Okay, time to buy an electric car.

Not a hybrid, not a plug-in hybrid. You want a real-world, full-blown EV (electric vehicle). It must be reasonably priced because no matter what carmakers say, the limitations of battery range, charging infrastructure, and charging times make today’s EV a part-time city car. For most, it’s a second car.

The Chevrolet Bolt in San Francisco with Jeremy Cato. The winning EV.

Let’s review your options. As I write this, you have five reasonable choices that seat at least four, carry a decent amount of cargo, offer at least 200 kilometres of battery range and sell for less than  $50,000, not including taxpayer rebates of up to $14,000: Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model 3, Volkswagen e-Golf, Chevrolet Bolt and Hyundai Ioniq.

(Kia offers the Soul EV, but it’s range is rated at just 179 km. We’re tossing it from the mix.)

For you impatient-pants types, I’ll save you the suspense: the best bang for you buck is the Bolt. Let me explain why, and in detail.

But a caveat: The Model 3 might yet prove to be a triumph, if Tesla can ever sort out its Model 3 production and quality issues – and remains solvent in the face of what looks like an incipient financial crisis.

This Tesla looks amazing and is reported to be very fast. Pricy, though, for a car Tesla’s CEO and head cheerleader Elon Musk has dubbed “affordable.”

Telsa: The Model 3 remains a mystery to real-world testers — most of them, at least. 

Tesla, I must note, has been reluctant to let third parties test drive what limited production models are on the road. I have requested a tester, but so far nothing but an email saying, “no.”

I am in good company. Pulitzer Prize-winning reviewer Dan Neil of The Wall Street Journal has also been denied a proper road test of the Model 3. For now, at least.

This brings me, then, to my list of four. Let’s start with the LEAF because it’s the EV I just drove.

Ah, the LEAF. When Nissan first released details about the reinvented 2018 LEAF battery car, I thought:  mistake.

How is it that, eight years after launching what has become the world’s best-selling EV, Nissan is bringing to showrooms a second-generation LEAF with a battery range of just 242 km, or 150 miles? Ugh. Nissan had EIGHT YEARS to get the range to at least 300 km. What happened?

Nissan says the cost of the battery dictated range. Yet the LEAF is no bargain runabout; the pricing is mid-pack:

The LEAF starts at $35,998 before incentives which in Ontario amount to $14,000. Base versions of the others:

  • Model 3, $45,600;
  • Bolt, $43,195;
  • Ioniq, $35,649;
  • e-Golf, $36,355.

When it comes to range, the LEAF is mid-pack,  too — less than the Bolt and Model 3, more than the Ioniq and e-Golf:

  • Bolt, 383 km range;
  • Model 3, 354 km;
  • Ioniq, 200 km;
  • e-Golf, 201 km.

So, the LEAF delivers about 20 per cent more range than the Ioniq and e-Golf, for about the same money.  On the other hand, the Bolt delivers about 58 per cent more range than the LEAF – 141 km — at about a 20 per cent price premium.

The all-new 2018 Nissan LEAF.

The Nissan people argue that their LEAF hits a pricing sweet spot — $7,200 less than the Bolt — with enough range to make daily driving comfortable, and notably more range than the similarly priced Ioniq and e-Golf. Range alone gives this LEAF an edge over the Hyundai and the VW.

Moreover, the LEAF is prettier and more technologically advanced than the Ioniq and e-Golf. And it comes from Nissan, which knows a lot about real-world EV performance, having sold more than 300,000 LEAFs around the world.

If you believe that today’s EV buyer is highly price-sensitive and doesn’t demand 300 km (or more) of battery range, this argument makes sense.

But if you are convinced that today’s EV customer is an elitist, a high-net-worth early adopter who wants some technological bragging rights – range being one of them — then Nissan’s mass-market pricing and packaging strategy is a mistake.

