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Nissan Leaf Vs Volkswagen e-Golf: Compare Cars

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf - Long-term test car

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf – Long-term test car

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The Nissan Leaf is by far the best-selling electric car in the world—as of spring 2015, closing in on 200,000 units. But it’s far from the only all-electric, five-seat small car on the market. Other five-door compact hatchbacks include the Ford Focus Electric, the BMW i3, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, and the newest arrival, the Volkswagen e-Golf.

While their technical specs are all but identical, the Leaf and e-Golf represent diametrically opposed approaches to designing and selling electric cars: The Leaf is a dedicated vehicle sold only as a battery-electric model, although some of its hidden underpinnings are adapted from other Nissan models.

The VW e-Golf, on the other hand, is simply one of several different powertrains in the lineup of the seventh-generation Golf that launched last year. You have to look carefully to see that it’s not a conventional Golf powered by a gasoline or diesel engine.

By now, with 75,000 Leafs on U.S. roads, Nissan’s electric car is a known quantity and becoming a familiar shape, at least in the places electric cars sell well. It’s a distinctive and polarizing design, with long headlights that sweep back almost to the base of the windshield and a snub nose with no grille at all, just a large central door that covers the charge ports. The VW e-Golf, on the other hand, is …well, it’s a Golf, meaning a conservatively styled, crisp-edged five-door hatchback that is clearly a descendant of the first Golf/Rabbit that hit U.S. shores four decades ago.

On the road, the Leaf is rather appliance-like. Its steering, brakes, and handling are all competent, unremarkable, and noted only for being somewhat numb. The Golf feels slightly peppier and more like a driver’s car, retaining the same roadholding abilities (retuned for the added weight of the battery pack) as its four-cylinder counterparts. The Golf interior is virtually identical to that of any other Golf, while the Leaf has a dashboard and control layout far closer to the Space Age design of the current Toyota Prius hybrid.

The Leaf’s 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack (of which it uses about 85 percent) is not liquid-cooled, which led in earlier cars to rapid capacity loss in extremely hot climates. Nissan says a change to battery chemistry makes the cells in the current car far more resistant to heat degradation, which it says has solved that problem. The VW’s 24.2-kwh pack isn’t liquid-cooled either, but no stories have emerged thus far about its durability.

The Leaf’s 80-kilowatt (110-horsepower) electric motor powers its front wheels, as does the e-Golf’s 85-kw (114-hp) equivalent. And all but the lowest-level Leafs are fitted with a 6.6-kw onboard charger. The e-Golf can charge at up to 7.2 kw, meaning it will finish recharging a little quicker than the Leaf.

Rated range is 84 miles for the Leaf, 83 miles for the VW, and their efficiencies are 114 and 116 MPGe respectively. (MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent, is a measure of how far a car can travel electrically on the same amount of energy as contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)

Their passenger volumes are all but identical: 92 cubic feet for the Leaf, 91 for the e-Golf. The Leaf does have an advantage in cargo volume behind the rear seat, though: It’s rated at 24 cubic feet, vs 17 for the Golf–possibly the penalty of using stampings adapted from those for gasoline cars on the part of the Volkswagen engineers.

The Leaf comes in three trim levels, with the S base level starting at $28,960, progressing up through the mid-level SV and the high-end SL, which can approach $40,000 if lavishly outfitted. The VW e-Golf has two trim levels: the Limited Edition (LE) is the base, starting at $33,450, plus a mandatory $820 delivery fee, bringing the total to $34,270. The more luxurious SEL Premium model of the e-Golf starts at $36,265, again including delivery.

In the end, buyers need consider only two factors in choosing between the Leaf and the e-Golf: First, do I want the comfort of a high-volume electric car (the Leaf) or am I willing to drive an e-Golf that not all VW dealers today sell or repair? Second, and perhaps more importantly, do I want my electric car to blend into the crowd (e-Golf) or am I willing to drive a car people will notice (the Leaf)—for better or for worse? In our ratings, the e-Golf solves that logic puzzle.

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