Chevrolet Bolt vs. Volkswagen GTI: We Take A Spin At GM’s Autocross Event

2 months ago by Steven Loveday 33

It turns out you really can drive the Chevrolet Bolt like you stole it, and you’re not likely to ever roll it.

General Motors held an event last week, which was coined the 2017 Bolt EV: Autocross Drive. Essentially, GM invited a bunch of automotive journalists out to a site near Detroit to experience the “fun-to-drive” aspect of the Bolt. Being that most first-drive reviews err on the side of caution, focusing primarily on typical daily driving, and many people drive reasonably to get the most range from an EV, this was a truly unique way in which to experience Chevy’s new long-range, all-electric hatchback.

Chevy Bolt EVs about to autocross!  AKA, we get to drive it like we stole it. Let’s so who can roll it first!

InsideEVs attended the third of three three-hour-long sessions. We were a bit skeptical about heading in for the final session due to the potential for the cars to be out of commission or adequately beat, with balding tires and less-than-full batteries. Who knows … perhaps someone rolled a few of them during day one. However, we were fortunate to have incredible weather and a dry track, and the cars were in tip-top condition. The previous days’ afternoon session was canceled due to inclement weather and wet conditions.

We were provided with a number of Chevrolet Bolt Premiers with both summer-only tires (Euro tire/Michelin Primacy 3) and all-seasons (Stock/Michelin Energy Saver A/S Selfseal). Much to our surprise, mere seconds before the drive portion of the event, a Volkswagen GTI Sport showed up. It was equipped with all-season tires (Stock/Pirelli Cinturato P7). All tires on all vehicles were filled to factory recommended PSI.

GM wanted us to have a vehicle on hand to compare to the Bolt. Initially, they’d considered a Nissan LEAF, but that’s not really an ideal autocross vehicle (prior to the event, we may have said the same thing about the Bolt). What better than a GTI to provide an example of what a true autocross vehicle should be?

The Chevrolet Bolt churns out 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. According to GM, it completes a zero to 60 mph sprint in 6.5 seconds. Comparatively, the Volkswagen GTI Sport cranks out 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The GTI’s zero-to-60 time stands at 5.9 seconds. These numbers prove that the two cars are exemplary competitors.

Chevrolet Bolt

Chevrolet Bolt EV Autocross (one of these things is not like the other)

Like anyone might expect from an autocross course, it was pretty tight, combining a number of hard turns, a few switchbacks, and a demanding slalom. We were told that the time to beat from the prior day was “somewhere in the 39s”. There were nine of us, many of whom were driving nonstop, plus a few other staffers from GM that were taking some sporadic runs.

GM factory racing and test driver, full-time race car driver for Corvette Racing, and two-time LeMans GTE winner, Tommy Milner, was on hand to help, answer questions, and of course, participate. Also in the mix was Manoli Katakis, editorial director of GM Authority and avid autocross aficionado. Manny has attended multiple performance driving courses and has quite a bit of racing experience under his belt. He even autocrosses his Chevrolet Volt on a regular basis. Needless to say, things got pretty competitive in a friendly sorta way.

For Tommy and Manny, beating the 39s didn’t come easy at first, but eventually, they pulled it off. Milner ended the day with a 38.96 in the Bolt (although he may have gone on to beat that time during a video session after our departure), which was narrowly topped by Katakis’ 38.78. Regardless, the more important question is: How did the Chevrolet Bolt compare to the Volkswagen GTI?

Unfortunately, Milner didn’t post a time in the GTI during our session, but a few other drivers posted times of 38.08 and 37.92. So, the Bolt fared pretty well, though the best time in the GTI was just shy of a second better. Seasoned autocross driver, Manny, performed 7/10 of second better in the GTI than the Bolt. Most would probably never assume that the Bolt could hold its own that well.

InsideEVs’ impressions:

In the end, the Chevrolet Bolt handles better than we expected. For a compact car that’s not built for applications such as this, it impressed. The Bolt’s steering is accurate and the ride is refreshingly stiff. The car’s low center of gravity (due to the “skateboard” battery pack) helped tremendously. No one was able to roll the Bolt in any of the sessions, although we’re pretty sure that no one was really trying (because that would be a bad idea and we’d like to be invited back, especially if the Tesla Model 3 is next year’s comparison vehicle). We will say that even if you tried hard, rolling the Bolt would be an epic feat. We felt safe and secure in the Bolt at all times.