Well, car companies making a billion-dollar investment in an EV don’t like to make mistakes and never concede them. In fact, Nissan Canada

LEAF cabin.

is keen to prove that the typical Nissan EV buyer is NOT a multimillionaire enviro-poseur with a pickup, an SUV and a German luxury sedan parked in the four-car garage beside that new LEAF.

To prove the point, Nissan Canada points to recent LEAF buyers like Kate Moran, a Victoria, B.C. engineer and environmentalist. She’s a nicely-paid academic, but not a multi-millionaire. Rick McKinlay of Whitby, Ontario, is a project manager in the scaffolding industry. Comfortable, but no moneybags. Retired Quebec police officer Mario Gallant, in fact, bought a LEAF to save money on fuel and servicing. Range does not appear to be an issue for them.

It is for me. In theory, it seems easy enough to plug in every night your LEAF or Ioniq or e-Golf or whatever. In practice, this is a problem if you live in an apartment building without a charging station or only one or two outlets.

LEAF cargo space.

If you rely on public charging stations, you are going to find lineups at the handful of DC outlets in Canada. I have, repeatedly. If your EV has a range of less than 300 km, you’ll need to charge up at least once a week, perhaps twice or more. Keep that in mind.

Still, Nissan has done a lot of very good things with the 2018 LEAF. Not the least of them is design. The LEAF 2.0 looks pretty good, like it belongs in a showroom beside the Maxima and Murano.

As well, you can get a LEAF compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which is good, but you must pay $3,600 for the privilege; the

e-Golf: dated styling, but nice handling. Too bad about the 200-km range.

base car has an older infotainment system. The Bolt, overall, has the best infotainment offering, though like the LEAF, if you want all the bells and whistles, you’ll pay several thousand more.

There’s more to consider, too. The LEAF has more luggage space than the VW and the Chevy. On the other hand, the Bolt has the most functional back seat and is easiest to enter and exit for a number of reasons, including the slightly higher hip point.

The Bolt, Ioniq and e-Golf all have better seating positions for the driver, at least in part because the LEAF’s steering wheel does not telescope. VW, Hyundai and Nissan all have very good instrumentation and controls, so here it’s a matter of personal preference.

All these EVs have regenerative braking – reclaiming kinetic energy from braking and when you’re slowing or going downhill. VW and Hyundai let you manage the regen setting easily enough and the Bolt adds a paddle shifter on the steering wheel to make things seem sportier, still.

Hyundai Ioniq. Dull styling and not enough range.

I would, however, give the best-in-class nod to Nissan’s e-Pedal toggle and the overall regen system. The e-Pedal will even hold the LEAF stationary on an incline. Nissan says that once you master the e-Pedal, you will drive without using the brake pedal 95-98 per cent of the time. True. I did during my first test.

Then there’s Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, a kind of cruise control that keeps you in your lane and includes adaptive cruise control. The LEAF is, therefore, semi-autonomous in certain driving conditions. Nice. But you still need to keep your hands on the steering wheel.

As for performance, the Bolt is the most powerful of the mainstream EVs here, aside from the Model 3. The LEAF is quick, but not as electrifying as the Bolt. The VW is lively, too, and corners best. The Hyundai is the least responsive of the lot.

Finally, a few words about battery life. We can’t know anything about battery degradation for this LEAF, but early versions of the car were known for batteries that would age rather quickly. Nissan says degradation issues have been addressed.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV: what’s hidden under the skin and floor.

The Chevy Bolt wins this class of EVs.

So, if you’re going to buy a mainstream EV right now, which one? As I said, for me it’s the Bolt.

It’s pricier than its main rivals, but less than a Model 3. It has the most range of all these cars and the infotainment offerings are excellent. I like the slightly higher seating position and the overall functionality, not to mention the paddle shifters.

For the record, the LEAF would be my second choice. It’s handsome, drives well, I love the e-Pedal and for the money, it has more range than the Ioniq and the e-Golf.

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