4 regeneration (“regen”) modes and a Sport Mode featuring accelerator pedal mapping programmed to bump up the excitement. I was impressed that Chevy even cared enough to consider the fun-to-drive factor in a class of cars heretofore focused almost exclusively on efficiency.

With that, we were unleased on the autocross course at Santa Anita. This was no chill consumer ride-and-drive course with minimal speeds and one short straight. Chevy mapped out a technical autocross course with plenty of places to get loose if you weren’t careful, particularly on the ungroomed asphalt of Santa Anita Park’s parking lot.  My driving impression of the Bolt EV after hours hooning it around the autocross is best summarized by the Cheshire Cat-like grin that everyone presented sported at the end of each hot lap.

The Bolt EV literally blew me away with how much fun I had.

It took off like a bat out of hell off the starting line (instant torque never gets old), it handled pretty flat for a car that looks like a low-top sneaker, and it’s braking inspired enough confidence to get me yelled at for taking the Bolt in hotter and hotter before the start/stop box. On the Michelin all-season tires auto-crossing the Bolt EV felt like an audition for Formula Drift with oversteer or understeer always feeling like just one greedy corner away. On the Michelin summer tires, the Bolt really shone in terms of acceleration, handling, and staying composed under hard braking.

Was it faster than the Golf GTI? I honestly don’t recall, mainly because I wanted to keep shaving off time in the Bolt. It’s a testament to Chevy’s efforts that we’re even talking about the Bolt in the same sentence in terms of fun factor and performance.

At the end of the day, Chevy knows Bolt owners are not buying these for the sole purpose of replacing Golfs, Miatas, or Mini Coopers on the track… at least for now. That being said the afternoon I spent racing the Bolt EV gave me a whole new perspective on fun EVs, and the Bolt EV in particular,  can be if you throw caution to the wind. Just leave the traction control on, trust me  — it’s better for everyone.

For more information on the Bolt EV visit Chevrolet’s Bolt EV website.