Wait until electric vehicles hit 200 miles on a full charge and cost less than $40,000, they said. Well, we waited patiently and have been rewarded with two models that hit the mark in 2017. Consumers can now officially choose between the Tesla Model 3, which Elon Musk officially unveiled July 31, and the Chevrolet Bolt EV, GM’s groundbreaking model already on sale across the U.S.
They both come from U.S. automakers, both top the 200-mile mark, and both cost $37,495 or less before you count incentives. Beyond that, there are many differences worth noting for consumers considering a plug-in car. Here are eight things to keep in mind about the first generation of long-range affordable EVs.
1. Model 3 has 2 versions
You might get dizzy considering the various options of Tesla’s flagship Model S. There are three different battery packs (75, 90, or 100) and the option of rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. Then you can upgrade your P100D to Ludicrous mode if you like. Because of the smaller wheelbase in a Model 3, you will have fewer choices, but it’s still more than you’ll get in a Bolt EV.
Model 3 comes with either 220 miles ($35,000 base price) or 310 miles ($44,000). In its first production cycles, Tesla will only offer this one with rear-wheel drive. Starting in 2018, all-wheel drive models become available. With Chevy’s Bolt EV, there are different trims but only one range: 238 miles (per EPA).
2. Hatchback vs. sedan
Call the Bolt a small station wagon or hatchback as you will; the bottom line is this car has no trunk. There is excellent storage space, however — 56 cubic feet with the back seats down plus a false floor offering a bit more room. That blows away a Nissan Leaf (30 cubic feet) and approaches the Model S cargo capacity (58.1 cubic feet) with the back seats down part of the way, though we’re not counting the Tesla’s front trunk capacity ( an extra 5.3 cubic feet).
By contrast, Model 3 is a sedan featuring both front and back trunks. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said it would have “more cargo capacity than any gasoline car with the same external dimensions” and added you could fit a 7-foot surfboard in the back. If you want things out of sight, Model 3 has that feature while Bolt is limited.
3. Model 3 MSRP starts $1,295 less
Musk announced Model 3 would start at $35,000 before incentives early in 2016. Nearly 18 months later, Tesla held steady on that price and exceeded the range benchmark (originally 215 miles) in the base Model 3. However, counting the destination charge, it jumps to $36,200. Bolt starts at $37,495 (including the destination charge) before incentives with 18 more miles in range. Model 3 buyers have to decide if another 72 miles of range is worth the extra $7,205 compared to Bolt.
4. Bolt EV buyers can take $7,500 now
If you see an ad or hear about an electric car deal, you always have the “before incentives” disclaimer attached. This factor is important because it’s $7,500 you can deduct from income taxes the following year. However, you are only guaranteed one with the Chevy Bolt EV because it is available now. Looking at the federal tax incentive count, Model 3 buyers who put down a deposit now may have a tough time claiming the credit after 2018.
5. Model 3 is faster and features RWD
Chevy says the front-wheel drive Bolt EV takes 6.5 seconds to hit 60 miles per hour. It produces a respectable 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. While these numbers topped most EV competition, a standard Model 3 can outrun the Bolt at 5.6 seconds to 60. The longer range version gets there even faster (5.1 seconds). Though we don’t have a power quote, we know Model 3 features standard rear-wheel drive. This makes the transition easier for, say, Mercedes C-Class customers.
6. Supercharging vs. self-charging
It’s rare for daily drivers to exceed 100 miles in a commute, so you should be set in Bolt EV or Model 3 with a home charger. Taking road trips complicates things. GM does not have its own fast-charging network, so drivers will need to subscribe to a DC Fast charge network. Tesla guaranteed Model 3 drivers access to its Supercharger network on a pay-per-use basis after drivers use their free (five or six) Supercharger credits per year. Fast-charging capability costs $750 extra as an option in Bolt EV.
7. Tesla wins fast-charging times
In terms of road-trip convenience, there is no contest between Model 3 and Chevy Bolt EV. Tesla equipped its lowest-price EV with the capability nothing else in the price range shares. With a 30-minute Supercharger session, Model 3 drivers can add 130 miles of range to the battery. Over the same time frame, Bolt EV will add 90 miles. Between the rapidly expanding Supercharger network and the Model 3’s onboard charger, this EV is the one for road-trippers.
8. Tech and safety features
In both EVs, backup cameras come standard. To get advanced safety features on Bolt EV, you have to upgrade to the Premier trim ($41,780) then add them as options. Tesla will offer auto emergency braking as a standard feature. As for in-cabin tech, Tesla offers a massive (15-inch) touchscreen. Bolt EV drivers get the 10-inch diagonal touchscreen and the 8.1-inch driver cluster. We have to give the edge to Tesla here and, with the option of Enhanced Autopilot ($8,000 total), there should be no dispute.
Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY.