Tesla rules the roost in the electric car world right now. Elon Musk took a massive gamble and he’s reaping the rewards, but the competition is coming.
GM has worked feverishly behind the scenes on its battery technology and the Chevy Bolt is going to be the first major contender our of the starting blocks. In fact, it’s going to beat the Tesla it will be fighting against.
Don’t miss: Tesla Model 3: Everything that you need to know
Don’t miss: Chevy Bolt: Everything that you need to know
The Bolt isn’t a luxury car, or a sportscar, or a seven-seat SUV. It’s a functional hatchback. But it will break the 200-mile mark on a single charge and that’s what matters.
The Model 3 is the entry-level Tesla. It’s the car that carries the weight of the company on its shoulders and it’s going to make or break Elon Musk’s fledgling car company.
So how do these two contenders stack up?
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Launch date
GM’s electric offering is going to beat the Tesla to the market by a full year, at least. GM launched the European version of the Bolt in Paris and it goes on sale on these shores at the end of the year.
Now GM does not play fast and loose with its product rollouts. It has done the development, it already has a production ready car ready to go and you can bank on the Chevy Bolt hitting the showrooms on schedule.
We can’t say the same about Tesla.
Elon Musk is famous for missing deadlines. So while we have a rough timescale of Q4 in 2017 right now, that is subject to change.
Tesla is further ahead in the development schedule than it ever has been on any car, though, and there’s just too much riding on the Model 3 to get it wrong. So we’re going to give the Palo Alto firm the benefit of the doubt and assume this one’s going to be ready to go.
Even if it is, there are so many pre-orders that you could be looking down the barrel of one of the longest wait lists in recent memory if you try and walk into a showroom and buy one when they hit the road.
So the Tesla Model 3 finishes a distant second in this particular battle.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Price
The two contenders are separated by just $2,500, but it’s a surprise that the Chevy is the more expensive option. It’s a good looking car, but it just doesn’t have the same premium look as the Tesla. In fact, it looks like a car from a different sector.
So that $37,500 price tag grates a little.
It kind of is a different sector, the Chevy Bolt is a hatchback and psychologically that puts it against cars like the Mazda3, even the Kia Soul. There’s no real brand cache with the Chevy either, so the price tag is a bitter pill.
Tesla has never sold cars this cheap and that is a powerful incentive in itself. Suddenly an exclusive club for early adopters and CEOs has thrown its doors open to the masses. This is Ralph Lauren’s Polo and, assuming there’s no major mishaps along the way, it is going to sell by the bucketload at $35,000.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Design
In a way it’s down to personal preference, but it isn’t really is it? The hatchback Bolt is a good-looking hatchback, but the Model 3 is a junior executive’s car of choice. The Bolt could easily be the next Honda, the Tesla couldn’t be anything else.
Now there are some cute touches on the Bolt. The accent touches on the side look for all the world like an electrical impulse, the front is aggressive and the sculpted rear is tough.
The Tesla, meanwhile, is a little too chopped at the rear and the side profile looks plain wrong. But we’ll get used to that and it’s the car’s only bad angle. It looks expensive, it looks classy and it looks like a Tesla. It’s a winner.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Range
These are not premium sportscars, Tesla has much more powerful cars in the line-up if you want that and Chevy, well Chevy doesn’t as yet. But the truth is that the practical aspects of the car is way more important than the performance. Range, then, is the real battleground here.
Chevy has done some great work to produce a car that does 200 miles between charges, thanks to its 60kWh battery, while the likes of BMW, Ford and VW can only manage around 100 miles.
The Dearborn firm also has a full year of real-world development time to improve on that number. How it introduces the upgrades could be key, as it may not want to offend the early customers by bringing replacement battery packs with higher mileage to new cars on a rolling basis.
So we might have to wait for a facelift model or even the Bolt’s replacement for a major increase in range. That, or you could just buy a Model 3…
Now Tesla has pledged at least 215 miles from the base level car, which isn’t a great deal more and we’d want to see both cars on the same journey in full Eco mode to really make this call. The more expensive cars in the Model 3 will dwarf the Chevy’s range, but then that is comparing apples to oranges.
As it is, with the cheaper, faster car, Tesla still edges the range war.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Acceleration
Again, the Tesla wipes the floor with the Chevy. It hits 60mph in 6s even in base spec. We don’t know what the base spec is yet, but we do know the Tesla Model 3 0-60mph time and it is impressive.
As Elon Musk said: “Tesla doesn’t make slow cars.”
When we get the top end, superpowered Model 3, the acceleration figures are likely to get crazy. The Model S is currently the fastest production car in the world with a 0-60mph time of 2.5s. We think the fastest Model 3 will be close.
Chevy has promised a 0-60mph time of less than seven seconds for the Bolt. That’s good, really, it’s an acceptable speed. It’s just not that fast compared to the Tesla Model 3.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Top speed
There’s not getting round the fact that the Tesla is going to dominate this one. The Chevy Bolt top speed is just 91mph, which GM rightly argues is more than enough for any journey on US soil.
In fact, it’s good enough for any highway journey outside of Germany. There’s no reason why GM should have tried to make it faster. Unless they were worried about a theoretical head-to-head with the Tesla Model 3, that is.
