EV Showdown: 2012 Chevy Volt vs. 2012 Nissan Leaf

Gas guzzling dinosaurMillions of years ago, giant dinosaurs roamed the earth. Then something happened, they died, and Exxon now sucks their liquefied remains from the earth’s crust so we can fuel our own 4-wheeled dinosaurs.

Okay, that might not be the most scientifically accurate description of where oil comes from, but it’s a pretty good way to describe the process. It also sheds light on why alternative fuel vehicles have started to become popular. Our planet only has so much oil to give up, and it gets more expensive by the day. Electric vehicles are a logical alternative to oil consuming cars. However, the lack of a meaningful charging infrastructure have always left EVs outside the realm of possibility for most people. Until now that is…

2012 Nissan Leaf

2012 Nissan LeafMost EVs are either regular vehicles that have been converted to run on electricity or, they’re designed to be an electric vehicle from the beginning. In which case, they usually look like the love-child of R2-D2 and an electric pencil sharpener (i.e. the 2012 Mitsubishi iMIEV). But the 2012 Nissan Leaf doesn’t fall into either category. It was designed to be like…any other hatchback.

Open the hood on a 2012 Nissan Leaf and you’ll find what appears to be a 4-cyl valve cover, with a big blue Nissan logo on it. Of course, it’s actually the 80-kW electric transformer/motor which produces the equivalent of 107-hp & 207 ft-lb of torque. But it was made to look like a conventional gas engine. By contrast, the motor in the 2012 Mitsubishi i looks like the underside of a VCR.

On the inside, the 2012 Nissan Leaf looks like any other fashion statement hybrid. There’s a big iPad-looking info display glued to the center of the dash, with twin level battery system displays hiding behind the two-toned steering wheel. The center console plays host to a ‘gear selector’ that looks like a computer mouse from the year 2055. But the rest of the interior looks like any other upscale hatchback. The seats are comfy. There’s plenty of room for people and cargo. Plus there’s enough sound insulation to quell most road noise.

Outside, the 2012 Nissan Leaf does have some funky looking headlights. But they were actually designed to funnel air up & around the side mirrors. Contributing to the Nissan Leaf ‘s unusually quiet interior.

On the road the 2012 Nissan Leaf has the acceleration and handling characteristics of any run-of-the-mill 4-pot hatchback. The gas pedal (or should i say volt pedal?) and brakes do take a minute to get used to. But the overall experience is very familiar, which is kind of the point. Nissan wanted to make an electric vehicle that anyone would feel comfortable with. And they’ve largely succeeded.

Another key to the mainstream acceptance of EVs like the 2012 Nissan Leaf is the growing EV charging station infrastructure. In the last several years, the number of EV charging stations has swelled from several hundred nationwide, to well over 10,000. Add to that, the commercialization of quick charge stations (for a fee, these will give your 2012 Nissan Leaf a full charge in 30 minutes vs. 7 hours with a 240v home charger and 14 hours with a 110v plug), and driving an EV in a metropolitan area suddenly becomes feasible for a lot of people. Granted, you’ll have to plan around the Leaf’s 73 mile (est) range. But that’s easily enough to handle most urban commutes.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevy VoltWhile the Nissan Leaf will leave you on the side of the road if you exceed its range, the 2012 Chevy Volt won’t. It’s powered by a 111 kW electric motor, which is driven by a 55 kW generator, which is driven by a 1.4 liter gas motor. The gas motor never powers the wheels directly, it simply revs to a constant rpm, powering the generator. Plug the 2012 Chevrolet Volt into a 240v charger, and 4 hours later, you’ll have 35 miles of all-electric propulsion (it takes 10 hours on a 110v plug). Once your 35 miles are up, the gas engine kicks in with an additional 340 miles of range.

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt offers the best, tree-friendly qualities of an EV, with the unlimited range of gas drinker. You can use it for errands around town, then fill up and go see grandma two states over. The 2012 Nissan Leaf certainly feels more mainstream, but you couldn’t rely on it as your only vehicle. The 2012 Chevy Volt on the other hand, would work well as the sole transporter for most people.

Some concessions to this innovative design are the lack of 5 seats. The lithium-ion battery pack lives in a tunnel that runs right through the middle of the car, necessitating 4 buckets, and a front-to-rear center console. Another thing that you’ll have to give up is money, and lots of it. The 2012 Chevy Volt starts at nearly 40-grand, and that $7,500 tax credit only reduces your tax bill for the year that you buy the car. It’s not a rebate, so if you don’t owe Uncle Sam much money, that $7,500 tax credit isn’t going to do you much good.

But details aside, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt isn’t bad to drive, and it’s certainly easy to live with. So if you’re looking for an EV without the ‘range anxiety’, the 2012 Chevy Volt might be the car for you.

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