While the Bolt is obviously superior in the range department, there’s more to an electric car than just how far it will go on a charge. There are some other significant differences between the two cars.
Suspension & Handling
The Bolt & Leaf handle differently. The Bolt feels sportier, with a stiffer suspension, and steering feels tighter. You also feel the bumps in the road a lot more in the Bolt than the Leaf. I found the Bolt’s ride too bumpy, at least on the less-than-stellar roads around here. I preferred the gentler ride of the Leaf, but some people would definitely prefer the sportier, more connected feel of the Bolt.
The Bolt’s 0-60 times are about a second better than the Leaf’s, but honestly, I didn’t notice much. At the low end (0-40ish), acceleration felt almost the same to me. Both give you that instant acceleration off the line.
Despite all the press Nissan has gotten for the e-Pedal, the Bolt had one-pedal driving first. In the Bolt, to engage one pedal driving, you shift to L mode instead of D mode. In L mode, the Bolt uses regenerative braking aggressively, and you can come to a stop without using the brake pedal, just by easing off the accelerator.
On the Leaf, you pull a switch to activate the e-Pedal, and it works similarly.
The Leaf’s implementation is better though. When the battery is full or nearly full, the Bolt can’t regenerate much energy, so the slowing when you release the pedal is much more gradual. Different braking response at different charge levels is not something you expect, and I found it potentially dangerous, as I sometimes had to belatedly slam the brakes. By contrast, the Leaf combines friction brakes with regenerative braking, so that brake response it feels the same in all conditions.
In addition, once you come to a complete stop in the Leaf, the brake lights stay engaged, even if you don’t press the brake pedal. Plus, the car makes a satisfying, firm stop—it feels just like you have your foot on the brake. In the Bolt, this doesn’t happen—the brake lights turn off when the car is stopped, and the stop feels softer. On a hill it rocks back slightly before stopping.
Finally, you can set the Leaf to remember your e-Pedal setting, so that it is always on when you start the car. In the Bolt, you always have to do one extra shift down to L mode. Not a big deal, but another small win for the Leaf.
The Bolt only offers standard cruise control, with no lane assist, or adaptive cruise. The Leaf, on the other hand, offers “Intelligent Cruise Control” starting with the SV model (the lowest-price S only has regular cruise). Intelligent Cruise is adaptive allows the car to slow down and speed up with traffic. It’s quite nice, and works pretty well for highway driving in traffic. It does disengage at around 20mph.
I did not opt for the technology package on the SV (it costs an extra $2,200) that would have added Pro-Pilot, so I can’t address that. However, in my experience, the intelligent cruise works great for highway driving in traffic.
By far the biggest complaint I have with the Bolt are the front seats. And I’m not the only one. There are numerous complaints about them all over the internet, with some adding foam to try to improve the seat. In an initial test drive, I didn’t find any problems with the Bolt seat, but after driving for a about 30 minutes the first day, I started noticing lower back & leg pain. My first weekend of heavy driving left me in significant pain. I went through over a dozen of seat cushions, tried adding padding myself, then had the seat re-upholstered professionally to include more padding—all to try to find a way to make them comfortable. Ultimately, a combination of raising the seat to max height, re-upholstering, and additional cushions on the seat bottom and back…I managed to make the seats not-terribly-painful. Still painful, just not agonizing.
In an attempt to save weight and make the car more spacious, GM designed the Bolt seats to be really thin and light. Part of that narrowing process involved making the seats thinner. There are also bolts sticking out into the sides of the cushion, and the bottom frame doesn’t seem large enough to contain the padding properly. As the upholstery shop showed me, the back has is almost cloth on top of plastic—just the thinnest layer of foam in between (less than half an inch). To top it off, the head restraint is uncomfortably far forward.
Obviously, this is a very subjective and personal thing, and while there are tons of complaints about the Bolt seats online, there are also many people who find them fine, or even like them. If considering a purchase, I’d recommend giving the car as long a test drive as you can, to make sure they don’t give you problems. Be sure to test the actual car you plan to buy, as lots of people report varying seat quality / comfort level on a car-by-car basis.
For me, I hated the Bolt seats. I found myself hating to drive it because of that issue. Despite everything else going for it, and the fact that I otherwise loved the car, the seat was what finally convinced me to get rid of the Bolt. I just couldn’t handle the pain it left me in all the time.
The Leaf’s seats are comfortable to me. They are pretty standard car seats, not very aggressive. They are Firm & supportive—nothing much else to say about them.
On the other hand, despite it’s smaller overall size, the Bolt is actually roomier in the back than the Leaf. It has more legroom, partially due to those super-thin front seats. There is also no hump in the middle, so it feels and looks more spacious. I have 6′ friend who rode in the back seat and fount it perfectly comfortable, with enough head and leg room. In the Leaf, by contrast, he is a little cramped.
Finally, in my experience, it’s marginally easier to get a car seat buckled in in the Bolt, partly because the seatbelts less recessed compared to the Leaf.
Not much to say about cargo space—the Bolt’s cargo space without the seats down is tiny, especially compared to the Leaf’s. I tend to prefer smaller cars, so I didn’t mind the Bolt’s small cargo area. But if you need to carry around, something like a full size collapsible stroller, or a set of golf clubs, it would fill up most of the Bolt’s cargo space, if it fit at all.