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Published on August 18th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan


Why A Nissan LEAF Or Renault ZOE Beats A Mercedes A180, Mercedes C180, Or BMW 320i

August 18th, 2015 by  

Years ago, I did cost comparisons of the Nissan Leaf and “comparable” Nissan gasmobiles. I haven’t been doing such comparisons any longer for one simple reason: it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Basically, the drive quality and convenience level of gasmobiles simply don’t compare to the drive quality and convenience level of electric cars. The smooth, quiet, fast, powerful acceleration of an electric car offers a much better experience for the driver. The ability to spend just a few seconds plugging in when you get home and unplugging when you leave (until this metal snake charger is commonplace, that is), hugely trumps finding a gas station, getting off the road, filling up, paying, getting back in the car, and getting back on the road… while smelling the nasty and toxic stink of gas stations.

Yes, the common “convenience” discussion around electric cars concerns the challenge of charging in public when you need to do so. But that misses the broader perspective and point. For many if not most of us, the convenience of home/workplace charging (something like 95% of charging, depending on the person) vastly outweighs the downside of occasional public charging.

Nissan Leaf

A message from Nissan Leaf owner Brian Kent.

Many people who say that the upfront cost of an electric car is higher than that of a “comparable” gasmobile are basically using factors like the interior trim of the cars and perhaps interior space or gadgets as their comparison values. Again, that simply misses the full picture. If the materials used on your dashboard are really what matter to you, fine — we all have to determine our own values. But I simply can’t imagine many people would weight dashboard materials over drive quality.

Mercedes A180 Side

Mercedes A180

Mercedes C180 Front

Mercedes C180

BMW 320i

BMW 320i. Sorry for the view on this one — I was actually just eager to take a picture of the EV charging station, and wasn’t thinking about taking a nice pic of the 320i….


As I briefly mentioned yesterday, I recently rented a Mercedes A180, Mercedes C180, and a BMW 320i (within the past two months). The bases prices for these are around $36,000, $40,000, and $33,000, respectively, from what I’ve found. Even though I know all about the benefits of electric drive, I was genuinely surprised a bit to experience how poor these vehicles felt compared to even a Nissan Leaf ($29,010 before the US federal tax credit for EVs) or Renault Zoe (~£10,000, or $15,700, + about £70–100, or $110–157 a month for the battery). The drive quality was total crap, imho — another era of technology, an out-of-date era. They were so sluggish, so noisy, so weak and slow. It felt like something was really wrong with them. They were much better than some of the cheaper gasoline-powered cars I’ve rented, but they still felt like they were rotary phones while I had gotten accustomed to cell phones (or smartphones… in the case of Tesla). Or perhaps a more adequate analogy would be that they felt like the computer I was using 10 years ago rather than the much, much quicker, more enjoyable, and sharper one I’m using as I type.

Yes, I enjoyed the quality of the steering wheels, some of the interior materials, and perhaps another feature or two, but it was like moderately enjoying the frame around a picture when I didn’t like the picture. It was like eating a stale, cold piece of pizza rather than a fresh, warm one.

It’s actually very hard to make an adequate comparison, but hopefully the point has been conveyed. And I know that almost anyone who has driven electric cars and gasmobiles knows what I’m talking about. Whether you’re driving a Leaf, a Zoe, en e-Golf, an i3, a Model S, or some other electric car, as soon as you drive a gasmobile again, you can see that EVs will take over the market.

Nissan-Leafs-Barcelona Renault Zoe 5 BMW i3 Barcelona Spain Tesla Model S Brown Amsterdam 3

All images except the first one by Zachary Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica (CC BY-SA)

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Leo

    I live in the south east uk and got a nissan leaf have done 6000 miles in 3 months and luckly have plenty of rapid chargers around me so i dont even charge at home no more. I pop in to the rapid any time I need. I do go often. To london and have been to isle of sheppey and Cornwall 🙂
    Not for everyone tho

    • Wow, in 3 months, you’ve hit the average annual mileage of a Brit.

    • Brent Jatko


  • John Smith

    Great article…I love my Leaf. I have a home charger but more charging stations need to be deployed in some areas. I think the Federal government should offer tax incentives for businesses and municipalities to install more or even pay for them. They paid tons of money to develop the highway system after WWII….

    • Honestly, I keep feeling like I’m missing something. But I rented the C180 again today, the nicest of the 3 gasmobiles, and despite some of the interior benefits, I am again certain the Zoe & Leaf drove much better.

