Back-to-Back Drives in the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt take different approaches to
environmentally friendly motoring, and they look about as dissimilar as
Laurel and Hardy. But how do they compare on the road? While Nissan and
Chevrolet have recently allowed some journalists to drive their vehicles
at separate events, I had the opportunity last week for a rare
back-to-back turn at the wheel.
The location was Hell, Mich., some 65 miles northwest of Detroit. The
occasion was a comparison drive of 2011 models being considered by the
50 automotive journalists who select the North American Car and Truck of
the Year. Both the Volt and the Leaf are among the 14 semifinalists for
the 2011 award.
Nissan and Chevrolet clearly had much different ideas about their
exterior designs. Nissan favored whimsy, while Chevrolet went after a
smoother and more energetic look that it presumably deemed more suitable
for a vehicle with a name as dramatic as Volt.
There are distinct prices differences, too. 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.
The cars are about the same 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
Hell was not chosen for its charming Halloween-friendly name, but
because it is surrounded by challenging two-lane roads. On those roads,
the Leaf and Volt each felt quite at home, even traveling at brisk
speeds. The Leafís steering is lighter and has better feel than the
Voltís, although the electric Nissan is hardly awash in feedback. 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.
One significant factor in the handling dynamics may be the carsí
different weight distribution. Brian Brockman, a Nissan spokesman, says
the Leafís front-rear weight distribution is close to the ideal of
50/50. A General Motors spokesman, Nick Richards, said the Volt carried
about 60 percent of its weight up front, which would make it somewhat
Both carsí bodies felt solid, perhaps partly because their large battery
packs provide some additional bracing for vehiclesí structures. Even
under hard cornering the body lean on each is nicely controlled, a
benefit of the weighty batteries sitting low in the vehicles.
The grip is more than adequate, although their low-rolling resistance
tires ultimately provide less cornering grip than a conventional tire.
The ride quality of each car was adequately comfortable even on a broken
surface. The feel of the Leafís brakes was better than the Voltís, on
which the pedal felt too soft.
The electric motors in each car provide instant as well as relatively
strong and steady acceleration, a reminder that under the right
circumstances electricity can be a great playmate.
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. Those distances seem feasible with
gentle driving, which is not what happened in Hell.
Of course, a benefit of the Volt is that once the battery is depleted
after some hearty, dynamic frolics, the Chevrolet can continue on with
its gasoline engine providing the electricity. For the time being, with
a general lack of electric-car infrastructure, the Volt provides its own.
The Leaf is a pure electric car, which may give it environmental
bragging rights among those who abhor fossil fuels, but there may be a
penalty for extended goofing around: you could end up walking. Once the
battery is depleted, the Leaf becomes yard art until it gets a good,
long suckle at an electric outlet.
But what the electric tour of Hell showed is that when it comes to ride
and handling, these are real cars with different dynamic natures. The
Volt is a pleasant cruiser and commuter, while the Leaf is more lively
and may appeal more to a driving enthusiast, albeit a driving enthusiast
on a leash.
Service Guarantees Citizenship
Would You Like To Know More?
Click to see the full signature.