Vehicles | April 17, 2017 9:00 am

Electric Cars Need to Shut Up About the Environment Already

This car is really fun to drive. That's all you need to know.

Buy an electric car; save the earth. That’s the prevailing mindset of those who make the transition, right?

Maybe not. Because here’s a better reason to buy an electric car: it beats your gas guzzler for performance and innovation.

We realized this when driving a Chevy Bolt on the long winding road up Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley to visit Nine Suns. We marveled at how smoothly it handled the switchbacks, how it didn’t switch gears, how it just kept driving. It was, quite simply, a very enjoyable little car to drive.

It does 0-60 in a little over six seconds, which isn’t breaking records, but for an economy daily driver, that’s pretty solid. It was quiet. It supposedly goes 238 miles on a single charge, which is on par with Tesla’s Model S (though we didn’t have to charge it during our trip). And while it lacks Tesla’s cool factor and top-end speed, at no point while cruising around Napa did we feel out of place. Try getting out of a car some time and smelling nothing but fresh air — that’s the real smell of luxury.

So why is this important? I.e., why is it important that electric cars be not only morally superior to their fossil fuel-burning brethren, but also push them for performance?

For starters, they might not be enjoying the government subsidies that have helped their development to this point for much longer: the Trump Administration just repealed those $5,000 tax rebates for buying hybrids and electrics, and similar measures may follow in the coming months and years. Then there’s the fact that convincing some Americans that climate change is something to worry about is an uphill battle to begin with.

But convincing them to invest in something that is more comfortable and fun to drive? That works. It’s easier to sell a vitamin if it looks and tastes like candy. Which is exactly why Tesla has been able to corner the electric market. Their marketing team doesn’t tout the fact that the cars are responsible; they tout the fact that they can go from 0-60 in just 2.3 seconds thanks to a feature that is literally called Ludicrous Mode.

The question for the Chevy Bolts of the world, then, is what is your selling point? How can you surprise and delight the public the way a Tesla does?

And the answer is better value without sacrificing performance.

The Bolt starts at $36,620, or about half the price of a Model S. It has a 10-inch screen that seamlessly connects to Apple CarPlay and Android Audio, and the infotainment system and driving interface are easy and intuitive to use. The only thing we didn’t like was that as iPhone users, we were stuck with Apple Maps … which was fine on that big screen — we just would’ve preferred Waze. The Bolt also has a low-drive setting that increases its battery life. We didn’t love it (it felt a bit like we were driving through sludge), but watching our car’s fuel capacity increase before our eyes in traffic was a novel experience we won’t soon forget.

For the electric car to survive, people need to want them. Where car companies see demand, they’ll invest, and continue to improve design, performance, entertainment options: the works. And these are the merits that every electric car should be sold on — not some abstract promise for a better future.

That will come later.

First, we have to build a foundation to get us there. And the Bolt is a step in the right direction.