Chevy Volt Vs. Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
They both deliver smooth, all-electric power. They both plug into the wall to recharge their battery packs. And after three years, they're still the first and second best-selling plug-in electric cars in the U.S.
So which one is right for you: the Nissan Leaf, or the Chevrolet Volt?
Both electric cars run on energy stored in a built-in lithium-ion battery pack. The EPA rates the current Leaf's electric range at 84 miles, after which you'll need to recharge its battery--almost certainly using a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station.
The Volt has an EPA-rated range of only half that -- 38 miles -- on its battery, but it has a kicker: Unlike the Leaf, the Volt carries a small engine that's used as a "range extender". When the Volt's battery is completely drawn down, the engine switches on and turns a generator that provides electricity to power the electric motor that drives its front wheels. (Under very limited circumstances, the engine also contributes power directly to turn the wheels, but the driver will never know -- the experience behind the wheel is always that of an electric car, with smooth, quiet power and strong acceleration away from stops.)
Recharging the latest Leafs has gotten quicker. A full recharge used to take 6 to 9 hours using the Level 2 charging station with earlier models, but an uprated onboard charger in 2013 and later models cuts that time almost in half. Still, a Leaf relies entirely on its battery pack.
After the Volt's 35 to 45 miles on electricity, on the other hand, it'll run for another 300 or so miles on gasoline. Fill the tank, it'll do another 300 miles on gasoline. For the 78 percent of U.S. drivers who never exceed 40 miles a day, a Volt that's recharged nightly could effectively run forever as an electric car--never switching on its gasoline engine, achieving gas mileage close to infinity. The Volt's combined fuel efficiency, though -- the EPA says it's 37 mpg when the engine is running--will depend entirely on each driver's blend of electric and gas-powered driving.
The Nissan Leaf is a straightforward proposition and easier to understand in some ways than the Volt. Leaf drivers will have to think more about how they drive and how they use their electric car. Its battery gives the Leaf an effective driving range of somewhere between 60 and 90 miles, perhaps more if drivers accelerate slowly and smoothly, and don't use the Leaf in very hot or very cold weather. On medium-speed flat roads, without using air conditioning, heat, or the radio, some drivers may net a total Leaf range of more than 100 miles on a single full charge of the battery. That's rare, though -- a range of 65 to 80 miles is about right in typical mixed use.
In part, the right choice depends on what the buyer prioritizes. Some don't want to use any oil, period--but others can't fit their daily driving needs into 100 miles, or may not think they can. And other factors affect how you'll use these vehicles--one of the most important being being the number passengers and volume of stuff you need to carry. That's where the Leaf comes out on top. The Volt seats four and has only a shallow load deck; the Leaf seats five and its more upright styling and vertical hatch give it more cargo space.
Both the Leaf and the Volt can be charged at home via a conventional 120-Volt outlet, although a Volt will charge completely overnight on wall-socket power, while a Leaf will take 12 to as much as 22 hours. Using a specially installed 240-Volt Level 2 charging station, the Leaf takes 6 to to 9 hours. For 2013, Nissan shifted Leaf assembly to the U.S. and now offers a standard 6.6-kilowatt charger on most models that will provide full charging in about four hours. The Detroit-built Volt will recharge in less than three hours using a Level 2 charging station, but roughly half of all Volt owners are content to use standard wall current and recharge their car each night.