Motor Trend compares Bolt, LEAF and Model 3 head-to-head

This is a milestone review – the first head-to-head comparison of three EVs that “really could be your affordable, every-day, one-and-only car” – and Motor Trend assigned it to a star team of electro-journalists. Reviewers Kim Reynolds, Patrick Hong and Alec Brooks have been working with EVs since the days of the EV1 and the tzero.

The Tesla Model 3, the second-gen Nissan LEAF and the Chevrolet Bolt EV offer ranges between 150 and 310 miles (a longer-range LEAF is promised for model year 2019) and base prices from $36,000 to $37,495. The three car guys examined every aspect of the three contending EVs, from interior space to handling to infotainment to autonomy features.

The boys were impressed by the Tesla’s sweeping glass roof, but noted that it can make things a little hot when the car is in the sun. The Bolt got the thumbs-up for rear passenger space. They noted that Model 3’s lower, sloping profile compromises headroom a bit, but greatly improves aerodynamics, giving it the lowest coefficient of drag (0.23) of the three cars, and consequently the greatest efficiency: Model 3’s combined MPGe beats the Bolt by 6 percent, and laps the LEAF by 13 percent.

All three EVs feature “one-pedal driving,” which some drivers love and some do not. These reviewers are firmly in the “love it” camp, and they found major differences in the one-pedal response of the three models. They praised the LEAF’s seamless integration of regen and friction brakes, and the Bolt’s steering-wheel paddle that allows the regen effect to be fine-tuned. All three EVs allow the strength of the regen to be adjusted to a certain extent. Brooks didn’t care too much for the Tesla’s one-pedal response: “It’s not strong enough to slow the car for normal corners – you have to constantly move your foot to the brake pedal. From my experience, I know firsthand that strong regen and rear-wheel drive don’t always play well together.” However, the Model 3 was the overall favorite when it comes to regen in general.

When it comes to performance, the verdict was unsurprising. For quickness, “the Model 3 buries the other two.” We’re talking 4.8 seconds to hit 60 mph, versus the Bolt’s 6.3 and the LEAF’s 7.5. For handling, it was also “a blowout.” “I thought the Model 3’s handling felt terrific, and its rear-wheel drive was noticeable by its lack of steering drama on hard acceleration,” said Brooks. “The LEAF understeered heavily on the track, and its chassis felt dated,” said Hong.

However, the MT dudes note that handling and ride comfort are not the same thing. “Although there are striking differences, each car’s ride is actually good if it fits your taste and expectations,” they write. “The LEAF is great if you like downtown LA pothole compliance; the Model 3 is perfect if your commute is paved like the Nürburgring. Swap audiences and preferences, and both will feel terrible.”

So which car won the shootout? Brooks and Hong both picked the Bolt. However, Reynolds had to go with the Tesla. “The Bolt and LEAF are great cars but leaned-back EVs,” he writes. “They seem pushed onto the stage, hesitant in their groundbreaking roles. The Model 3 leans into the future with a reckless glee you cannot avoid noticing. You may need to talk yourself into a Bolt or a LEAF; you need to talk yourself out of paying the premium for this Model 3.”


Source: Motor Trend

  • James Heires

    I’m confused. The Tesla wins in the regen, coefficient of drag, handling and acceleration categories, yet 2 of 3 judges picked the Bolt? Is GM funding this competition?

    • Jon

      Read the actual MT article (at the link) – Tesla won, Bolt 2nd, Leaf 3rd. It should be noted that MT tested the top Model 3 model – $60K as tested.

      • Ed

        Now, I am really confused.

        • mipak

          Might be time to see a doctor….

        • Jon

          Believe the original MT article, not the translation.

  • Ormond Otvos

    Where’s the Kia Soul EV? It’s a great car!

    • William Volk

      Not in the same league in terms of range. But a very lightweght battery.

    • Devin Serpa

      It’s range is on the i3, Ioniq, eGolf area.

      Plus the LEAF should be disqualified in this matchup because of the air cooled battery. It’s liquid cooled or nothing.

  • JohnWolf

    I own a BMW i3 REX

    Have a reservation for a Model 3

    I would take anyone of them home for a season.
    Until they get updated again.

    • JohnWolf

      I am becoming more neurotic than normal.

      I no long buy, just lease.

      • Jeffrey Lee Virgin

        Me too, buying is like committing to using the same cell phone for the next decade.

  • Brandon

    Uhhh… I believe to say that the Bolt and LEAF can be your only cars is partly untrue, because the fast charging infrastructure simply doesn’t exist yet or isn’t reliable, let alone fast enough for a 200 mile range EV like the Bolt. Wait maybe 3-4 years, and that could be said. Once there’s decent nationwide coverage of HPFC (150+ kW) fast charging infrastructure like the multi stall ChargePoint Express Plus fast charger, then a Bolt or 2nd gen LEAF can be your only car, but not until then.

    • Will Smidt

      90% of charging is done at home…seriously DC Fast is Emergency Charging for the VAST majority of drivers buying these vehicles. I have had my Bolt for a year…have yet to use DC Fast…or needed to.

      • Brandon

        It varies from driver to driver, but the average percentage of DCFC is actually from 95-98%, the rest being almost all at home.
        I would say for your only vehicle, going beyond the ~200 mile range of a longer range EV will on average happen 4-6 times a year. Some will be more, and some will be less, but reliable DCFC infrastructure (better yet HPFC (150+ kW) infrastructure) must be in place for freedom of travel to be there. Tesla has done this superbly!

    • Clarence Dold

      I was looking at renting a car for a 200+ mile trip, because I though it would be tedious in my 2013 LEAF, but I took the LEAF because of scheduling. It wasn’t bad. One needs a rest stop occasionally.

    • Al

      That’s weird, the Bolt is my only car. If I have to go long distance I use this thing that flies and gets there really fast!

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    While the Motor Trend piece was interesting it might have been better to wait until the long range Leaf and short range Model 3 were available. As it is the Tesla does best (in my opinion) but the other two are less than two thirds the price so comparisons cannot help but be unfair. For me access to a reliable and fast charging continent wide network is the biggest factor and that means Tesla at least for now.

  • LP

    The BIG difference between the Bolt and Leaf vs the Tesla is ….
    you can actually BUY AND TAKE DELIVERY of a Bolt or Leaf whereas the Tesla is, for all intents and purposes, unattainable due to serious production and supplier problems. The manufacturing numbers for Tesla/3 of a few hundred A MONTH is disappointing and with 405K cars in back orders, well, you’ll probably won’t get those cars until 2019.
    The Tesla/3 is an excellent car with great options and features BUT it can cost almost $20K more than a Bolt and $25-30K more than a Leaf.