With last week’s unveiling of Nissan’s second-generation Leaf, people can now focus less on comparing the Chevy Bolt to the dissimilar Tesla Model 3, and look at a closer matchup.
Such apple-versus-orange comparisons can be explained however. Including the just-revealed Leaf, there are but three new-generation EVs priced below $40,000 with longer range than first-generation 62-124 milers. Media and consumers have thus inevitably compared Tesla’s Euroesque sedan to the utilitarian Chevy crossover, but Nissan is now here.
Or, it is in Japan where production at the Oppama plant has begun churning them out for domestic sales, and Nissan says the all-new front-wheel drive hatchback will arrive in other markets including North America by early 2018.
But now here’s where things get complicated: While the Leaf is aimed at the Bolt’s demographic, there are perceptive pros and cons to the value proposition of each, so actually, this is not a clear apple-to-apple lineup either.
That’s the case especially for year one, as Nissan, in positioning the 2018 Leaf with a smaller 40-kWh battery lifted from the top-selling Euro-market Renault ZOE with 150 miles EPA-rated range versus the 60-kWh Bolt’s 238-mile range. The $30,875 (with destination) entry Leaf is also $6,620 less than the entry $37,495 Chevrolet – thus avoiding Chevrolet’s attempt to position its new EV above Tesla’s $36,000 entry point Model 3.
In 2019 it’s reported Nissan will offer a 60-kWh or so pack in a more-expensive Leaf delivering 225 miles putting it in the 200-mile club along with the aforementioned other two 200 milers at this price point. By then, look for competitors available or on the horizon from Hyundai, Kia, BMW, VW, and more, but for today’s shopper, we’ll run down a few of the differences between the Nissan and Chevy.
Nissan has sold over 270,000 Leafs and it is the best selling EV worldwide. Chevrolet’s new Bolt EV has about 12,000 in the bag since last December and it just reached national distribution in the U.S.
GM is no novice however. It built and killed the 1996-1999 EV1, has sold over 120,000 extended-range Volts, a handful of Spark EVs and Cadillac ELRs, CT-6 PHEVs, and has a host of global projects and concepts under its belt.
Last year on a conference call with GM engineers overseeing the Bolt project, their genuine pride in what they had built could not be concealed. It did not seem like hype as they expressed confidence in an EV that had 1,000 engineers tasked to 55 test mules that did not skip beta testing but were throughly shaken down. The car was to be a showcase of in-house tech and was done in collaboration with LG of Korea.
As for Nissan, its engineering skills are well documented, and the new Leaf is evolved from real-world lessons learned, and addresses some if not all concerns the first 2011-2016 model had – which saw range increases from 73 miles originally to 84 and ultimately 107.
Nissan increased horsepower for the new “e-powertrain” to 147, and torque is 236 pounds-feet. Chevrolet offers 200 horsepower and 266 pounds-feet of torque.
Prior to track testing of the new Leaf, acceleration is a guess, but estimates have been as low as 8 seconds by Motor Trend which uses a “rollout method” to gain a few tenths of a second to somewhere below 9 seconds. The Bolt zips to 60 mph in around 6.5 documented seconds – not surprising with a comparable mid-3,000s curb weight and more power on tap.
As noted, the new Leaf has a 40-kWh battery, and Bolt gets 60 Kwh. The Bolt’s pack is liquid thermally managed (cooled) and it is heated as well to manage temperatures. The Leaf’s appears to be similar to what was offered before – no liquid cooling, so it saves in expense on the both the size of the pack, and the critical cooling aspect.
Batteries, like humans, prefer temperate climates. Nissan from the beginning insisted its 2011 Leaf was good to go with the way it engineered it. Early adapters in Arizona, Texas, and California soon said otherwise and screamed bloody murder over accounts of abysmal range loss within two years of ownership until Nissan addressed their concerns. It updated the warranty, ultimately revised the battery chemistry, but has never added as sophisticated a thermal management system that GM, Tesla, and others use – and range loss reports were more frequent for even the improved Leafs.
The Bolt on the other hand adapts lessons learned from the Volt. Aiming not just to avoid excessive warranty claims, GM has said its goal is to make a battery last acceptably for the life of a car. The definition of “life” may be under 200,000 miles, and cars may go longer, time will tell, but GM has done more to ensure longevity.
The new Leaf no longer looks like a frog as early focus groups had asked Nissan to do so they could stand out more clearly than even Toyota Prius drivers.
As had been reported would be the case, the 2018 model assumes a mainstream look, blending in advanced design language from the IDS concept car shown in 2015 and fits the family line.
Chevrolet made the Bolt into a taller box on wheels to create cargo space and utility closer to the gen-one Leaf. Called a compact crossover, its interior volume is actually midsized on paper.
Inside, both cars offer expected details like smartphone-compatible infotainment, comfortable heated seats, sufficient room for five, and neat attention to detail here and there to give their own personal experience.
Buyers will decide which looks more attractive. Exterior design is usually cited as the first or second-most important aspect in a list of considerations new car shoppers base their choices on. Both will have their fans, and to each his own.
