Which Electric Performs Best: Nissan LEAF vs Toyota Prius Prime vs Chevrolet Bolt
We’re going to look at the Nissan LEAF vs Toyota Prius Prime vs Chevy Bolt electric car face-off. Nikola Tesla should be here as a special guest judge, but he’s out. In this EV comparison, we’ve got two import brands against one homegrown carmaker.
The imports have been in the electric vehicle game for a while now, so you’d expect them to have the upper hand. But in the battle between the Nissan LEAF vs Toyota Prius Prime vs Chevrolet Bolt, will we have a surprise victor?
Before we talk about appearances, let’s look at the reason you’re interested in EVs – their efficiency and performance.
Toyota Prius Prime
In reality, the Toyota Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid that can operate on solely electric power if necessary, but just barely. Its electric range is only 25 miles on a charge. With a full tank of gas, it’s advertised at a total range of 640 miles, which is good, but invalidates its electric car capacity.
Between the gas-powered 95-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder and two electric motors, the Prius Prime has a bland 121 combined horsepower. Adding to the boredom, the electric power steering is dead-feeling and loose, but that seems to be the way buyers like the hybrids. Rear-mounted battery packs displace the balance rearward like an anchor tied to the bumper. When it comes to performance, there’s no joy at all in the Prius Prime. But then, the Toyota Prius is definitely up to snuff when it comes to low maintenance cars.
In the Nissan LEAF, a 30KWh battery pack is mounted under the backseat. It’s the power source for its 110-horsepower/80KW electric motor, and it’s capable of a much better electric driving range. The LEAF manages an EPA-rated 107 miles on a full charge. While not exactly what you’d call a performance car, it’s much, much better than the Prius Prime. Acceleration feels surprisingly good due to the torquey electric motor, winding up 210 lb-ft altogether.
That gives you similar performance to the Nissan Versa, for example, but it’s not stellar. Again, it’s like the electric car market sets the bar very low for a fun-to-drive car. Its electric steering is better than the Prius Prime, and the regenerative braking is much less intrusive to the driving feel than other electrics.
No need to wait: the Chevrolet Bolt takes the performance category hands-down. To start, the battery pack is twice the capacity of the LEAF at 60KWh, increasing your electric range to 238 miles. The electric drive unit is 150KW, equal to 200 horsepower, and has 266 lb-ft of torque. This electric car is worthy of mentioning its 0-to-60 time – a cool 6.5 seconds.
The steering is non-variable electric, providing more feel in the steering than its competition, which is good. The suspension is more performance-based than the other two, so the Bolt drives more like a real car. Simply put, it’s actually fun to drive.
Without question, the Chevrolet Bolt is the performance champion here. We’ll revisit that when the Tesla Model 3 hits the streets.
No matter what anyone says, looks are always an opportunity for a first impression. This category is really just a two-way battle.
The Nissan LEAF is an ugly duckling. The hood and front “grille” area look bizarre with a weirdly rounded nose and needlessly busy and distracting headlight assemblies. The hatch is only slightly better, with its caved-in rounded liftgate and thin, tall taillights. Between the front and the back, it has four doors – nothing good or bad, just there. Let’s hope in the next few years this ugly duckling grows out of it.
The Toyota Prius Prime and Chevrolet Bolt EV are where you’ll find the fight.
The designs are remarkably different betwixt the two – a nearly sedan-like Prius Prime and a van/SUV/hatch styling for the Bolt.
The Bolt carries itself in an aggressive forward stance with a tall cabin, long rake from the nose to roof, and an abrupt hatch. Flashes of chrome and offsetting black accents give it the common Chevy look, so it looks new but not out of place.
The Prius Prime is also fitting for the Toyota lineup. Its first-glance appearance from the front could be mistaken for a Corolla until you see the two side by side. The trunk area looks like the Prius went to college and started wearing designer clothes. It’s a grown-up look for the Prius Prime. LED headlights, fog lights and light bars up front are set into a sharp-looking bumper.
The Nissan LEAF never stood a chance. In a close two-way fight, the Prius Prime squeaks out a win in the looks department.
What About Technology and Driver Assists?
Toyota Prius Prime
The Prius Prime begins to pay its penance with its equipment. It’s quite well-appointed, including standard Entune Audio systems of various quality based on trim level, yet all have navigation. Smart Key with Push Button Start is standard equipment, as is Toyota Safety Sense-P, a suite of safety systems. Qi-compatible charging and a color Head Up Display are available on upper trim levels.
It bears mentioning that the Prius Prime is the worst of the three for an overnighter trip. The rear-mounted batteries cut cargo space in half, leaving room barely for a few duffel bags.
The Chevrolet Bolt offers a good range of options, despite just two trim levels: LT and Premier. In either one, driver assist features are available when you select the applicable Driver Confidence Package. On the Premier trim, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel are optional; front heated seats are standard. All come with a 4G LTE WiFi connection, and the Bolt Premier has optional Surround Vision Camera and wireless charging station.
One surprising omission on the Chevrolet Bolt is adaptive cruise control. With all the techy features and long-range abilities, it would be nice to have, both on long and short trips.
If you’re looking for a more rudimentary electric car that’s still equipped quite handily, the LEAF could be a good choice. NissanConnect EV with Navigation is available. It also has an EV monitoring app to keep track of your battery charge and status. Push Button Start and the Nissan Intelligent Key are standard, while an Around View Monitor is available on upper trims.
It would be good to see a higher trim level available that matches the offerings both Toyota and Chevrolet have.
The Bolt is the most expensive, ringing up at a starting price of $37,495 before credits. The LEAF comes in at $30,680 to start. The Prius Prime rings up at $27,100 on the bottom end.
Despite the $10k price difference from bottom to top, the Chevrolet Bolt is by far the best choice of the three – no wonder it was named Car of the Year. It’s the only one with a truly sufficient electric range, it’s good looking, and it has a great assortment of options.
The others aren’t bad cars by any means (except the Nissan’s looks), but the Chevy Bolt is simply the better car overall.