News & Politics

I Drove an Electric Car in DC for a Week–Here’s What Happened

The Chevy Bolt EV is no Barbie Jeep.

Lil Cheeto in all its glory. Photograph by Mimi Montgomery.

The morning I went to pick up my electric car, I was cold, tired of walking, and carrying so much crap I looked like someone relocating during the Dust Bowl. My editor had assigned me to drive and write about Chevrolet’s new Bolt EV, and I was ready to have a bus-less and walk-free commute for a few days.

In the distance, the early morning fog parted, and I could see a cute, shiny blue car being polished in the front drive of the pick-up site. It looked smart and hip, something a young urbanite would throw her yoga mat in as she zipped across town to get an expensive meal picked up by a Bumble date. I could be down with this. But as I walked toward it, ready to check out it,  I heard someone call “Mimi? No, this is yours!”

Because this is me and ridiculousness prevails, out rolled a flaming orange clown car. And I don’t mean like a huh, that kind of has a tint to it orange, I mean like a oh holy shit it’s coming right at me kind of orange. To top it off, it had a New York license plate on it, a combination that is essentially equivalent to driving around with a loudspeaker screaming “I’m an asshole!”

This didn’t do anything to help my nerves. Let’s just say I don’t have the best automobile track record. I failed my driver’s license test three times and once fell out of a moving car that I was driving. (General Motors: If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. Also, you can’t do anything to me because I’ve already given the car back).

I gave myself a little pep talk. I could do this. I love orange things! My best friend is a ginger, I drank like, five Sunkists a day as a kid, and I’ve been known to take down a block of cheddar cheese.

The dashboard lets you track how much power you’re using, and how far you can travel before you’re out of electricity. Photograph by Mimi Montgomery.

I put my stuff in the Bolt’s backseat, hit the power button, and, after a brief tutorial, zoomed off. I threw some Drake on the Apple Play and cruised to work, feeling like a badass–until I remembered I was essentially behind the wheel of a motorized Cheeto, that is.

Some background: I knew absolutely nothing about electric cars going into this. I’m from a small Southern town where muddin’ is a commonly-used verb (as in Junior would come to the phone right now, but he got the truck stuck out muddin’) and if your car doesn’t have four-wheel drive, it might as well be a unicycle. All my life I’ve driven SUVs, which are to electric cars what nuclear power plants are to solar panels.

So I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the inside of Lil Cheeto, as he came to be known. He was downright swanky! Inside is a heated steering wheel, leather interior, Sirius radio, Apple Play, a console with a touchscreen, wireless phone charger, and wi-fi, so you can stream videos of rats taking a shower while crossing three lanes of traffic! The car will also send text messages and make calls through Siri over a bluetooth speaker, and will even read new messages aloud for you.

It’s a bit of a trip to drive an electric car when you’re used to an SUV. It’s silent when you turn it on, a big change from the growl of an engine that I’m used to, but it’s much zippier. The Bolt accelerates quickly, has a good turning radius, and is an overall smooth ride. Bonus points: It has both a front and back camera that guide you while parking, emitting stern little beeps when you get too close to the car in front of you. My depth perception is akin to that of someone in a poorly lit dungeon (sorry again, General Motors!), so this was very much appreciated.

The car has a range of 238 miles, but that falls when you turn on the heat, A/C, or heated steering wheel and seats. (But because I am of low blood circulation and high gluteus square acreage, I fired those bad boys up.) You can change it to one-pedal driving to save even more energy, too, but that was too jerky for me: I felt like I was head-banging at a Gwar show.

If you really want to nerd out, you can pull up a breakdown of how your electricity is being used in the car, complete with a “score” telling you what you could improve on. I’m not numerically inclined enough to appreciate this, but my boyfriend, an engineer, was geeking out so hard you’d think he was at NASA mission control.

Over the course of a week, I developed a great sense of affection for Lil Cheeto. I took him everywhere: It’s a great car for cruising around the city, and I drove it to work, happy hours, the grocery store, picked up friends, dropped off friends, and forayed into Virginia and Maryland.

And, if you’re looking for a boost to your superiority complex, driving an electric car is great for that. I felt a sense of holier-than-thou accomplishment each morning as I drove to work, knowing I was ethically superior to 98 percent of everyone else on the road. And Priuses? Please, don’t even get me started—those things are like coal-burning Hummers compared to Lil Cheeto.

I could see how an electric car might not be a practical choice if you didn’t live in a place with relevant infrastructure. DC has plenty of charging stations, which you can find through apps like ChargePoint or PlugShare. Other large cities do, too, but they’re harder (or even non-existent) in rural areas. 

On a road trip, you have to be sure to plan out where you can stop for charges along the way, and even then it takes a lot longer to refuel than it would to fill your car up with gas. If you find a fast charging system, you can do it in about 30 minutes. At a slower one, it can take up to 8 hours to totally recharge.

My overall review? As a young person living in a city, I really liked the Chevy Bolt. In a place like DC where a lot of folks choose not to have a car, a small electric one could make a lot of sense. If you’re a farmer in North Dakota? Probably don’t get one. Have five kids who need to go to 15 different sports practices a day? Yeah, not for you.

The touchscreen center console. Photograph by Mimi Montgomery.

Yes, it’s small, and yes, it may not be the sexiest thing to drive around in. It’s much more Herbie than Fast & the Furious. (I passed a guy I went on a few dates with walking down the street and ducked behind the wheel–as much as I loved my fluorescent ride, you still don’t want to be seen in a bright-orange car the size of a pet rodent when you pass a former flame). 

If this sounds a little bit like an opposites-attract love story, that’s because it is–me, a girl who can’t figure out how to hook the HDMI cables into her TV, and a Chevy Bolt, a car that’s all technology. Just me and Lil Cheeto, driving off into an eco-friendly, orange sunset.

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.