Miscellaneous Pros and Cons
While Nissan sandbagged on its entering the 200-mile range club for year one, the 2018 Leaf adds value by including level 2 semi-autonomous “ProPilot” software and E-pedal regen for improved ability to stop the car just with regenerative braking.
The Bolt has caught flak for avoiding Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) for this year, though Bolt watchers are waiting to see if the 2018 model gets it – it would be a logical move if GM does choose to do so.
For now the Nissan offers this and its “e-Pedal” regen-based stopping, and according to an early test drive review by Motor Trend, does Chevrolet – and Tesla – one better.
“In its transmission’s Low mode, the Bolt will come to a one-pedal stop without touching the friction brakes, but the deceleration rate isn’t always enough,” writes MT’s Kim Reynolds. “E-Pedal leapfrogs both [Chevrolet and Tesla] with a deceleration rate of 0.2 g’s (covering 90 percent of real-driver stopping, Nissan says) and comes to a complete stop (including automatic friction braking, if necessary).”
If the stop is on a hill, the Leaf’s motor holds the car at a standstill and after a pause both feet can be removed from the pedals, a handy feature.
The Bolt (and BMW i3) do this as well, but if the hill gets too steep they will start to slip downhill. In the Bolt, a quick tap on the brake pedal will put it into friction braking Hill Assist mode and you can then take your foot off the brake pedal.
The Bolt does have a very effective regen paddle behind the steering wheel, and its regen effect is otherwise strong. These systems are a novel way to stop while saving wear on the friction brakes, and have the extra added bonus of feeding enough electrons to the battery to supply a few miles range over the course of a drive.
Another area both cars miss is any sort of Tesla-like DC fast charging network, and even DC fast charging capability is an option. It costs about $1,600 extra for the Leaf and $750 for the Bolt, putting the Bowtie brand ahead here.
The Leaf also uses the CHAdeMO standard while Chevrolet uses the SAE CCS standard being favored by more automakers selling in the U.S. At this stage charge rate is a question, but both ought to be roughly comparable, although the smaller battery in the Leaf naturally means it will become full faster.
Both cars are positioned as regional runners, with the Bolt a better candidate for long-distance trips, and likely to be an only car for more people, not just a second car.
As has been observed abundantly by EV advocates, 100 miles range is enough for most daily needs, 150 ought to be plenty and compares to some gas cars from yesteryear, but buyers wanting a bigger range buffer will feel more comfortable with the Bolt’s extra 88 miles.
As noted by Motor Trend, the Leaf will “probably lag in a three-EV drag race” between the Bolt and faster Model 3, but 0-60 mph or quarter mile times are just one aspect of a whole picture.
Around town the Leaf ought to be quite satisfying, and the previous generation had already featured commercials boasting of its instant torque winning stoplight drags. It was quick to 45 mph and the new one might feel peppier, but the Bolt will surely beat it with its 0-30 mph time of 2.9 seconds.
Handling wise, both cars carry their batteries in the floor for a low center of gravity. The Bolt – with thinking adapted from the Spark EV which had 400 pounds-feet of torque – carries forth the pocket rocket ethos, and does a passing imitation of a hot hatch.
Chevrolet was so sure of this that last month it invited media to Detroit to sample Bolts on an autocross course, and even brought out a Golf GTI with stickier tires and lots of power to show how closely they compare.
The Leaf appears to build on the platform of what came before, and will be fun enough, but don’t be surprised if the Bolt feels more adroit and fleet footed.
Nissan has said a Nismo version will address the need for speed, but news on that model’s release has yet to come.
Price was partially addressed up top, and to carry on, Nissan says the Leaf is aimed now at a mainstream buyer – that means it wants it to be an alternative to the Versa, Corolla, Civic, Cruze, and Golf, etc. buyers of the world. The Bolt too is supposed to be aimed at the mythical mainstream buyer.
At least that’s the sales pitch, but the Bolt has not achieved mainstream sales volume with its best months seeing a bit over 2,000 sales, analysts not predicting more, and time will tell if Nissan can break that glass ceiling either.
To give it a helping hand, unlike Chevrolet, Nissan clearly undercut the price of the Model 3 and does not even pretend to make it in the same league. Chevrolet actually priced its car above the TM3 which for now is not available at “$35,000” plus destination, but is supposed to be in time.
Between the Bolt and Leaf, actual street prices will be another question. Both the $30,875-and-up Leaf and $37,495-and-up Bolt are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and potential state incentives. In their biggest market, California, after discounting, don’t be surprised to see Bolts net for mid 20s and Leafs for low 20s or below 20.
Those are mainstream prices, but of course buyers must front the money before receiving incentives back. Also, more consumers and the dealers that sell to them must have their minds tuned into the benefits of EVs. At present, in the USA, crossover- and SUV-conscious Americans and the dealers that sell to them are not excessive tuned into EV benefits, and they hold just 0.60 percent of the market.
The good news is the picture is getting brighter. And, to help that, both cars are a fresh start, offer much more than was available from pure electric cars even last year, and it’s onward from here.