Bigger than it looks. The 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV returns for its fifth year on the market, surviving as the brand’s lone eco-friendly offering. A mid-cycle refresh is expected next year, but this year’s Bolt looks much the same as it did at launch.

That’s not a bad thing. The Bolt walks the line between understated and futuristic, with a trendy floating roof and unusual wave-like taillights. The proportions look van-like, but the Bolt is more of a tall-riding hatchback.

The inside feels more like a van than you might expect, given the Bolt’s compact size. Second-row passengers get more than 36 inches of legroom, substantially more than the rival Hyundai Kona Electric. The cabin can comfortably fit four adults (or five in a pinch), which is impressive for the class. The tall ride position makes ingress and egress easy.

Cargo space is another highlight. With the rear seats folded, the Bolt fits up to 56.6 cubic feet of luggage — as much as some compact crossovers.

Best around town. The Bolt’s namesake feature is, of course, its electric powertrain. 266 pound-feet of instantly available torque provides plenty of kick, and the Bolt is a perkier drive than many competitors. The batteries are placed low, which drops the center of gravity for relatively quick and stable handling.

All the same, the batteries help push the Bolt to nearly 3,600 pounds. That’s about half a ton more than a Honda Fit, and the extra mass shows itself when the road gets curvy. The Bolt is great for an urban commuter, but it’s no sports car.

The biggest letdown, however, is the interior quality. The front seats are thin and upright, with short thigh cushions. The cabin is rife with hard plastic surfaces, and the design isn’t particularly welcoming. Despite the Bolt’s impressive space, these flaws make it an unlikely favorite for road trips.

Chevy Bolt EV

The tech is a mixed bag. Electric cars have a reputation for modern tech, and the Bolt starts off on the right foot. Infotainment is handled by a 10.2-inch touchscreen, which is bright and responsive. Smartphone compatibility is included, and expected extras like wireless charging are available.

Elsewhere, the features are less impressive. Automatic emergency braking doesn’t come standard, and getting it requires adding multiple packages. When every rival makes this safety tech standard, the Bolt seems almost old-fashioned.

We wish that Chevy would make fast-charging standard, too. The feature can help protect its resale value and makes the Bolt much more capable over long distances. It’s an extra $750 on base models, and we strongly recommend adding it.

Rising competition. The Bolt still makes the most sense in base LT form, but the missing standard features don’t help its value. After adding the safety tech and fast-charging capability, starting price pushes close to $40,000.

From there, it’s an easy hop into a Tesla Model 3. Affordable electric cars are no longer an oxymoron, and the competition is getting sharper. Along with Tesla, the Bolt has to contend with the Hyundai Kona Electric and Nissan Leaf.

The Bolt’s biggest advantage is its 259-mile range, which trumps all but the Tesla. The Bolt’s smaller size means that it requires fewer batteries to achieve the same result, which in turn leads to faster charging (about 10 hours with a Level 2 charger). For drivers who value these attributes, the Bolt remains a strong option.

Final thoughts. The Bolt’s predecessor, the Chevy Volt, helped push the industry toward plug-in and electric powertrains. The Bolt remains a compelling eco-friendly commuter, but it’s no longer an industry leader. The cabin is in dire need of an update, and the lack of standard safety tech hurts overall value. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that Chevy fixes these issues next year.

Check prices for the 2021 Chevy Bolt EV »