If you’re hoping to phase out gasoline and high maintenance costs, electric cars ought to be on your radar. Plug-ins serve as a great hedge against shifts in oil prices and the usual problems internal combustion engines suffer over time. After all, even the most reliable gas vehicles need regular oil changes, new spark plugs, and engine work.
Of course, the issue with electric vehicles has always been their high starting price. Consumers who wade into the used EV market do find prices slashed on late-model cars, but even Chevrolet Bolt EV, the first everyman electric, begins at $37,500.
The 2018 Nissan Leaf aims to change that narrative. Though it will not cross the threshold of 200 miles per charge or feature the horsepower jolt of the market’s top EVs, the fully overhauled Leaf aims to follow in the footsteps of the earlier model that is now the cheapest commuter car in America.
But will it top the new Tesla? That question will nag consumers as they gear up for these models’ upcoming releases. Here are the key differences between Tesla Model 3 and the 2018 Nissan Leaf.
1. Leaf to offer the most range at $30,000
A look at the EVs with the most range reveals several improved models in 2017, but none offers over 125 miles of range at $30,000. Leaf will be the first to do so when it arrives in 2018, delivering 150 miles on a single charge. At $30,875 with destination charges included, the newest Nissan EV will become a better value than Ford Focus EV (124 miles at $29,120) and Hyundai Ioniq Electric (124 miles at $29,500). This formula helped Leaf become the top-selling electric model of the first generation.
Next: Model 3 inhabits a different price bracket.
2. Model 3 on par with premium sedans
Tesla Model 3 actually offers even more value than Leaf, but it does so in the next price bracket. With 220 miles of range in the base model ($36,000) and 310 miles in the long-range edition ($45,000), buyers of Tesla’s mass-market model will be looking at entry-level luxury car prices. If you’re in the market for a Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series sedan, Model 3 costs less. Leaf will take its place among midsize sedans at $23,000 once you claim the $7,500 tax credit, while Model 3 will come in near Acura ILX and Buick Regal.
Next: Which one has the power?
3. Tesla’s performance edge
Most people who follow cars on any level know about Tesla’s performance chops. The Model S P100D was the fastest-acceleration vehicle when it debuted in 2016, and every model from the brand jumps off the line. Model 3 will be more modest but still impressive, able to hit 60 miles per hour from a stop in about 5.5 seconds. The 2018 Leaf, which will feature 147 horsepower and solid 236 pound-feet of torque, will pack more power than others in its price range, but it will take about 8 seconds to top 60. Tesla offers options for rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, while Leaf is front-wheel drive only.
Next: The long-term viability of 150 miles of range
4. The 150-mile gamble
Now that we have two top-notch electric cars featuring more than 200 miles of range under $37,500, you might wonder why Nissan went with a model stuck at 150. After all, standards change so quickly in the EV race that one year can seem momentous. Consumers hoping to make the next Leaf their primary vehicle might very well pause when they start calculating miles traveled per day and how often you take road trips.
In many ways, the long-range Model 3 takes away that range anxiety, and even the 220-mile edition will calm nerves. However, you’d be right to wonder how long 150 miles will be a viable number. After all, depreciation on EVs happens fast, leading to very cheap models on the used market. Nissan acknowledged the issue when the company announced the 2019 Leaf would feature more than 200 miles of range. If you want to call this model a placeholder, we won’t stop you.
Next: Potential problems claiming the tax credit
5. Tax credit limits for Tesla
Automakers each have 200,000 credits for consumers to claim, so there are clear limits for brands, such as Tesla and Nissan, that have been in the U.S. market for years. Because Tesla sells only electric vehicles, the automaker will hit its limit much earlier than Nissan. In fact, many expect Tesla to max out in spring 2018. Anyone who has not yet reserved a Model 3 might be squeezed out of that $7,500 savings. As for the next-gen Leaf, consumers will definitely by able to claim the credit, guaranteeing an affordable price.
Next: Interior space and style comparison
6. Style and interior spaciousness
Leaf scores practicality points for its hatchback design and 23.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. Meanwhile, Model 3 delivers the look and feel of a traditional sedan while offering a longer wheelbase (and thus more passenger space) than Leaf. Stylistically, Nissan improved upon the previous-generation Leaf with its exterior changes. The end result is close to contemporary Nissan models, such as Sentra. Model 3 features a more premium look, though many do not like the appearance of the no-grille hood.
Next: Resale value history for each brand
7. Sizing up resale value
If you’re looking at a car as a long-term investment, consider what you will get back when you go to sell. Tesla has established a strong record for retaining value. In fact, Model S made the list of fastest-selling used cars in America while going for higher prices than the year before. So let’s say Model 3 predicted resale value will be high. On the other hand, the 107-mile Leaf lost nearly half its value in two years, so we can’t guarantee the 2018 model will fare much better with its intermediary range.
Next: How long it will take to charge
8. Charging times
Because road trips still present a challenge for EVs, consumers will want to check on fast-charging times. The 2018 Nissan Leaf carries the same (50 kW) on-board charger running on the CHAdeMO standard. This system will get drivers 80% (120 miles) in 40 minutes. Model 3 drivers will have access to the automaker’s exclusive Supercharger network on a more powerful (145 kW) charger. In the base model, drivers can add 130 miles in 30 minutes and about 170 miles in 30 minutes for the long-range edition. As of 2017, Tesla’s fast-charging network boasted many more stations than public CHAdeMO options.
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