2017 Chevrolet Volt vs. 2017 Nissan Leaf: Compare Cars

December 9, 2016
2017 Chevrolet Volt

2017 Chevrolet Volt

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For the last five years, the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf have been the two best-selling plug-in electric cars in the U.S. 

This year, however, a new last year Chevy Volt faces off against a Nissan Leaf that looks identical to earlier models but offers a new and class-leading range rating of 107 miles--up notably from last year's base model 84 miles. The new Volt delivers more electric miles too: 53 of them, per the EPA, against the 38 miles of the preceding model.

So which one should you buy (or lease)--the extended-range Volt, or the updated Leaf with more driving range?

(A note: we've changed our vehicle ratings and rankings system.)

MORE: Read our latest 2017 Nissan Leaf and 2017 Chevrolet Volt reviews

Leaf sales have flagged over the past 18 months, and the added range is expected to boost them to some degree. The new Volt, meanwhile, is sleeker, better-equipped, faster, quieter, and more powerful. 

The two cars take different approaches to driving on electricity from the power grid, but there are many similarities. Each powers its front wheels mostly or entirely with an electric motor. Each has an onboard charger, so owners can plug the cars into charging stations or wall sockets to recharge their lithium-ion battery packs.

Both are five-door hatchbacks with compact-car footprints, though the Leaf has more interior volume than its size might indicate--and the Volt has less. The Leaf can seat five adults in a pinch, while the Volt has four seats and a fifth "seating position" that's really only a padded hump on the battery pack, with a seat belt but no headrest. It's fine for a short trip with a lithe teenager, but you wouldn't want to try to put a larger adult back there.

The Nissan Leaf is a simpler and more straightforward proposition that's far easier to explain than the Volt. It's a "pure" electric car, powered only by its battery, while the Chevy requires more context--which its maker has notably failed to provide to the mass market so far. The Volt runs entirely on battery power for about half the Leaf's range. Then it switches seamlessly over to run as a hybrid for another 300-plus miles, at a fuel economy of 42 mpg combined.

The design of the Leaf has always been polarizing, with some saying it's distinctive and futuristic while others deem it ugly, sometimes vociferously. It's an upright car with a drooping and curvaceous nose, swept-back headlights, and high vertical taillights. The new Volt is much sleeker and appears lower than the Leaf (and than its predecessor), with a steeply raked windshield, angled accents lines, and a hatch that's almost horizontal, ending in a high tail that's well integrated into its fastback shape.

2016 Chevrolet Volt, first drive in California, July 2015

2016 Chevrolet Volt, first drive in California, July 2015

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2016 Chevrolet Volt, first drive in California, July 2015

2016 Chevrolet Volt, first drive in California, July 2015

Enlarge Photo
2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf

Enlarge Photo
2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf

Enlarge Photo

On the road, is hushed inside until about 40 mph, when wind and tire noise start to filter in. Behind the wheel, everything works smoothly, quietly, and as predicted, but there's little feedback, leading some to call it "appliance-like"--not as much of an insult in our eyes as to others. The new Volt is remarkably smooth and quiet even when its range-extending engine has switched on--significantly more so than the previous generation, which was still very good compared to hybrids like the Toyota Prius. But for handling and roadholding, the Volt is the more rewarding of the two, with a sportier feel than the Leaf.

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