In comparison to the GTI, the Bolt is surely not the better of the two when it comes to autocross, and especially with regards to seasoned drivers (we’re not really sure anyone would expect it to be). With that being said, Chevy’s long-range EV provided a pleasant surprise. Though the GTI was more nimble, the Bolt just about made up for it with its instant torque, low center of gravity, and ease of use.

Moreover, the Bolt, like any EV, provides consistent results to the average driver every single time.  Just push down the gas and go. With the GTI, or any ICE vehicle, there’s so much more involved. Consistency is difficult when dealing with launching the ICE vehicle, and if it has a manual transmission, the ante is upped substantially. It’s not unlike InsideEVs’ take on the Tesla Model S P100DL vs. the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. You have to know the car well, rev the engine just right, release the brake in a timely fashion, etc. There’s nothing intuitive or easy for the average “Joe” when it comes to checking all the right boxes to get an ICE car to consistently tackle the race track. With an EV, just about anyone can succeed with just a bit of practice.

If you ever plan to autocross a Chevrolet Bolt, here’s what we learned:

Use DRIVE mode, which applies the least amount of regenerative braking. Engage SPORT Mode to provide a truer (and less efficient) throttle response. Opt for the summer tires and make sure that TRACTION CONTROL is on. All the best times were achieved with the Michelin Primacy 3s, DRIVE, SPORT, and TRACTION CONTROL. Of course, we raced with the HVAC system OFF. It’s an EV, just set it and forget it.

Surprisingly, after three hours of really hard driving, and several hundred laps, though the tires had no shoulders left, and some of us were feeling pretty torn up, the Chevy Bolt EVs had a significant amount of range to spare.

Just for fun, does the Chevrolet Bolt or the Volkswagen GTI win in a traditional drag race? Let’s have a look:

Check out some photos of the event below (be sure to click on each image to see the entire photo):

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33 responses to "Chevrolet Bolt vs. Volkswagen GTI: We Take A Spin At GM’s Autocross Event"

  1. bro1999 says:

    THIS is the way to market the Bolt, GM.

    Interesting to read that it’s recommended that traction control should be set to ON in a Bolt. When I autocrossed my Bolt earlier this summer, one of the regular autocrossers told me to turn OFF the traction control, as it would gimp performance.

    1. One says:

      Now we’re talking. Enough with the drag queen thing nonsense.

    2. Doggydogworld says:

      Indeed this is how you market.

      As Someone Out There says, now do an AWD version that beats the GTI handily.

  2. WARREN says:

    What year was the GTI in the TFLC video? The headlights and front end seem totally different. Same HP?

  3. SparkEV says:

    “Seasoned autocross driver, Manny, performed 7/10 of second better in the GTI than the Bolt”

    That’s probably due entirely to different tires. I would love to see this done few times with same tires and different drivers. If it’s consistent for GTI, gasser gets the nod, but single datum means nothing.

    1. Neromanceres says:

      I agree. I think if the Bolt EV was using comparable tires to the GTI that the Bolt EV would post times that are even closer to the GTI. Possibly even better.

      1. Spider-Dan says:

        I think you’ve got it backwards.

        The GTI had all-season tires. There was a Bolt there with all-seasons, and a Bolt with summer tires. So unless the top Bolt time was set with the all-season tires, the GTI was at a disadvantage.

        1. SparkEV says:

          Cinturatos on GTI give much better grip than Energy Savers on Bolt. Summer tire may be comparable or bit better for Bolt. That’s why this one data with different compound tires being off by 0.7 is not very meaningful.

          1. Steven Loveday says:

            The GTI had all-seasons. The Bolt with the best times was wearing summer tires. So yes, the GTI with summer tires would’ve likely fared even better.

          2. Steven Loveday says:

            For clarification, the 0.7 difference was the “seasoned” Autocross driver driving both vehiles multiple times to get those two times – the Bolt (summer tires) vs. the GTI (stock all-seasons).

            1. SparkEV says:

              It couple mean few things.

              1. Driver sucked with EV drive train, being so used to gassers.

              2. Some random event put Bolt at a disadvantage over and over.

              3. He cheated!

              He needs to do it over and over until Bolt comes out ahead! /science

        2. Neromanceres says:

          A sticky all season tire can perform better than a low rolling resistance summer tire.

