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Prizefight: Nissan Leaf vs. Chevy Volt
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Prizefight: Nissan Leaf vs. Chevy Volt

5:43 /

In this era of cleaner and more-efficient vehicles, we compare two cars that herald the future of automobile design. Let's wave the racing flags as we put the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt to the test.

Hey everyone, it's time for a sort of special prizefight, this time between two tech products you can�t even buy yet: the Nissan Leaf versus the Chevy Volt. We get a lot of people asking us which one is going to be the hot ride for the green crowd. Well, let's see what we can tell from the preannounced specs, the looks, and the time we've spent with prototypes of both cars in person. I�m going to score these guys very simply: each car gets between 0 and 10 on each of four categories. The car with the most points wins. Let�s go. Round 1: Looks Let�s face it: I don�t care if a car runs on perpetual motion, a nuclear reactor, or unicorn dung--aka �clean coal." If it�s fugly, it won�t sell. The Leaf has a quirky cuteness--like the sort of Japanese cars the Japanese sell only in Japan. It has sort of a catfish mouth and a dumpy rump. But in the era of the Prius, this kind of look also says modern and progressive. So, I give the Leaf a 6 in the looks department; it's not pretty, but not horrid, and you won�t mistake it for something else. The Volt is much more conventional-looking, like a modified Malibu. But the aggressive face and rather audacious backlight and tail lamps keep things from being vanilla, and like the Leaf, I think folks will know a Volt when they see one. It�s not nearly as saucy as the concept Volt that General Motors was showing around forever, so the company shot itself in the foot there, but overall, I have to give the Volt a 7 on looks. Leaf 6, Volt 7. Round 2: Range and Strandability. The Leaf is purported to go 100 miles on a charge. After that, you need to plug it in or it won�t move-- this is a pure EV, not a plug-in hybrid or a range-extended EV. Charging from flat-out on a 110-volt outlet takes about 20 hours; on a 220-volt outlet about 8 hours; and from a rare, but available, 500-volt charger, you'll get 80 percent charge in 30 minutes, but this will erode battery life faster. Those are very long charge times and high-current chargers will be scarce as hen�s teeth for a year, but the Leaf has admirable 100-mile range that could cover the average commute for 3-4 days. Give it a 7. The Volt goes only 40 miles on a charge, and charging the battery from out will take 6 hours on a 110-volt outlet or about 3 hours on a 220-volt outlet. There is no option yet for a superfast 500V charger like the Leaf. �But the Volt is a range extender, meaning a little gas engine fires up when your battery gets low and keeps generating electricity so you can keep driving as long as you have gas in the car. This one is sort of an apples-and-oranges situation, especially since we can't compare MPG, as only the VOLT uses any G.� I have to give the Volt an 8, because a range extender that can always run on gas without ever being plugged in is going to speak to a lot of nervous early EV buyers. Leaf 13, Volt 15. Round 3: Connectivity Both of these cars are pioneering a new era of connected vehicles. The Leaf will connect to a global center for data services, entertainment, and support. The center display will come on when you're low on electricity, show you where you can charge, and how many and what types of outlets are available at each location. You can use your smartphone to remotely access the car�s HVAC and charging functions. There is also a little solar panel at the rear of the roof to trickle-charge the battery to power accessories. The Volt will have Onstar Mobile, a smartphone app and service that lets you lock the car, check its charge, tell it to charge, runs the HVAC, remote start, and even locate the vehicle anywhere. Both cars should have the usual complement of audio and entertainment connectivity, and the in-car technology is optimized to weigh less and use the least amount of power. This one is close, but the Nissan is shaping up to have a little better infrastructure connectivity ,which is a big part of making EVs a success.� Give it to the Leaf, 8 to 7. Leaf 21, Volt 22. Round 4: Price The Leaf is priced at $32,800 before a $7,500 U.S. federal tax credit, making it about 25K or so effectively, before usual sales taxes, delivery, etc. �GM says the Volt will be below 30 grand after the $7,500 US tax credit.� So call it a $38,000 car. Since both are basically the same space, have the same number of seats, and attract the same general market segment, the Leaf wins by coming in thousands of dollars cheaper.� I�m concerned that too many mainstream consumers may get turned off by the high initial price of the Volt, and never even hear the tax credit message. Give it to Nissan with 8, whereas the Volt gets a 6. The final score:� Leaf 29, Volt 28.� A close one, and let�s remember there�s a big factor here we can�t judge yet:� how each car drives.� We�ll revisit this Prizefight when both cars hit the CNET garage. Winner: Leaf.

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