2018 Electric Car Buying Guide & Electric Car Reviews

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Electric Car buying guide

While the concept of an electric car is nothing new — they've been around for over 100 years — EVs are finally entering the mainstream thanks to improved battery technology, faster charging, greater range and lower costs. EVs today are available in virtually every size and style, from compact two-seaters to seven-passenger SUVs. Modern EVs can travel between 100 and 400 miles on a single charge, depending on type and driving conditions, so range anxiety is still a concern for some. People shopping for electric cars should be aware that some models are available only in certain states, so explore local inventory or contact your dealer to find out more.

While the concept of an electric car is nothing new — they've been around for over 100 years — EVs are finally entering the mainstream thanks to improved battery technology, faster charging, greater range and lower costs. EVs today are available in virtually every size and style, from compact two-seaters to seven-passenger SUVs. Modern EVs can travel between 100 and 400 miles on a single charge, depending on type and driving conditions, so range anxiety is still a concern for some. People shopping for electric cars should be aware that some models are available only in certain states, so explore local inventory or contact your dealer to find out more.

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EV Comparison Test — Chevy Bolt v. Nissan LEAF v. Tesla Model 3

As battery electric vehicles become an established part of our automotive landscape, we took this opportunity to put the three most popular EVs - Chevrolet's Bolt, Nissan's Leaf and Tesla's Model 3 - through testing to re-examine each model's strengths and weaknesses. As a group, how have electric vehicles changed from when they first hit the road? Which is the best all-around EV? Watch to find out about the latest crop of battery electric cars.