  4. Bacardi says:

    I have been saying this before the Bolt EV/Gen2 Volt was revealed, autocross them and market it…Need to chip away at the geeky stigma both cars have…

    Was the white Volt provided by GM and more importantly how it’d do on the course compared to the Bolt?

    1. Steven Loveday says:

      Unfortunately, we didn’t drive the Volt. I believe those 3 vehicles belonged to employees at the event.

      1. Bacardi says:

        Thanks for replying, I’m somewhat surprised the owner didn’t want to make a run for comparative reasons…Volt has a strong 0-30, looks like the course rarely broke 30MPH…

        1. Asak says:

          I honestly wonder how the Leaf would have done. Leaf has a strong 0-30 also. After that it craps out, but at low speeds the whole instant torque thing dominates. If it had good tires on it might have done decently– probably worse than the Bolt, but better than many might expect.

  5. georgeS says:

    cool.
    Questions answered from previous article. Bolt did OK!!

    1. SparkEV says:

      Also gives some clue as to whether it was the driver or the car.

  6. Someone out there says:

    So here’s a radical idea: make an AWD Bolt “sports” version with 100+150kW motors!

    1. Bacardi says:

      While I agree on principle, I can’t see it translating to more than a handful of sales…

      Compared to the M3, the Bolt is not desirable nor selling well, why not give it some hype with AWD? It’s inevitable GM will release an AWD EV, why not get ahead and work on it now? In addition to a lowered “Sports” AWD version, I believe a rugged variant could boast sales if done right…The ICE Spark offers an “Activ” variant, with “rugged” front and rear facsias, skid plate, unique wheels, slightly raised suspension, roof rails and it cost about the same as a non-Activ Spark of similar trim…Obviously a dual motor setup will cost more but the key is to not charge extra for the “Activ” package…

      1. Someone out there says:

        The M3 is not desirable outside of the brainwashed Tesla cult.

      2. Asak says:

        The Bolt is still outselling the Model 3 for the time being.

  7. David S. says:

    “push down the gas”
    “throttle response”
    Time to update your autocross vocabulary Steven 😉

    1. Steven Loveday says:

      Very true indeed!

  8. Bacardi says:

    At work so I cannot view the video, what was the best OEM tire lap?

    1. Steven Loveday says:

      Bolt with summers 38.78, all-seasons 41

  9. Tom W. says:

    Did you use one-pedal driving in the auto-cross testing? I’m curious because I think some race drivers us both feet (one brake; one gas) to speed up transitions.

  10. chris says:

    Cool article but largely meaningles as the Bolt was on summers and had a professional drive and the GTI was on all seasons with amateurs. The fact that driving and launching the manual gti is more difficult is part of the charm IMO although obviously that can be taken too far. The mastering of a skill is

    1. Steven Loveday says:

      The Corvette Racing driver didn’t drive the GTI at my session. However, the best times were had by a seasoned Autocrosser who drove both the Bolt and the GTI. Yes, the GTI would’ve won by a larger margin with summer tires. Bolt with all-seasons was at 41.

  11. georgeS says:

    OK for autocross fans here’s a good story.

    Like I said in the other article a friend of mine was very good at this with his modded mini Cooper (an older one).

    Have you ever heard of an “emergency brake turn” ??

    That’s what he did. The emergency brake is a lever between the front seats and the mini cooper is a front wheel drive car and emergency brakes on the rear tires.

    Right after initiating the turn he would pull the emergency brake and lock the rear wheels causing the car to do an instant 180. With rear wheels still locked near the exit of the turn he’d go full throttle on the front wheels. For a split second the rear tires locked the front tires doing a burn out at the exit of the turn.

    Very effective and quit a sight to see.

    I bet the bolt would do great if you made a dedicated slalom racer. Take out 3/4 of the batteries to lower the weight.

    Problem is you would have to go to a different cell design that could handle a high C rate discharge.

  12. Larry C says:

    So they had a professional driver on summers in the Bolt that did not drive the gti with summer tires on it?😉 I can just see the bearded dude in the chevy commercial with real people, not actors giving the bolt an award.🥉

  13. kubel says:

    Nice marketing, GM. Like seriously, this is how you sell an EV.

    1. theflew says:

      How are drag racing videos going to sell a Tesla?

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