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The Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt. (Michael Bettencourt/Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)
The Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt. (Michael Bettencourt/Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)

Living with the Leaf

Living with the Leaf, Part 4: Spring sees a budding improvement in range Add to ...

We actually looked closely at buying the Volt at the same time we looked into the Leaf, and put ourselves on the waiting lists for both well before they came out. Both my wife and I preferred the Volt’s powertrain flexibility: that meant no range issues to worry about, thought there were still lots of savings to be had with regular charging, and it didn’t even seem that difficult to plug it into a regular wall outlet – potentially saving thousands in EVSE installation costs.

The packaging of the Volt’s batteries and engine combination is what didn’t work for us; we needed the fifth seat in the back, even if we didn’t use it often. The sloping hatchback seemed to cut into cargo room, as did the higher floor necessitated by the gas tank lurking underneath.

On the other hand, the Leaf’s interior seemed more futuristic, as did its overall slick integration with the standard navi system as a pure electric car, not a Cruze converted for EV duty.

We knew there’d be times we couldn’t take the Leaf as far as we wanted due to a lack of range and public charging infrastructure. But the Volt seemed a convenient automotive bridge to the future, while the Leaf felt like the future itself.

So it was interesting to compare the two now back-to-back, after living with the Leaf for three months, to see if our feelings had changed. After a full charge, the Volt’s battery offered 55 km of stated battery range over the last week of March, with about 0 degree temperatures in the morning, though we saw closer to 30 to 40 km of battery range with normal driving.

My dentist loves his Volt, and hasn't put any gas in it since picking it up in November. And I can see why. Compared directly to our fully loaded Leaf, it has useful front and rear parking sensors and a handier plug door button, and a slightly quicker to warm (but noisier) heater.

On the down side, the lack of a quick HVAC on/off button means the climate system tends to stay on longer, hurting pure electric range. The driver’s side fender plug meant that my 25 foot EVSE cord was a shade too short to reach it while parked in the driveway.

But even the Green Goddess did enjoy the extra confidence of being able to drive anywhere without having to Google Map any destination to make sure we have enough power.

That said, the Volt seems to enjoy staying in its own part of town, with highway driving quickly evaporating that pure battery range. Highway driving also saps the Leaf’s battery quicker than regen-heavy city driving, but with a much larger battery and no internal combustion engine, transmission, exhaust system, gas tank and more to lug around, the Leaf is a more elegantly simple solution.

The Green Goddess even had an unexpected sampling of the Leaf’s emergency handling this month, when she had to swerve quickly out of the way of a Bobcat that fell off a flatbed truck just after merging onto the highway, at about 90 km/h.

After wrenching the wheel and the car over to the centre lane, she barely remembers seeing it whizz by her passenger side window – though she clearly recalls the shower of sparks it caused hitting the highway in front of her at speed.

It was a bonding moment for her and the Leaf. A dangerous situation in which the Leaf, its low centre of gravity, decently grippy tires and her own quick reaction combined to save the day. And it provided an important reminder that a car’s worth, electric or otherwise, is not all about how much money it can save you.

Still, low operating costs are a clear draw for EVs, especially since they all cost more up front than gas cars of a similar size.

The aforementioned Ontario budget also announced that cuts are coming to its EV program, although at this point the government has not specified whether the maximum rebate amounts will be reduced, if the total number of rebates available will be scaled back, if plans for public EV charging stations will be delayed or reduced or if the province is planning a combination of all three measures. The incentives are still listed on the government’s websites, so if you’re contemplating a plug-in purchase of any kind, you may wish to act sooner rather than later to get this full rebate, just in case.

  • For part 1 of the series, click here.
  • For part 2, click here.
  • For part 3, click here.

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