The entry level Model S is limited to 130mph and we expect the Model 3 to come close to that number. So there really isn’t a contest here.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Power
This a tough one, because we just don’t know the Model 3 spec right now, but we can have an educated guess.
From the rough speeds, we know it will need to have roughly as much power as the original Tesla Model S 40kW. That car kicked out 285kW (382bhp) at the motor, but was limited to 175kW (235bhp) at the wheels. It also had 317lb/ft of torque at its disposal and that powered the heavier Model S to 60mph in 6.5s.
So we’re filling in the blanks, but that sounds about right for the base Model 3. There will be a rear-drive option and a four-wheel-drive version with a lot more power.
The Chevy has a 150kW motor (200bhp) that comes with 266lb/ft of torque powering the front wheels.
So yep, that’s another one for the Model 3.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Dealer network and support
Tesla cannot win this one. It is opening stores at a frightening rate and recently revealed it was opening the doors on a new retail outlet every four days.
But Elon Musk freely admits the company is playing catch-up and Tesla Motors has been one long fire fight since the beginning in 2003.
GM is established, it was founded in 1908. It’s had time to refine the processes that Tesla is figuring out on the fly. It went bankrupt, but the company remained basically intact and carried on regardless.
So GM knows all about servicing cars, trade-ins and more. It’s a minor advantage, because Tesla is doing a solid job for the most part and has superb owner ratings, but GM is a relative juggernaut and that comes with advantages of its own.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Interior
We should technically give this one to the Bolt, because we have seen a pre-production interior and we actually know what it looks like. But we can’t, because everything we know about Tesla says that the Model 3 is going to be so much sexier.
There’s nothing especially wrong with the Chevy Bolt interior. It’s functional, it comes with a screen for the peripheral controls and another for the instrument binnacle. The dashboard is angular, clean and a little fun and the seats look good.
Again, we’re shooting in the dark here, but we assume the Model 3 is going to keep the same clean, straightforward interior that has become a company calling card with the Model S and Model X.
The touchscreen will control everything and apart from that you’ll get a wheel and some seats. That’s it, but we know that the Tesla is going to make it all gel.
Early prototypes seem to suggest that the dashboard can’t contain the 17” touchscreen and it will be perched on top. We hope that’s not the case, though, and the design moguls at Palo Alto find a way to integrate it more effectively. Knowing how Tesla does interiors, they will, and we’ll be left to wonder how a car that costs this much can look this good.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Charging network
The Tesla Supercharger network is spreading faster than Pokemon Go and Elon Musk wants to double the number of outlets in the US and Europe by the end of next year.
But it’s a proprietary plug. Tesla has an adapter for the CHAdeMO system that Nissan used, but hasn’t been able to produce one for the SAE network just yet.
GM operates on the SAE plug system, along with BMW, Mercedes, VW and more. This could be a serious advantage now that the other big players are finally joining the electric party.
There were talks between Tesla and GM about sharing Supercharger development last year, but that has gone quiet of late.
Of course Tesla is pressing ahead with its own network and could well have an SAE adapter ready before the Model 3 turns a wheel. So by then GM’s theoretical advantage with the charger network could be a total irrelevance. Right now, we’re giving this one to the Bolt.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Home charging
Chevrolet can install a 240-volt charger in your home that can fully charge your Bolt in nine hours and it will give you 25 miles per hour on charge. Tesla hasn’t told us which battery is in the base Model 3, so we just don’t know how fast it will charge up with a home charging system or one of the many Destination chargers dotted around the place. We have to assume this one will be more or less a wash and we’ll call it a draw.
Tesla Model 3 vs Chevy Bolt: Safety
Chevy has reasonable safety equipment on the Bolt and it will tell you if pedestrians are in the way, if there’s something in your blind spot or worse. It also has an array of cameras that will give you a simulated bird’s eye view of the car for parking manoeuvers.
If you have OnStar activated it will even send an ambulance if you crash. It’s a solid, passive system.
But the Tesla will stop you crashing in the first place, most the time. Chevy recently denied that it would introduce autonomous driving in 2019, but Tesla is almost there. The Model 3 will come with Autopilot, which is likely to be a much better system by then.
Given a free rein, Elon Musk would make the Model 3 take the wheel completely, but the regulators just won’t allow it. What they will allow is for Musk to create a system that can help keep you out of trouble.
If it can’t, then rest assured the Model 3 will do its best to save you. Say what you want about Musk’s gung-ho approach, he does not cut corners with safety and the Model S and Model X scored 5 stars across the board in the NHTSA crash tests. The Model 3 will do the same.
This is the first real battle of the electric car companies and we’re fascinated to see what happens when they actually get on the road, in the flesh, in the real world. For now, we can only speculate on the stats, facts and pictures.
Now we’re going to have to wait a long time for the Model 3 and even longer in real terms if we take the waiting list into account. That could be the deciding factor for some people.
But if the two cars are there, on the forecourt, and you can take your choice, then there really isn’t much of an option. It’s a good first effort from GM, but the Tesla takes this one at an absolute canter.