Before I committed to the Nissan Leaf, I test drove many EVs with Zach, whose boundless energy for fitting as much as humanly possible into one day pushed me to my limit of test driving. Here is my refreshed comparison of a Volt versus a Leaf — specifically, a 2017 Chevy Volt vs 2015 Nissan Leaf.
There are a collection of great 2017 reviews out there. I’m adding my notes as an EV novice but one-year driver of a Nissan Leaf, and hope they help some of you to make a decision between these options.
Last year, the Nissan Leaf appealed to me more than any other EV. The Leaf won out of many test drives. The Chevy Volt was nice, but not my favorite. I test drove the 2017 Chevy Volt and walked away with a much-improved opinion. I’m changed — I have more experience in the EV world — and the Volt has changed.
Reservations on 1st Test Drive Last Year
At the time of my first series of test drives, the Nissan Leaf appealed to me because I felt the Nissan Leaf had a wider, more open, and safer field of vision on the road. The back seat experience was better in the Nissan Leaf. Car sickness was not an issue as we felt in the Volt on the first time round.
2017 Chevy Volt LT
Last week I test drove the 2017 Chevy Volt and walked away with a much-improved opinion. I appreciated the smooth drive — 2017 seemed smoother than I remembered. Perhaps the small upgrades and improvements on an already interesting and practical EV went a long way in my new test drive.
What stood out from this year’s test drive?
I am always fixated on visibility. I chose the Nissan Leaf because of all the cars we drove last year the Leaf was second only to the more-expensive BMW i3.
This year’s Chevy Volt has made some impressive if small changes in that regard. The 2017 Chevy Volt appears to have improved visibility. My salesperson suggested the new 2017 Volt had small changes to the side windows. I have not read this on any blogs yet but I felt my vision and visibility driving this newer version was terrific. I was impressed with the depth as well as width or visibility during this test drive.
My sales companion suggested the 2017 Volt front window are the same as before. It seemed to me the field of vision was different due to some deepening of the windows, or slight enlarging of the front passenger’s and driver’s windows. My test drive salesman later confirmed small changes. A little change went a long way.
However, the view from inside the Leaf is still much better. Similarly, I remain unchanged on space as well. The Nissan Leaf back seat is roomy, and my family has experienced no car sickness.
53 miles of electric range combined with backup gasoline range enabling long-distance travel give the 2017 up to 420 miles of range — again, 53 miles of that on electricity.
The range of the Volt vs the Leaf was not a major issue for me last year. I did not want gas in any shape, particulate form, or smell inside my choice for an EV. This year, I admit that the combined range but with a still robust 53 miles of electric range does impress me. This is after I’ve rented gas cars a few times for long-distance trips I wasn’t comfortable attempting in the Nissan Leaf.
The numbers above show how far one can drive on a single charge and a full gas tank. 420 miles without a stop. That is quite impressive. Thinking of traveling more, I find more substance in the reasons for a Volt. I could drive the Appalachians or across North America. One is not using much gas compared to a hybrid or a gasmobile, and you still have ~50 miles of range for normal city driving.
Yes, after a year of charging up when I get to 30 miles of range, the backup security of the Volt has become more appealing than it was last year.
3. Other Changes
One notable change from earlier Volts is the adaptive cruise control. Green Car Reports writes:
“The biggest change in terms of equipment will be the addition of adaptive cruise control as an option on the Premier model.
“The system comes bundled with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning, lane-keep assist, low-speed automatic braking, and intelligent high beams — all of which adds $2,185 to the Volt’s sticker price.”
As I am not as familiar with the previous incarnations of the Chevy Volt, I found the following video thanks to Steve Hanley from our companion site Gas2. It’s great. Another Stephen loaded the video to YouTube for Burien Chevrolet in Washington state.
As noted above, the 2017 Chevy Volt changed stylistically a bit as well. It has a more “athletic” style and stature. For me, the Volt is lower to the ground than I prefer. I am one of those who appreciate the boxier style, and what I consider more futuristic modern styles of the BMW i3 and Leaf. Taste is definitely individual. There are those drivers who have held back on EVs due to the Leaf or i3 style. Many of them, however, are attracted again by the style of the Chevy Volt and Tesla.
4. Convenience or Inconvenience?
There is one thing I must add after reading many posts on how this EV, the Chevy Volt, does away with range anxiety. No doubt, for out-of-state and other long-distance traveling, this is preferable. However, counter to the charging problems proposed in some blogs about an all-electric car like the 1st-gen Nissan Leaf, I have not had problems living with the Leaf for over one year … even without home charging.
With a 2015 Leaf (84 miles of official range), I feel a bit overcharged at times. By the time I return a library book, buy some groceries, or walk the Marina, the Leaf is charged. I never feel I am waiting on the charge to finish, more rushed to be back in time out of a consideration for other EV drivers wanting the spot to charge.
My charging is so seamless that I hardly ever spend any time planning it in. Or, if I am planning, it is automatic and without bother — even when going out of town to St. Petersburg (~1 hour north). Charging doesn’t seem challenged by a lack of time in my day. It became an automatic shift in my habits early on. Charging the Leaf uses a half hour to an hour most days, and there are several places to charge where I have things to do that require 30 minutes to 1 hour … or more.
As a primarily urban driver, I think I am still better off with Nissan Leaf. Traveling long distances is still something I prefer to by train — Florida is just a bit behind the times with this mode, which leads to an occasional rental car. I veer one more time to this subject. Last month, I interviewed a variety of strangers on EVs and Florida transportation in general. 95% of whom were successful professionals, living in high-priced condos on the Gulf shores or nice houses near the beaches. Quizzically, I wonder still how and why Florida governor Rick Scott managed to turn down more rail in Florida. We all, every single person I interviewed, wanted high-speed or any-speed rail between all Florida cities. We all prefer metro travel and sanity to the awful traffic we deal with instead. No one I talked with — out of the dozens — wanted to be stuck with only the choice of the car all the time. (Or a rather slow ICE bus system). Everyone would prefer to ride rail.
Ideally, we will become a country — a planet — of multi-modal choices, but with electric or human-powered vehicles the only vehicles. Ideally, mobility will become fully based on many clean air choices.
Related story: Lightspeed Transformation From Test Drive