Why A Nissan Leaf Is A Better Choice Than A Chevy Volt. Maybe.


Auto makers have gradually begun introducing their own interpretations of the plug-in electric vehicle, still a fairly unfamiliar concept to most consumers. Since their strategies are all a little different, it can be difficult to do across-the-board comparisons. Two big players, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, have been developed with slightly different strategies, but could ultimately appeal to similar types of customers. CNET has produced a "Prizefight" between the two, picking an overall winner based on the results of four "rounds" of head-to-head evaluations. The Leaf gets their pick, but barely. A total of 40 points (10 for each round) were available to each contender. The highest cumulative score claimed the knock-out. Here's how they scored the fight, and why.

Round 1 - Looks
Leaf: 6 points
Volt: 7 points
The Leaf has a very Japanese look to it from all angles. It's the kind of thing you picture people in Japan actually driving around, but not really fitting in with cars Americans drive, or want to drive. Narrator Brian Cooley points out its catfish mouth which would tend to have more relevance in eastern cultures, where art tends to reflect nature. The Volt seems to fit in nicely with what we're used to, while remaining aggressive enough not to be boring. I'd have to agree here, although the Volt should have won this round by a bigger margin.

Round 2 - Range & Strandability
Leaf: 7 points
Volt: 8 points
This is where the comparison isn't necessarily 100% fair. The Leaf advertises a 100 mile range, while the Volt will only go 40 miles on a single charge. If the Leaf sounds like the obvious winner, it's not that simple. After 100 miles, when the Leaf has lost its spark, that's it. It's not going anywhere without another charge. The Volt's range extender engine can charge its batteries on the fly, so you can keep driving beyond its 40 electric-only miles. Both cars are intended for average to short commutes, but the advantage goes to the Volt for peace of mind in the form of one of the oldest car features there is: a gas tank. Again, I think CNET's judgment here will hold true for most Americans.

Round 3 - Connectivity
Leaf: 8 points
Volt: 7 points
Both EV's boast cellphone apps, navigation, and data access without wires - all things we are beginning to expect from the next generation of automobiles. The Leaf wins round 3 because it provides charging network information to your fingertips. Although the Volt's range extender engine will remove some of the pressure to find a charging point, drivers of Chevy's little lightning bolt will be looking for any opportunity to plug it in (if for no other reason than to show it off!) For early EV adopters, knowing where they'll get their next charge will be critical, and the bottom line is, the Leaf will show them.

Round 4 - Price
Leaf: 8 points
Volt: 6 points
The Volt and Leaf both have been given price tags under $30k, which is a lot for normal cars their size. The fact is, the first round of any alternative fuel vehicle will seem overpriced next to its conventional counterparts. Green car shoppers looking for a bargain still want to know they are getting the best bang for their buck, so the Leaf is at a definite advantage with its lower retail price of $25,000 (after rebates). The Volt is expected to cost somewhere between the Leaf and $30,000 (also after rebates), meaning some buyers will need specific reasons to spend more on it. Although the higher (still unknown) price could be a hindrance to Volt sales (I doubt it), I'm not sure why CNET decided on a 2-point margin for this round. Had they given the Volt a 7, the overall match would have ended in a tie, which would have been a fair assessment if you ask me.

Since neither of these vehicles has been available publicly yet, and they are among the first of their kind, it's hard to tell which will do better. I would personally chose the Volt. Although a single charge would only get me to work and part way home, I prefer the warm fuzzy feeling of having at least a small tank of fuel on which to rely, should I run out of battery juice. Oh, and I think the Leaf is really ugly. Check out the video of CNET's evaluation and decide for yourself. Which one would you name the winner, and for what reasons?

[CNET]

 
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