Ford Versus Ferrari? No, Nissan versus Chevrolet.

In Pennsylvania, as in much of the country, the choice of electric cars under $50,000 is sorely limited. Both the Hyundai Kona EV and the Kia Niro EV, which have more than 200 mile range and are both under $40,000, are currently the darlings of the electric car press. Neither are sold in Pennsylvania.  This leaves the Nissan Leaf Plus, the Chevy Bolt, and the Tesla Model 3 as the three contenders sold here at this time.

The Tesla Model 3 comes in 3 levels, with the Standard Plus coming in for a 250 mile range, making it the level that is comparable to the Nissan and Chevy. For the Model 3 specifically, the MSRP is $39,490.  Destination charges and fees are an additional $1,200 and the current Federal Tax Credit is $1,875 through the end of 2019.  There is also a $1,500 Pennsylvania rebate for the purchase of an electric car. All Teslas come with driver assistance features including emergency braking, collision warning, and blind-spot monitoring.  As these were important for us, I am including these features in the comparisons.

The sale price for the Tesla comes to $37,315, not including taxes or other registration fees. Of the three potential electrics, the Tesla was the most expensive.  Much has been written about the Model 3 and we did not test drive it.  We did not consider the Tesla Model 3 primarily due to the higher net cost, and some concerns about manufacturing quality; however, for the reader interested in the Tesla, do not let our judgments cloud yours.

Linda and I had the opportunity to test drive both the Leaf Plus and the Bolt and our comments are listed below.  Although I will be talking about the Leaf throughout, it should be understood that it is the Leaf Plus with the bigger battery and range that is our focus.

Nissan LeafChevy Bolt
Trim LevelSV Plus w/ Technology PackageLT with Driver Confidence Packages I and II
Motor214 hp front wheel drive200 hp front-wheel drive
Battery (kWh)6260
Range (miles)215238
Mpg-e104 combined119 combined
Curb Weight (lbs)3,7803,563
Wheelbase (in)106.3102.4
DC Charge Cable IncludedYes$750 option

There were a number of criteria important to our decision in choosing a vehicle.  Side-by-side, here are our judgments.

Safety Features. We wanted both vehicles to have advanced safety features such as blind spot monitoring and collision avoidance.

Included in the Technology package (which could not be added on to the base S model)-Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection , Intelligent Forward Collision Warning , Blind Spot Warning , Rear Cross Traffic Alert , Intelligent Lane Intervention 

Included in the Driver Confidence Packages I and II – Rear Park Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Alert with Side Blind Zone Alert, Low Speed Forward Automatic BrakingForward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Following Distance Indicator, Front Pedestrian Braking, IntelliBeam automatic high beam headlamps

Conclusion: Both Leaf and Bolt have all the safety features we would want.

Instrument:  The layout of the instrument panel is a concern for us.  We need to be able to drive the car and monitor performance and controls without being distracted.  We are concerned that a 100% touch screen approach would not be safe.

Instruments were clearly marked in front of the driver, with the usual range of speed controls, audio, and phone on the steering wheel.  The 8-inch touchscreen in the dashboard to the right contains more information on performance, phone and audio settings, and climate control indicators. The climate controls are actually on a button panel below the screen, but it is intuitive.

Instruments were clearly marked in front of the driver, with the usual range of speed controls, audio, and phone on the steering wheel.  The 10.2-inch touchscreen in the dashboard to the right contains more information on performance, phone and audio settings, and climate control indicators.

Conclusion: Both the Leaf and Bolt instrument panel layouts were intuitive and easy to use without distracting from driving.

Handling and Street Performance

The Leaf handled well and compared to other compact sized cars such as the Corolla or Civic.  We did not use the special e-pedal feature to brake, which would have reduced the distance to a stop.  

The Bolt was more nimble than the Leaf and handled and cornered well, as would be expected from a smaller car.

Conclusion: The Bolt was clearly the better driving experience.  Being lighter and smaller, it handled better than the larger and heavier Leaf.

