The Model 3 takes it!
But it was closer that you might think. The Model 3 has longer range, is faster from 0-60 mph, has a cooler infotainment system and more forward-thinking interior design, exudes exterior styling mojo, offers better recharging options, and is reasonably well put-together.
The Leaf Plus comes in second in all of those areas except build quality. BUT the Leaf Plus is certainly the nicest EV than Nissan has thus far created, and it's much easier to simply go down to your local Nissan dealership, pick one up, and drive it home.
In fact, the closeness of the Leaf to the Model 3 is a somewhat uncomfortable reminder than the Model 3, while impressive, is more of a high-mid-market to low-end-premium vehicle. The Leaf is electric motoring for the masses, more or less, and so is the Model 3. But the Model 3's current customer set is being asked to accept a more bare-bones car than they'd get from, say, Jaguar with the I-Pace or Audi with its e-Tron.
If I had to choose, I'd buy the Tesla. But I could also easily be happy with the Leaf. And if I bought the Leaf, I would be eyeing allegedly nicer vehicles from luxury brands, whereas with the Model 3 I might not.
That all said, this comparison did make me recollect the Model 3's general brilliance. It genuinely is a staggering achievement. While the Leaf Plus definitely gets the job done, the Model 3 demonstrates why Tesla is investing in making electrified transportation more than an A-to-B proposition, powered by something that isn't a fossil fuel. As I've said before, the Model 3 appeals to the automotive philosopher in me: it's crammed with ideas.
And the Model 3 by its nature makes you feel better about yourself. It is intellectually stimulating, a mood-improvement machine. I perked up every time I slipped behind the wheel, and most days I had to deal with rainy Northeast gloom. Gray skies weren't going to clear up, but it didn't matter, because the Model 3 helped me put on a happy face.
It can blast to 60 mph in five seconds, it can drive itself with your supervision under some conditions, and it has a five-star safety rating from the government. What's more, it's a California-made, all-electric car from the first new American car company in decades.
But the truly astounding thing is that Tesla, in only about five years of seriously manufacturing automobiles, could build a car this good.
If you're debating between the roughly $40,000 Nissan Leaf SL Plus or a slightly cheaper Leaf trim level and the approximately $40,000 base Tesla Model 3, the decision isn't hard. You won't be unhappy with the Leaf, but with the Model 3, you will follow some serious bliss.