I drove a $57,500 Tesla Model 3 and a $44,000 Nissan Leaf - here's how these all-electric cars stacked up
- Last year, I drove the Tesla Model 3 in several different versions. I also sampled an updated version of the Nissan Leaf.
- The Leaf has been in the electric-vehicle market for longer, but the Model 3 was among the best cars I drove in all of 2018.
- I recently tested a new, longer-range version of the Leaf, the Leaf SL Plus.
- You can buy the Model 3 and the Leaf for around $40,000, so I decided to compare the cars.
- The Tesla Model 3 is better, but the Leaf Plus has a lot going for it.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Nissan beat Tesla to market with a practical, all-electric vehicle when in 2010 it launched the Leaf.
Tesla caught up, but with the expensive Model S sedan.
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
The arrival of the Model 3 in 2017 signaled a new era. Now, consumers could choose between the proven Leaf and the stunning new Model 3; the Model 3 had better performance and longer range, but the Leaf was a known quantity.
This year, I tested a longer-range version of the Leaf - the Leaf SL Plus - and was impressed. So I thought I'd compare it with the Model 3.
Here's how the cars stack up:
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Here's the 2019 Nissan Leaf SL Plus! Looking sharp in "Deep Pearl Blue."
Pretty much the same Deep Pearl Blue as the Leaf that was a Business Insider Car of the Year finalist in 2018. That car had a single electric motor, producing 147 horsepower, a 40-kWh battery pack, and delivered 151 miles of range on a full charge.
The SL Plus trim level has a 62 kilowatt-hour battery. The larger pack adds roughly 70 miles of range compared to the standard Leaf's 151-mile battery.
The Leaf is the top-selling EV globally, which makes sense as the car has been around since 2010. Over 300,000 have been sold.
The SL trim level is the top-of-the-line version. That's why my test car cost $44,000. The base Leaf, with a smaller battery a less range, starts at under $30,000.
The goal when the Leaf was launched was for the Japanese automaker to embrace a "zero emission" future. It hasn't quite worked out that way, but the company is making progress, and Leaf is still with us.
Hatchback silhouettes aren't typically associated with automotive aggression, and EVs tend to project a mostly virtuous vibe. But the Leaf's fascia is rather bold.
The 2019 Leaf, like the second-generation 2018 car, is much sleeker than the original. However, we're talking about a practical hatchback here, so let's not get too excited.
The LED headlights are a standout feature.
The Leaf's "Light Gray" interior was pleasant, if a bit shy of premium. The seats were comfy, and there was a reasonable amount of space to stow small items.
The back seat was about average, space-wise, for the segment.
The Leaf has always received criticism for its "tweener" nature. It's not a luxury car, but it's also not bare-bones. I've always thought it hits a sweet-spot for customers who aren't wealthy but who have the means to invest in an EV.
The Leaf's eight-inch color infotainment display looks good, but we aren't the biggest fans of the system's layout. It is easy to use, and Bluetooth device-pairing is a snap. You also have available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The toggle-button shifter has a slight learning curve. And storage could be better, although there are the usual pair of cupholders between the seats.
An unassuming rear hatch for the most part, but you're quickly informed of this EV's nonpolluting pedigree.
The Leaf's cargo area is an excellent 24 cubic feet, expandable to 30 with the rear seats dropped. The hatch's opening is a tad awkward, with a sort of oval shape.
Charging is unchanged from the Leaf we tested last year, at least as far as the ports go. There are two, one for 240V "Level 2" charging and one for fast DC charging.
There's also an onboard charge cable "trickle" top-offs using a regular wall outlet for 120V power. Using 240V, the Leaf Plus is back to 100% in 11.5 hours. Fast DC charging, however, can achieve 80% in 45 minutes.
So how does the Nissan Leaf Plus stack up?
Now let's check out the Model 3!
I drove what was at the time a $57,500 Model 3 and raved about it in my review.
The Model 3 in "Standard Range Plus" trim with rear-wheel-drive and the "Partial Premium Interior" is the least expensive version available on Tesla configurator. It's about $40,000.
I also briefly sampled the $78,000 Performance version of the Model 3 when it first came out. The white interior is really something special — I can see why it's popular.
I spent a week with my test car, running it through its paces.
The Model 3 is a sharp set of wheels, designed by Tesla's Franz von Holzhausen to embody forward thinking without taking any wild and crazy chances.
The Model 3 is sleek, not overly curvaceous, and something of a hybrid of midsize and full-size sedan. No grille because ... there's no gas engine to feed air!
The roof is a continuous curve of glass, with a fastback rear hatch/trunk culminating in a crisp spoiler. The recessed door handles and the window trim are the only significant chrome on the Model 3.
The Model 3 is unadorned except for the Tesla badge. By the way, fit and finish on my test car were superb.
The Model 3 has plenty of trunk space — and an offbeat hatch design to enable that continuous glass roof.
With its "frunk" the Model 3 offers an ample 15 cubic feet of space. This gives the Model 3, a sedan, versatility on par with SUVs.
You have to be a minimalist to love the Model 3's interior. The leatherette upholstery is animal-free, and the flash is ... well, there isn't any.
Tesla makes its own seats. The Model 3's are quite comfy and supportive for more spirited driving, and the front seats are heated. There was decent legroom in back.
The Model 3 has no key fob. Instead, that duty is handled by a Tesla smartphone app ...
With a credit-card-size valet key as a backup.
The Model 3 in this configuration can dash from zero to 60 mph in about five seconds.
The showstopper for the Model 3 has always been the dashboard. Beginning with the steering wheel. Unlike nearly every other steering wheel on the planet, the Model 3's has almost no knobs or buttons.
The large, central touchscreen handles almost all vehicle functions. The left side is reserved for the readouts you'd normally find on an instrument cluster.
I recharged my tester Model 3 at a Supercharger location near my home. But most owners will charge overnight using a "level 2" setup at 240 volts. It's also possible to trickle charge using the onboard cable and a standard wall outlet.
Unlike a quick gas-n-go, you do have to cultivate some patience with Tesla's recharging process.
In case you're wondering about Autopilot: I've reviewed the technology before and consider it very advanced cruise control. I strongly recommend against ever going hands-free with it.
So what's the verdict?
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