Center Infotainment Screen
I don’t love the design of interface on center screen console on the Bolt or the Leaf. The Leaf’s sure is ugly though—the design looks like it was last updated in the early 2000s. The Bolt’s interface, while not great to navigate, at least looks modern. Plus, the Bolt’s 10″ screen makes the Leaf’s 7″ screen look tiny and cramped.
Both vehicles support CarPlay and Android Auto (as long as you get the SV trim or higher for the Leaf). But even here, the Leaf manages to make the icons in CarPlay slightly stretched out and uglier. It looks much better on the Bolt.
On the other hand, I did experience a fair number of bugs with the Bolt’s infotainment system. The center screen would sometimes completely fail to power on, or spontaneously decide to boot up 5 minutes into the drive. In the two months I owned it, this happened 3 times, so, not exactly a constant problem. There were also some visual glitches, where the rearview camera would overlay partially on top of different graphics, or rear-view lines would take too long to appear.
My Bolt also had some notable issues with the Bluetooth connection—some of which were bugs, and some of which were just baffling design decisions…
Radio & Bluetooth
Besides the front seats, my second-biggest annoyance with the Bolt was the way it handled the radio & bluetooth connection. The Bolt does not remember if you had the radio on or off (muted) when you start the car—it automatically turns it on, every single time. Even worse, it doesn’t remember if you were playing from Bluetooth. So, the infotainment just turns on to the last radio station you used, every time.
The Leaf behaves much more logically. If I turned the radio off, it would stay off until I turned it back on. If I was playing bluetooth audio when I turned the car off, it would resume where I left off when I turned the car back on. That’s how every other car I ever had always work, and just seems a lot smarter.
One final issue with the Bolt: I had what appeared to be random bluetooth disconnects often (more days than not). Music just stops, the screen says “Bluetooth Disconnected”, and then the car, of course, switches over to the radio. I did have the firmware for the radio updated at the dealer, but it didn’t resolve the issue. I have seen no problems with the Leaf’s bluetooth.
Overall, my general impression is that the infotainment software in the Leaf, while uglier, is more stable.
I’m not an expert in this area—both the Leaf and Bolt sound fine, though not great, to me. The Bolt is capable of getting much louder than the Leaf in my experience, and seems to have better bass.
Hands Free & Texting
Both the Bolt and Leaf support Carplay and Android Auto. I don’t have any experience with Android Auto, but when Carplay is plugged in, both cars allow the steering wheel voice control button to activate Siri. This is nice for selecting songs to play, or sending texts, etc.
However, the Bolt also allows you to access Siri even when connected over bluetooth only. The Leaf does not allow this. On the Leaf, you can only access Siri when your phone is plugged into the USB port.
On the other hand, the Leaf does read your texts to you over Bluetooth, and allow you to respond with pre-defined replies (the responding does not work with iOS, unfortunately, but does work with Android).
I prefer the Bolt’s implementation of Siri (I really like being able to ask Siri to play a song just by pressing the voice button on the steering wheel), but I prefer the way the Leaf pops up your texts and can read them to you without you over Bluetooth, without plugging in the phone.
All in all, I found that in the Bolt, I would generally plug my phone into the USB most times I drove—partly for the voice texting, and partly because the Carplay interface looks great on the Bolt. With the Leaf, I generally leave my phone in my pocket, partly it reads my text anyway, and partly because of the next section…
The Bolt doesn’t have any navigation built in, so if you want to use navigation, you have to use Carplay or Android Auto. Honestly, this works great. Smartphone navigation solutions are good, with traffic & up-to-date maps, and it’s to search for destinations. As I mentioned, Carplay & maps looks a lot better on the Bolt’s 10″ screen.
To be honest, prior to trying the Leaf, I wasn’t interested in having navigation built in to the car, but I actually do really like the Leaf’s implementation now that I have it.
For one thing, it is nice not to have to pull out your phone to get maps, or find charging stations. Another nice feature of the Leaf’s navigation is that it has Google search for locations. So you can find places just like searching Google maps, through the car interface. You’re not getting Google’s routing, but still, you do get up-to-date locations.
Another great thing about the Leaf’s built-in navigation is it’s integration with the drivers information cluster. The Leaf can show you your next turn direction, distance to turn, and current road and speed limit, all right in front of the driver, so you don’t even have to look at the center screen.
The Leaf and Bolt both have mobile apps that allow you to monitor and perform key functions for the car. The Bolt’s app is powered by OnStar, and when you purchase, you get free basic service for five years. The Leaf app is powered by Sirius XM, and includes basic services for three years. Both offer a trial of premium features.
In my experience, neither app experience is fantastic, and the Bolt’s app is not really great looking, but works better. Part of the reason it works better is because the Bolt has Keypass, which allows you to control the car (locks, lights, climate control) over bluetooth when you are close enough. This is much faster than waiting for the apps to communicate up to the cloud then back down to the car.
Also, the basic Leaf plan doesn’t allow you do do much—basically just monitor & control charging & climate. You can’t lock or unlock doors with the basic plan. The OnStar basic plan that you get with the Bolt for 5 years allows you to control locks, horn, climate and lights with the mobile app, in addition to monitoring and controlling charging, so it’s more useful.