  • Brent Jatko

    I also share the author’s view that range is not a limiting factor for the vast majority of use cases.

  • Brent Jatko

    “The ability to spend just a few seconds plugging in when you get home and unplugging when you leave (until this metal snake charger is commonplace, that is), hugely trumps finding a gas station, getting off the road, filling up, paying, getting back in the car, and getting back on the road… while smelling the nasty and toxic stink of gas stations.”

    This discussion neglects those who don’t have home chargers, though.

    • Kyle Field

      Too true. There are missing components to the full solution for apartment dwellers with assigned parking, with street parking, etc.

      I see several solutions that are being worked in parallel:
      1. Workplace charging can fill some of this (and will help absorb solar overproduction vs peak usage during the day),
      2. Shared charging infrastructure in multi-unit dwellings. A few apartment complexes in my area are installing chargers. These are one of the few use cases where I would imagine users would rather pay a monthly subscription vs a price per hour or per kwh to charge. This presents a tough balance as the complex needs to have as many charging spots as residents who have cars…at or just greater than a 1:1 ratio.
      3. City street charging. As in many of the photos above, cars parked on the street are challenging to charge. Several solutions are in the works for this – charging via manhole cover, charging at lightposts and just normal charging kiosks. As prices continue to drop on L2 charging stations (and even fast charging stations), we will see more innovative implementations to solve this issue.

      I still view this area as an outage / opportunity but feel that we are making good progress in general.

      • Bob_Wallace

        3. Charging at parking meters.

        As long as the outlet is not Level 2+ all that is needed is an outlet and some ‘smarts’ to turn the power on/off and deal with billing.

      • super390

        I’ve been doing some math on ultra-low consumption EVs. Based on the best aerodynamic vehicles of the past, such as the EV1, Solectria Sunrise, and Ford Prove V, I think that it will be feasible to build an EV with a cD of 0.13, a frontal area of about 12 sq feet, and an empty weight of 2000 lbs. This would reduce energy use at 60 mph to under 75 wh/mile. Since we appear to be getting 150 wh/lb batteries soon, that means 2 pounds per mile.
        Now imagine a removable battery pack on wheels, like a suitcase, that you pull out from under the seats. A 25 pound pack gets you 50 miles of range. Two packs get you useful range. Four packs get you up to the 16 kwh requirement for the full Federal subsidy, and 200 miles range.
        Normally, an apartment resident would drive around with only two packs installed, and the other two charging at home using ordinary 110v lines. When he gets home he rolls the two packs inside and moves over the plugs. The car is left with a small battery to run its systems, but not enough power to drive off.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Tossing an extension cord out the window would be a lot less work.

          Realistically, we will eventually need to provide charging outlets for people who live in third floor walk ups. A combination of work/school charging along with EV-only streetside parking placeswill likely be the solution.

        • Kyle Field

          I love the idea and am passionate about finding a way to make ev batteries more standard. I think your concept of modular batteries in standard form factors is an opportunity for the industry.

          This would allow EV manufacturers to purchase EV battery modules from a central provider (panasonic, LG, sony, etc) or from eachother. It also provides a better consumer experience as you mentioned – consumers could add weight/capacity based on driving habits or trip distance. Finally, a modular design allows consumers to more easily upgrade to newer technologies. At the end of the 8-10 year Lion battery life, they could just go by autozone or battery warehouse discount center and swap out their batteries…just like changing a 12v battery in a car today vs the current custom size per car model that most EVs use.

          Can’t wait to see where this tech goes but love how it’s evolving…making the supply chain more standard and flat, improving options for consumers and reducing emissions at the same time 🙂

        • In order for any new technology to truly go mainstream it must be better than the status quo in almost everyway. Swapping out packs or having to drive a small, lightweight vehicle and inherent safety compromises will not go mainstream. Think under 5 minute charge times, light weight battery packs with long range and advanced materials in a full size vehicle. Better in every way will equal prime time.

          • Bob_Wallace

            In order for a new technology to push out an established technology it has to offer better performance/features at a competitive price or a better price with equally good performance/features.

            Swapping out battery packs with a 125 – 150 range would likely be acceptable. Remember, Better Place demonstrated battery swapping in approximately three minutes. A very short stop every couple of hours on a long trip would likely to be acceptable to most.

            But it looks like we won’t need to go that route.

