After two weeks with our 2012 Chevy Volt, my wife and I are pleased with our decision to sell our 2011 Nissan Leaf and get an electric car that also runs on gas.
We had our Leaf for about six months. We've only been driving the Chevy Volt for two weeks. But important benefits of the Volt are clear already.
"Range anxiety" is gone with the Volt. We never ran out of electricity with the Leaf. Usually we'd get home with plenty of estimated range left, forty or fifty miles, or even more. But even when I wasn't consciously aware I was driving a fully electric car, an undercurrent of anxiety was present in my psyche.
With the Leaf, running out of battery power means calling a tow truck. With the Volt, I calmly watch the remaining range indicator drop down to 1 mile, then wait for the gasoline powered generator to kick in, which runs the car's motor.
Emotionally the Volt is much more enjoyable to drive. Yet even with a trip to Portland (about fifty miles away), we've gotten 178 MPG out of the 430 miles driven so far. Most days, our gasoline mileage is infinite, since the Volt's 40-45 mile range on pure electric power allows us to drive around without using any gas.
The Volt feels normal, in a good way. Knowing that a fill-up is just a quick stop at a gas station away, rather than a lengthy stay at a charging station, makes driving the Volt feel much more like a normal car.
With the Leaf, I was always aware of driving an electric car; with the Volt, that feeling is in the background -- even though I like to keep an eye on the vehicle's electricity status display just to see what's happening with the battery pack.
That said, I like quirky cars. I mostly use our Mini Cooper S, while the Volt is my wife's main drive. I enjoy how the Mini's windows are controlled by rocker switches above the shift lever. After more than a year, my wife still gets irritated by this.
"Why aren't they by the windows, like in every other car?" she asks. "Because the Mini is designed to be different," I reply. My wife likes the Volt because it feels so normal. It attracts attention not so much because it screams Electric!, as the Leaf does. Rather, it looks good. Sporty, lowslung.
The Volt is more pleasant to drive. My wife hated the unsupportive seats in our Leaf. She also disliked the light interior. The Volt's seats are much more comfortable. They don't feel very different from the Mini's seats: firm, with good side support to hold you in place under spirited driving.
Which can be done with the Volt. It doesn't handle like a Mini (few cars do), but it feels much more sports car-like than a Nissan Leaf. To me the Leaf exuded airiness, openness, futureosity. The Volt feels denser, enclosed, traditionally carlike.
This has pluses and minuses.
I didn't like the Volt's large rear pillars when I first drove the car, and I still don't. Rearward visibility sucks. And the car seems mildly claustrophobic compared to the Leaf. My Mini's large moonroofs let in light and a view of the sky; in the Volt I feel confined in a low, dark, interior.
However, this doesn't really take away from how much I enjoy driving the Volt. Yesterday I even found myself thinking (briefly) that I liked driving it as much as the Mini. That isn't really true. The Mini is much faster, handles much better, and has an appealing quirkiness the Volt lacks.
Still... the displays and audio system in the Volt are much more comprehensible and understandable than either the Leaf's or the Mini's. Chevrolet did a great job with both the touchscreen and other controls. I don't need to consult the owner's manual to figure out how to do something, as I have had to do with the Mini Cooper.
All in all, there's little we don't like about the Chevy Volt. Rear visibility is my main gripe, but after quite a bit of observing the right side blind spot, I've pretty much determined that when a car is no longer visible in the right side mirror, it is clearly visible via a look to the right.
(I'm just used to changing lanes with more confidence in the Mini and the Leaf.)
My only real anxiety now is whether we signed up for a lease with enough miles on it. Based on how we drove our two Prius'es (Prii?), we decided to go with 10,000 miles a year. That should be enough, but given how enjoyable the Volt is to drive, at the moment I'm choosing it over the Mini when my wife isn't driving the Volt more than I thought I would.
Likely that's just new car infatuation, though. And with the aid of our Chevy salesman, we figured out that even with the over-mileage penalty, it's still cheaper to sign up for a 10,000 a mile lease even if 1,000 extra miles a year are driven.
Bottom line: the Nissan Leaf is an excellent electric car. The people we sold our Leaf to are enjoying it a lot. But for us, the Chevy Volt is an even better choice.