A decade ago, the original Nissan Leaf ushered in the era of the electric car. It wasn’t the first, of course, but it was relatively affordable, relatively useful, and relatively advanced. Today, the Leaf is better than ever but gets outgunned by newcomers like the Chevrolet Bolt EV.
The Bolt EV’s claim to fame when it arrived for 2017 was its long-range battery and a price of around $30,000 after applying the federal income tax credit. The first electric vehicle (EV) to offer well over 200 miles of range at a reasonable price, the Bolt didn’t have the looks of a Tesla, but it sure was more affordable.
Each of these cars is a small 5-door hatchback with seating for five people, and each provides the utility of a subcompact SUV if not the all-wheel-drive system. If you’re shopping for one or both of them, you’ll want to find out which EV we think is best in this Chevrolet Bolt EV vs. Nissan Leaf Plus comparison.
The Chevrolet Bolt EV (top) provides more driving range than the Nissan Leaf Plus, especially when you compare top trim levels. (Photo: Chevrolet and Nissan)
The best things about the Chevrolet Bolt EV
The Bolt EV trounces the Leaf Plus when it comes to driving range. In 2019, the Bolt EV supplied 12 extra miles over a Leaf Plus S, but 23 extra compared to more popular Leaf Plus SV and SL. And for 2020, the Bolt EV’s range estimate jumps to 259 miles.
So, with the Chevy, you get more range and you also get a faster recharging time when using a 240-volt home charging station. Chevrolet says it takes 9.5 hours to recharge a Bolt EV overnight, while the Leaf Plus requires 11.5 hours, according to Nissan.
The Bolt EV also supplies far more maximum cargo space at 56.6 cubic feet compared to the Leaf Plus’s 30 cu.-ft. Add the Chevy’s generous 7.4 inches of ground clearance (1.5-in. more than the Nissan) and available roof rack rails, and all its missing is AWD to make it an electric crossover SUV.
The Bolt EV also comes with a larger 10.2-inch touchscreen display, standard Wi-Fi and OnStar subscription services, and Teen Driver report card technology. Wireless smartphone charging is optional for the Bolt EV, along with an exclusive rear camera mirror system.
The Chevrolet Bolt’s 10.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system looks high-tech, but the Nissan Leaf’s simpler and smaller setup delivers real value. (Photo: Chevrolet and Nissan)
The best things about the Nissan Leaf Plus
The Nissan Leaf Plus can’t match the Bolt EV when it comes to driving range, but it definitely beats the Chevy on price.
First, there is a less expensive standard Leaf model, priced from $30,885 before applying the $7,500 federal income tax credit and any state or local EV ownership incentives. It can only go 150 miles on a full charge, but that might be all you need.
Prices are higher for the long-range Leaf Plus model, but that same $7,500 federal income tax credit applies. Chevrolet has sold so many electrified cars over the years that come April 1, 2020, the Bolt EV will no longer be eligible for the $1,875 credit that exists today. And that’s forcing Chevrolet to steeply discount the Bolt EV.
The Leaf Plus comes with standard 100 kW fast charging capability, allowing it to soak up an 80 percent charge in 45 minutes (181 miles). Chevy says the Bolt EV can grab 90 miles in 30 minutes using its optional fast-charge capability.
At 23.6 cu.-ft., the Leaf’s trunk is bigger (vs. 16.9 cubes in the Bolt EV). However, folding the back seat doesn’t help much due to the Nissan’s old-school packaging as compared to the Bolt EV’s skateboard platform design.
Nissan’s advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) are more sophisticated than what Chevy offers for the Bolt EV. The infotainment system software can be updated over the air, Nissan offers longer free trial periods of its connected service packages, and versions with navigation offer sophisticated door-to-door directions via a smartphone app.
With the rear seat in use, the Nissan Leaf (bottom) offers more cargo space. With the rear seat folded down, the Chevy Bolt EV is the cargo-carrying champ. (Photo: Chevrolet and Nissan)
Chevrolet Bolt EV vs. Nissan Leaf Plus. Which is better?
When you buy an electric car, long driving range, short recharging time, and high-tech conveniences are probably high on the must-have list. In this contest, the Chevrolet Bolt EV is the better car, but the value-laden Nissan Leaf Plus is the better deal.