      • Great stuff. Since you bring up the pics, it might be useful for me to give each of them more context, and also what an EV would need there:

        1) at a hotel in the UK. the hotel should install “destination chargers.”

        2) on the street in Amsterdam. Amsterdam city government will install on-street EV chargers if you request them. simple enough, and I think every city should do this. the benefits of EVs far outweigh the costs of chargers.

        3) these were actually EV chargers at a McDonald’s in Eindhoven. (i pulled in because i was lost and to take pictures of the chargers :D)

        4) i think that was in front of a hotel in Barcelona. the funny/awesome thing is that the truck/van right next to me that was doing landscaping, etc. work for the city was electric. not sure what the charging situation was in this area.

        5) at the dealership… i imagine they had their own charger. but didn’t ask and didn’t ask about charging stations in the area.

        6) this was at a landmark in Barcelona where there was an EV expo and test drives. basically, though, was a neighborhood where drivers would need on-street parking.

        7) i don’t remember if it was plugged in or not, but this Model S was sitting in an EV charging space in Amsterdam. behind it is an Opel Ampera that was charging there. they are allowed to leave their cars in the spaces overnight, btw.

        • Kyle Field

          Thanks for the context – I didnt realize there was so much behind each pic (though I should have known better 🙂 ).

          Love that Amsterdam will install street side chargers on demand. So great!! I bet this will become more common as EVs become more prevalent and as charging station cost/install costs drop further.

      • Rick Thurman

        For better or worse, Chicago privatized parking meters a few years ago. We now have “ATM-style” boxes about every half-block in public parking zones. You either put in cash or your debit card, punch in your expected length of time to park, and get a ticket to put in your car. So we’re already treating street parking like a vending machine product. It wouldn’t take too much mental effort to add EV-charging as an option. The real issue would be jealousy from ICE drivers from seeing some of their scarce parking spots given up for EV drivers.
        We also have (in some areas) neighborhood-specific parking zones without the parking meters, only windshield stickers matching your ‘hood’s street signs. Given these twists, I’d just as soon let off-street parking, whether private lots or parking garages, lead the way until EVs become prevalent enough locally to build a constituency capable of fighting these battles indigenously.

        • Kyle Field

          Bob mentioned this. I think it’s a great idea and the fact that they already have some sort of electrical infrastructure every half block or so may make that easier. We have a similar setup in Ventura CA but all the city owned parking meters are solar powered. Great on it’s own…but it doesnt facilitate adding EV charging to parking spots.

    • Yeah, but it depends. In Amsterdam, people can do the same thing with on-street charging. If there isn’t on-street charging (or isn’t enough) on their street, they can ask the government for it and it’ll be there within a couple of months. This should be the norm. I know it is not, but the point is, there are solutions, and if they aren’t being implemented now, we should push for them.

      • Adrian

        In America, we’d have conservatives screaming about government “unfairly competing with companies” if a city tried that. It is still a damned good idea for cities to do, especially cities wishing to revitalize downtown cores.

        Maybe put installation and operation out to bid, and hold the winning bidder very accountable on responsiveness, and open the contract to new bids on a regular schedule – 2 to 3 years…

    • David Galvan

      I have owned my Nissan Leaf for the past 16 months. Never needed a “home charger” (I assume you are referring to a 240V “Level 2” charging station fixed to a wall.). I’ve just used the 110V cable that came with the car. It has been enough to meet my needs (commuting 44 miles per day round trip). At that “Level 1” or “trickle charger” rate, which is about 1.44 kW, you end up charging the battery at about 5% per hour. So, I use about 50% of the battery for my commute, get home by 6 pm and plug in, and the car is back to 100% by ~4 am, before I need it again at 6:30 am. And even if I forget to plug it in, I’ve still got enough for a second round trip to work before I need to charge again.

      If you have access to a regular 110V (American) outlet, you can charge at home.

      • Brent Jatko

        Access to an outlet is actually the main issue for us. The condo complex that we live in would require extra-long extension cords even for 110V charging because the parking allotted for our unit is far from our front door.

        And I’m not positive that our homeowners association would be in favor because the units aren’t individually metered.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Someone needs to market a low cost metered outlet that reads the chip in a credit/debit card and bills the card user for electricity used plus a small ‘user fee’.

          And we need companies that install and maintain systems at apartments, condos, schools, workplaces, etc.

          Take the parking lot owner out of the loop as much as possible.

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