[MUSIC PLAYING] DAN EDMUNDS: What we have here are three electric vehicles that are well known, perhaps because each is a dedicated EV that has no gasoline counterpart. Chevrolet has plugged everything they learned from their Bolt plug-in hybrid into the Bolt EV. JASON KAVANAGH: The Model 3 represents Tesla's first foray into a more accessible EV. CALVIN KIM: And the Nissan LEAF, the first widely available electric vehicle in the United States, is now in its second generation. And while they're all mainstream offerings, they're not true direct competitors. JASON KAVANAGH: Today, we're going to explore the differences and similarities among these three popular EVs. Well, the Tesla Model 3 has a lot of power, actually. I mean, there's no complaints that I have with the acceleration in this. And like all EVs, it has that instant torque. You can punch around cars on the freeway pretty much instantly. I mean, you dip your foot down on the accelerator, and there's just an instant reaction from the car. That's one of the things that EVs and in particular, the Tesla does really well. DAN EDMUNDS: One of the things I like about the Bolt is it's quick. I'm just rolling into the throttle, not really laying into it hard at all. And it's up to speed and in a short order. And I am having no problem getting around folks. People think these things are golf carts. Uh-uh. CALVIN KIM: The Nissan LEAF has what sounds like a low number-- 146 horsepower. But it's the torque that really gives it the beans. It's got about 236, possibly the torque. Don't quote me on that. But 236 is a lot for a small car like this. The car weighs about 3,500 pounds. So it's well in line. I mean, basically, it'd be equivalent to a bigger engine in a compact car. Needless to say, acceleration is easy and brisk. JASON KAVANAGH: Well, compared to the Bolt or the LEAF, the Tesla Model 3 is definitely the most powerful. It's the most capable. It's also the most expensive. It's also the only rear-wheel drive EV of the three. The other two are front-wheel drive. And that affects the driving dynamics in a beneficial way for the Model 3. The Model 3 has the best steering and handling of the bunch by far. It's just a more grown-up feeling car in the way it goes down the road. The steering feel is really good. It corners flat. It picks up its speed well over bumps. In terms of steering and handling, the other two don't touch the Tesla Model 3. DAN EDMUNDS: The Bolt handles great. I mean, you wouldn't think so to look at it. It's tall and skinny. But the battery pack is low and underneath the floor, so that keeps the center of gravity low. And that makes it feel more like a go-cart than an SUV or something like that. The steering is also nicely weighted. It's immediate, but not darty. It's just what you want to kind of maneuver around in traffic. JASON KAVANAGH: Now, the range in the Model 3 is kind of its trump card. We got the long-range version, which has a 310-mile max range in normal mode, which is what Tesla recommends you use on a day-to-day basis. This will do 279 miles, which is still really impressive. It's still more range than the other two. In fact, it's the longest range EV you could buy currently. CALVIN KIM: This face-lift of LEAF-- you get 150 miles of claimed range. Wonderfully for us, if you put it in ECO mode and enable e-Pedal, you can get a lot more than that. With our long-term LEAF, we've been able to drive it a little bit already. And we've routinely gotten over 150 miles with those features enabled. That's great news for commuters, especially those that drive a little bit longer distances. So they can go a week without charging. Now, for EV owners, the best way to do it is to charge every night. But, hey, if you're going to go visit a friend's house, or maybe go across town to hang out somewhere, it's nice to have that option. DAN EDMUNDS: The Model 3 has a higher range rating than this one. But I don't really think that at actual practice that would be the case. Because I've had a really hard time getting close to the Model 3's rating. And yet, with this car, which is rated at 238, I've gone 334. That's almost 100 miles more than the rating. And if I'm paying for more battery than I need, then that's a big part of the price of the car. And this car could be cheaper if it had a 150-mile range or a 175-mile range. CALVIN KIM: One of the best advantages of electric vehicles is the ability to regenerate, which is regenerative braking. That means you can use an electric motor that propels you to help slow you down. And one thing that they did very cleverly, though, is give you a switch right on the center console here called e-Pedal. And just by clicking the switch, you immediately engage that regenerative braking. Nissan says you can break as much as 2/10 of a "g," which doesn't sound like a lot, but from our testing, it's plenty. JASON KAVANAGH: And in the Model 3, the regenerative effect is strong. You can basically one-pedal drive this thing most of the time. DAN EDMUNDS: Now, the Bolt is especially good in this regard, better than I think any other car that you can buy, any other EV. Because when it's in drive, like it is now, I toggle using this here. When it's in drive, there's no regenerative braking. It's all pads and rotors, so the brake feels utterly natural. A lot of cars-- EVs and hybrids use something-- a computer that kind of decides whether it's going to be regenerative or brake pedal, based on demand. And so then the brakes feel weird. This never feels weird, indeed. And then when you put it in L, there's so much regenerative braking that the brake lights come on. And you can actually execute a stop all the way down to zero without ever touching the brake pedal. You just modulate the throttle. Compared to the Model 3 and the LEAF, I like the Bolt's setup much better. Click it into L. You've got all the regen you want. Put it in D. You've got the brake pedal feel you want, if you want that. The Model 3-- it's poke through the touchscreen. And the LEAF requires you to flip a switch, and you may not remember to do it. And it's not where you think it should be. This is really intuitive, really easy, and very effective. CALVIN KIM: Inside the Nissan LEAF, you'll find a pretty much traditional car. The materials are good. There's not a lot of busyness with the colors and design choices. We're in the top SL model, so the seats are this nice leather with microsuede inserts. The controls-- again, easy to use, well laid out. Again, it's more like a regular car, instead of maybe a science project, or a sci-fi set you'll find in some of the other EVs. DAN EDMUNDS: The one thing that really disappoints me more than anything else about the Chevy Bolt is the quality of the interior materials. It's just hard plastic which would be OK if it was attractive. But there's just a lot of weird lines. And this color scheme is kind of hard to take. I mean, I would trade away some battery capacity and range to get a better interior. I mean, it doesn't help that we've got the light-colored interior here. I think that really does not show it in its best light. A darker color might mask some of this stuff, even like the reflections of the dashtop or in the windshield. Everywhere I go at just about any light condition. And that's kind of annoying, because the visibility as a car is great otherwise. This car is probably the least well equipped of the three when it comes to active driver aids. It has a Lane Keeping Assist System. It has a Forward Collision warning, but it doesn't have Adaptive Cruise. It has nothing like Autopilot or Nissan's ProPILOT Assist. That's not bad because you're not paying for it. But at the same time, it does lag behind. And you couldn't get those things if you wanted them. JASON