The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt take different approaches to environmentally friendly motoring. On the road the Volt is a pleasant cruiser and commuter, while the Leaf is more lively and may appeal more to a driving enthusiast, according to an automobile blog in the New York Times.
Writer Christopher Jensen participated in a test drive for both vehicles in Hell, Mich., which is about 65 miles northwest of Detroit. Journalists at the event were selecting the North American Car and Truck of the Year, and the Volt and the Leaf are among the 14 semifinalists for the 2011 award.
On exterior designs, Nissan favored whimsy, Jensen wrote, while Chevrolet went after a smoother and more energetic look.
Differences are also evident in price. The Volt, a plug-in hybrid, starts at $41,000; the battery-electric Leaf at $33,600. Both cars qualify for federal tax credits of up to $7,500 and potentially for state and local incentives as well.
Also about the same is the cars' overall length: 177.1 inches for the Volt and 175 inches for the Leaf. Empty, the Volt weighs almost 3,800 pounds. Nissan has yet to release the weight of the Leaf. Both have front-wheel drive.
On challenging two-lane roads, the Leaf and Volt each performed well, even traveling at brisk speeds. The Leaf's steering is lighter and has better feel than the Volt's. The Leaf was quicker to head into a turn, and the Volt felt more nose-heavy. There was more of a pause before the Volt began to change direction.
Both cars' bodies felt solid, perhaps partly because their large battery packs provide some additional bracing for vehicles' structures. The ride quality of each car was adequately comfortable even on a broken surface. The feel of the Leaf's brakes was better than the Volt's, on which the pedal felt too soft.
The electric motors in each car provide instant as well as relatively strong and steady acceleration. Chevrolet says the Volt will go from zero to 60 m.p.h. in about 8.5 seconds. Nissan has not released a zero-to-60 time, but a writer for Green Car Advisor recently reported clocking the Leaf at 7.7 seconds. Chevrolet says the Volt can go up to 50 miles on a charge. Nissan says the Leaf will go up to 100 miles.
A benefit of the Volt is that once the battery is depleted, the vehicle can continue on with its gasoline engine providing the electricity. The Leaf is a pure electric car, so once the battery is depleted, the Leaf will need an electrical outlet before it can run again.