Seating Comfort

The car could clearly seat 4 adults comfortably; putting in a 5thadult might have been a bit tight.  Leg room and head room both in front or back was good, but neither of us are tall people.

Even though the Bolt was a smaller car than the Leaf, there was still adequate seating room for 4 adults.  The potential for a 5thadult was definitely not there.

Conclusion: For everyday driving, with two adults, both the Leaf and Bolt are comfortable.  Should there be a need for carrying 5 adults, the Leaf could manage and the Bolt could not.

Driver Vision

Vision from the driver’s side to the rear and to the left and right rear was generally unobstructed. Even without the additional safety features, we were able to see around us.

Vision from the driver’s side to the rear and to the left and right rear was generally unobstructed. Even without the additional safety features, we were able to see around us.

Conclusion: Independent from the driver assist technologies, both the Leaf and Bolt had mostly unobstructed 360 degree views from the driver’s side.

Cargo Space

At 23.6 square feet, the Leaf has enough room for two suitcases, or several bags of groceries, without folding down the rear seats.  The folded seats do not go flush with the trunk floor, as there are batteries underneath. This diminishes the overall rear cargo area.

At 16.9 square feet, the Bolt can barely hold two small suitcases or three bags of groceries.  As with the Leaf, the folded down seats do not go flush with the trunk floor.

Conclusion: The Leaf has enough cargo space in the trunk area to do light shopping or travelling.  The Bolt has minimal cargo space in the trunk area, reminiscent of what you get in a two-seater roadster like the Miata.

DC Fast Charger (Level 2). An essential extra to be able to charge on the road.

Included in Trim Level

$750 additional

Cost as equipped

$32,205MSRP of $41,205 less $7,500 Federal Tax Credit less $1,500 Pennsylvania State Rebate

$36,415MSRP of $39,790 less $1,875 Federal Tax Credit (expiring December 31, 2019) less $1,500 Pennsylvania State Rebate

Discussion

Both the Leaf and Bolt appear to be more than adequate cars for in-town driving and short trips.  The Bolt is smaller, but more nimble.  The Leaf has more cargo room and much more usable cargo room than the Bolt.  The Leaf uses the CHAdeMO fast charging standard, while the Bolt uses the more common CCS standard.  Currently, there are more CCS fast chargers out there than CHAdeMO fast chargers; however the caveat for now is that either car is more or less limited to short trips and in-town driving.  Unfortunately, this seems like the old VHS/Beta wars over standards, which hopefully gets resolved before most everyone is driving electrics. For now, place your bets.  

Before rebates and credits, the Bolt is $1,500 cheaper than the Leaf Plus with a longer range.  Because the Chevy Volt took most of the Federal credits sales for Chevy, the Bolt only has a $1,875 tax credit attached to it.  Sales of the Leaf have been slow since the beginning, I believe primarily due to the limited range of early Leaf models.  For now, the Leaf has a $7,500 Federal Credit, and when added to the Pennsylvania State Rebate, offers you a $9,000 discount on the vehicle.  On this basis alone, the Leaf Plus is the better value.

Verdict

What ultimately decided the choice of vehicle for us was the cargo space, with the Leaf winning hands down. As either car would have to be our all-purpose shopping and transport vehicle, cargo space was important.  The configuration of the Leaf cargo space was also more friendly to activities such as grocery shopping.

If you generally have a small family (1 or 2 adults) and are planning to pair your driving with another vehicle for longer trips, go with Leaf Plus.  The 216 mile range takes it to the same class of electric car as other contenders. For now, you have to go to another state or spend much more (Tesla Model 3 or Model S) to get above 240 miles in range.

If you plan to make this your only car and plan to use it for trips and you can live with the smaller cargo space, go with the Bolt.  The charging standard (CCS) is more common and the range is greater.  The cost differential between the Leaf or Bolt is small enough to not be the only criteria

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