2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]
I've been leasing a 2011 Chevrolet Volt for almost two years now. And about three months ago, I took delivery of a 2013 Tesla Model S, the 60-kWh version.
So I've gotten an extended first-hand look at arguably the two most technically advanced production cars in the U.S.--and the two best-selling plug-ins so far in 2013.
Although not precisely comparable--the Tesla is pure electric, while the Volt has a range-extending gas engine to back up its battery--driving the two cars back-to-back on a daily basis has highlighted the pluses and minuses of each.
So how do they stack up against each other? And which do I prefer?
The Tesla, But.....
The bottom line, of course, is which car I choose to drive when I walk out to my driveway each morning.
By this measure, the Tesla almost always wins. It's hard to resist the sleek, powerful, head-turning Model S, which Consumer Reports recently raved about--saying it "performs better than any car we've ever tested."
The Volt has been mostly relegated to duty as my 17-year-old daughter's student-driver car, as well as an occasional long-distance back-up for trips beyond the Tesla's range. (My wife, a fanatical stick-shift devotee, stubbornly clings to her 2008 Mini Cooper.)
But that doesn't mean the Volt isn't a great car. At half the price, it's damn near as good as the Model S in a lot of ways--and superior in a few.
In fact, driving the Tesla has only confirmed my long-standing appreciation for the Volt.
So how do they compare? Let's count the ways.
No surprise here: The Tesla outperforms the Volt.
The Model S has more than double the electric horsepower of the Volt (302 to 149). Its 0-to-60-mph time of 5.9 seconds blows away the Volt's 9.0-second number. Top speed is 120 mph, compared to the Volt's 100 mph.
When I take friends for rides, the Tesla's seamless, silent, ear-flattening acceleration always elicits the same reaction: giddy, uncontrolled laughter.
"Like a roller-coaster ride," one friend commented. The Volt can't come close to matching the Tesla's balls-to-the-wall fun factor.
But you know what? In normal real-world driving, the Volt in Sport mode feels nearly as peppy and responsive as the Tesla. More so, in some circumstances.