Many comments are appearing on the internet taking enthusiastic positions for either the new 2011 Chevy Volt or the 2011 Nissan Leaf.

It seems most readers are in one "camp" or the other.

In our household, after studying the technical strengths and features of both cars as they moved from concept to production, I ended up of each!  

We had been driving a 2006 Toyota Prius and a 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid, enjoying the technology and economy of those designs since mid-2006.  Our Prius had around 64,000 miles and the Camry Hybrid had just 40,000, so we didn't need to replace them. But I enjoy new "toys," and cars are almost the ultimate consumer toy.

Our 2011 Volt arrived on January 13, delivered to our house by the Chevy dealer in Fairfield, California, 40 miles from our home. I couldn't find a closer dealer who would sell the Volt at MSRP and order it with the configuration that I wanted.  We now have 2300 miles on the Volt, including two road trips of 200 to 300 miles, and considerable general driving.

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with roof solar panels visible; photo by George Parrott

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with roof solar panels visible; photo by George Parrott

Our computed overall gas mileage is right at 107 mpg, which is way better than even the newest Prius might achieve.  The Volt has been a true attention-getter in parking lots, and hardly a trip goes by that someone does not remark on it.  

The ride and interior is more European than Japanese or Detroit in feel, and the dual display screens are almost hypnotic.  The seats are quite comfortable and the optional heating is nice on cold mornings; the range of height adjustment for shorter drivers is much better on the Volt than the Leaf. The GPS mapping appears totally up to date, and the Onstar feature and traffic updates work incredibly well.  In the Sacramento metropolitan area, we got the Coulomb chargepoint and installation free with a DOE/Volt program.

2011 Chevrolet Volt cabin

2011 Chevrolet Volt cabin

On the negative side, the Volt lacks passive locking/unlocking which was standard on our Prius and Camry Hybrids and is fitted to the Nissan Leaf, and it does not have a rear window wiper (which the LEAF includes) for the frequent rainy days here in Northern California.

The 2011 Leaf, which arrived on February 17,  being fully electric, has a much larger battery pack and a daily range of nearly 100 miles between charge sessions. We're actually getting almost that with totally local driving, but any freeway time at higher speeds reduces the LEAF range markedly.  

Another negative on the Leaf is the smaller range of seat height adjustment for short drivers, along with the frustration that the GPS map software is at least five years out-of-date for our neighborhood.  A further frustration for early Leaf adopters is that the "Carwings" service, which is supposed to show charging stations regionally, is not functional at all for the first three months of delivery and is only "promised" to be updated quarterly.  

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

Nissan's "customer service" at the corporate level seems somewhat disconnected from really providing the support advertised for this cutting-edge vehicle.  

On the plus side, the Leaf has room for five passengers, and the rear seat is quite comfortable with very good visibility.  The proximity locking/unlocking is most appreciated, as is that rear window wiper.  I even like the "mouselike" shift controller and the light colored fabric interior.

It would be hard to be a Leaf one-car family, but we will use the Leaf for all our shorter local errands and my wife's regular daily commute. The Volt will complement the total gas-free economy of the Leaf for infrequent longer trips, and for my less regular work commuting.  

Switching from the Prius and Camry Hybrids, I project that our annual car upkeep costs (fuel, and regular service) will drop from around $2600 a year to around $300 a year.


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