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Chevrolet Volt vs Nissan Leaf

Written by Bryan Johannsen

Electric vehicles are going to splash down into the mainstream this year with the limited release of both the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt. This is clash of the titans for a couple of reasons. The classic American manufacturer vs. Japanese manufacturer confrontation and the pure electric vehicle vs. extended range electric vehicle.

The Leaf's power plant is an 80 kilowatt electric motor driven by a lithium ion battery pack. At it's most economical setting Nissan says the Leaf will go 100 miles on a full charge but these tests are done in the most absolutely optimal conditions so the true range of the Leaf will have to wait until real world testing can be done.

The Volt supplements it's 3 phase electric motor with a 1.4 liter gasoline engine that acts as a generator. Unlike the hybrid vehicles on the road today the Volt's gasoline engine is not connected to the wheels at all and only acts to provide charge to the electric motor when the batteries are out. Chevrolet is calling this an extended range electric vehicle but in more strict terminology it is a parallel hybrid, a series hybrid also uses gas and electric power but the gasoline engine also drives the wheels.

Range

According to Nissan the Leaf will go 100 miles on a charge, since these tests are not done under real world driving conditions we expect that the effective range will be about 75% of that for the average driver. Chevy says the Volt will go 40 miles on batteries alone (again figure about 75% of that in real world conditions) but with 8 gallons of gasoline in the tank the Volt should be able to go about 400 miles.

Advantage: Volt - The Volt clearly wins for maximum range but on pure electric power the Leaf should go twice the distance.

Maintenance

There are no real world results for this yet but the Leaf only has the electric powertrain while the Volt contains a complete electric powertain as well as the gasoline engine and generator components. Everyone who already has a car knows that gasoline engines require oil changes, air filter changes and other regular maintenance that an electric motor will not require.

Advantage: Leaf - The less complex drive train of the Leaf wins out here. Two power sources automatically means more maintenance.

Speed

Though not normally a large concern in green vehicles some drivers will certainly want to know about the acceleration and speed performance of these vehicles. GM initially said the Volt would have a sub 6 second 0-60mph time but then said they "misspoke" and revised the figure up to around 9 seconds. Nissan claims the Leaf will have similar acceleration to the Nissan G35 which is a sub 6 second car but they will not commit to any figures and no real world testing has been done. Published top speed for the Leaf is 90 mph which means it should perform comfortably on any highway in the USA, even if you are running 5 to 10 over. The Volt claims a similar top speed of 100 miles per hour so it too should be comfortable on highways with enough power to pass and accelerate at speed.

Advantage: Leaf - Based on the claimed figures the Leaf should be much faster off the line than the Volt but without real world testing this remains to be seen. Top speeds are about equal and enough to get you a speeding ticket anywhere in the country.

Handling

Both cars are front engine/front wheel drive cars. The batteries should give the cars a fairly low center of gravity but we don't expect either of these machine to have exceptional handling as the front/front layout is not usually conducive to that. We also don't expect many of the people interested in these cars want to flog them around the local road course either so it really shouldn't be an issue.

Advantage: Even, with further real world data this could change.

Options

The Leaf is available in two trim levels, the standard SV trim level includes an advanced navigation system and internet/smart phone connectivity. The premium SL trim level adds several convenience features, including rearview monitor, fast charge receptacle, solar panel spoiler, fog lights, and automatic headlights for an additional $940. Both trim levels include standard options such as air conditioning, radio, power windows and power door locks. The fast charger is a separate purchase that runs about $2,200 and includes installation by a qualified electrician.

The standard Chevy Volt trim level includes air conditioning, power windows, door locks and a radio. Available options on the Volt include three different colors of premium paint, chrome wheels, rear parking assist and heated leather seats. An à la carte price list has not been published but to add all the premium options to car will cost around $3,600.

Please note that use of any power features, especially air condition will reduce the range of both vehicles. Take that into account when factoring the range in your purchase considerations.

Advantage: Leaf - Both cars have very complete standard trim levels but here we will give the advantage to the Leaf for it's interesting options like the solar spoiler and the fast charge receptacle.

Price

Both of these vehicles are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and may be eligible for some state credits or benefits as well depending on where you live. See our article on state benefits for electric cars for more on this. Some states will credit you $5000 on top of the federal credit which would mean a total savings of $12,500, no small chunk of change.

The Nissan Leaf has a factory MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) of $32,780 in the SV trim level. The SL trim level adds $940 to the price.

The Chevy Volt has a factory MSRP of $41,000, the price including all available regular production options will be $44,600.

Advantage: Leaf - Clearly, comparing dollar to dollar, the Leaf is the winner here. However, if your travel needs require a longer range then the extra premium for the Volt would be justified since you can't just stop at a filling station half way and recharge the Leaf.

Size

Both cars are a similar 5 door design. The Leaf is a hatchback while the Volt is called a lift back as it has a more conventional sedan body style but the entire rear is a hatch as opposed to the trunk lid on a normal sedan.

They are very similar in size, the Volt is two inches longer, the Leaf is 5 inches taller. Weights have not been released by the manufacturers yet as they are still likely looking for weight savings in both vehicles. Both should come in around 3,000 pounds, plus or minus a couple hundred.

Advantage: Even - No real advantage here, the Leaf's height could translate to more headroom but it depends on how high the seats are in the car.

Appearance/Design

In a world of increasingly odd looking electric vehicles these two cars both look surprisingly "normal". The Volt concept vehicle had a very aggressive futuristic look but the production model will share a similar body with the Chevrolet Cruze, a small sedan that will replace the Cobalt.

The Nissan Leaf looks like most any 5 door hatchback on the road except for the very swept windscreen and the bulging rear quarter panels that extended behind the hatch.

Both cars have a very modern look with lots of sweeping lines and some aggressive looking angles in the front.

Advantage: Volt - Aesthetics is a personal thing, some people even liked the looks of the almost universally panned Pontiac Aztec. We can't give an outright advantage here but to say that when polled the Chevy Volt comes out as the winner in the looks department around our office.

Category Wins

Nissan Leaf: 4
Chevrolet Volt: 2
Even: 2
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