KAVANAGH: The design of the Model 3's interior is pretty unusual. There's not a whole lot of stuff in it. I mean, it's a wide-open space with a big touchscreen in the middle, and that's about it. I mean, you could even go and say that maybe this is a little generic looking. But what you can't say is that it's cluttered or crowded. It feels really breezy and airy in here. There's a lot of space. If you need anything, you have to go to the touchscreen. Or you've got a couple of controls on the steering wheel, and that's about it. A good amount of headroom for me. I'm over 6 feet tall. It does have this panoramic sunroof arrangement up here, which gives you a little bit extra headroom. Compared to the Bolt and the LEAF's interior, or the Model 3's cabin-- is definitely a departure. And some people really love it. And some people-- they're maybe going to have to warm up to it a little bit. In terms of material quality, the Model 3 does pretty well there. The seats are this synthetic leather, which feels pretty convincing, and looks like the real thing. There's this synthetic suede on the headliner and on the door panels. There's also this wood applique on the dashboard. Overall, the materials look pretty good at a glance. If you look closer at the Model 3, though, you'll notice some build quality issues here and there-- cheap plastics, things that don't fit quite right. We've had some issues with things falling off our car. But it is built to a higher price point, certainly than the Bolt or the LEAF is. CALVIN KIM: The Nissan LEAF is a hatchback which means, obviously, it's got a big hatch. A lot of interior cargo room with the seats folded up. The rear seats do fold 60/40. You'll find that once you do fold them up, there is a bit of a shelf from the seatback to the cargo floor. But I'd say that between its comp competitors, this general cargo area is very useful-- the low-loading height, and the nice, deep floor, and the tall ceiling height. So you can fit taller cargo, bulkier cargo in a little bit easier. DAN EDMUNDS: Of the three, the Bolt does have the least cargo-carrying capacity on paper. But it is very flexible, because of the way the seats fold, the way the floor can be set into two positions. And because you can put roof racks on it. JASON KAVANAGH: The Model 3 might look like a hatchback from the outside, but surprise, it's a sedan, which means it has a traditional sedan trunk. But that's no bad thing, because the Model 3's cargo space is pretty huge. Not only is the trunk really deep and a good width, there's extra bonus storage in the floor of the trunk and an additional trunk at the front of the car. So you're not hurting for cargo space at all in this. Another thing it has is a 60/40 folding backseat, which goes basically completely flat. You could sleep in the back of the Model 3 if you fold the seats down. That's how much space there is. CALVIN KIM: Compared to its competitors, the LEAF prices pretty well. Now, in this SL trim with the Pro-PILOT Assist and everything like that, that'll set you back a little over $37,000. That's a little bit less than the Bolt Obviously, a lot less than the Model 3. And the federal tax credit is still available for this car, so you can get out the door for a lot less than that. You do get a lot of car for your money. The biggest attractor, though, will be the range. Both the Bolt and the Tesla Model 3 have a lot more range than the LEAF does. Now, for those that are truly range conscious that really do want to go on longer trips, rumor has it that the Nissan LEAF-- bringing out a higher range LEAF next year-- one with a 60-kilowatt battery that cracks the 200 barrier. Even if you're on the fence about that, this standard range LEAF with 150 miles is nothing to sneeze at. DAN EDMUNDS: The thing about this car is you can buy it with a premium package, or you can get the lower-priced base model that does everything as far as the driving experience. It just doesn't have as many bells and whistles for a lot less money. The Model 3-- right now, the mythical $35,000 one doesn't exist. It's vaporware. Certainly, this is a lot less money than the Model 3. If the $35,000 one ever comes out, well, we may have to re-evaluate that. JASON KAVANAGH: When the Model 3 was launched, it was purported to be the $35,000 entry-level Tesla. While that might be the case, Tesla is not shipping the $35,000 variant of the Model 3. They're only shipping a long-range variance. And once you have even a bare minimum of options like this one-- I mean, this one's sticker price is $55,000. So we're in a totally different segment than the other two cars, which are substantially less expensive than this one. Tesla's Autopilot system makes Nissan Pro-PILOT Assist look like it's in diapers. And in a way, it is. It's Nissan's first attempt at a semi-autonomous driving mode, whereas Tesla has had several years now of real-world use of Autopilot. And they've accumulated a lot of data. With that said, it's not a perfect system. We've discovered some issues with it in the past. But the continual software updates are a means to address limitations, not just in Autopilot, but in any system in the car. So again, pros and cons with being at the leading edge of things. CALVIN KIM: Definitely one of the coolest features of the LEAF is Pro-PILOT Assist. Now, it's not an autonomous driving system. What it is, though, is a very, very connected driver-assist system. Now, just one button push on the steering wheel enables the system. And then to turn it on, you just activate your cruise control. Now, what that gives you is adaptive cruise control, which keeps the distance from ourselves and the car in front. It does lane centering to-- keeps the car in the center of the road. And it'll even bring you to a complete stop. It's not a self-driving car. All it's doing is just keeping it in the center and at a safe distance from the car in front. In an interesting twist of fate, this system actually works pretty darn good, even alongside the Tesla's Autopilot system. Now, the Tesla has the advantage of a GPS and a connected system, where it knows road conditions to a certain extent. The Nissan does not have that feature set. But considering the price premium that Autopilot has and that Tesla has, we believe Pro-PILOT is a fantastic addition to the Nissan LEAF. DAN EDMUNDS: The thing about the Bolt EV is while I like the way it drives, I'd trade some of its range for a nicer interior and better seats. JASON KAVANAGH: Yeah. And while the Model 3 is definitely the best driving, most capable EV here, you're going to pay for the privilege. The least expensive Model 3 you can get is $50,000. The $36,000 version just doesn't exist yet. CALVIN KIM: Speaking of price, that's the Nissan LEAF's forte. It's the least expensive. But it's also one of the more comfortable out of the three, which begs the question, which of these three EVs is the right one for you guys? DAN EDMUNDS: Well, for me, 151 miles of range is enough. And I do like those seats, so yeah, the LEAF. JASON KAVANAGH: Yeah. For me, the cost is the single overriding factor. And while I don't think the Nissan LEAF is necessarily the best driving one here, its price point is really attractive. So that's the one for me. CALVIN KIM: Well, we're unanimous. It's the LEAF for me also, thanks to its price and practicality. DAN EDMUNDS: But I do reserve the right to change my mind when the $36,000 Tesla Model 3 becomes available. For more videos, click Subscribe. [MUSIC PLAYING]

EV Comparison Test — Chevy Bolt v. Nissan LEAF v. Tesla Model 3
2018 Nissan LEAF Review
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2017 Tesla Model 3 Track Test
2019 Jaguar I-Pace Review
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