2017 Nissan Leaf vs 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf: Charge of the EV Brigade [Review]

2017 VW e-Golf vs 2017 Nissan Leaf

Updated 8/29/2017

The evolution of electric-powered vehicles continues to move forward and today there are several zero-emission choices for reducing your carbon footprint when shopping for a battery electric vehicle (BEV). Excluding the 238-mile range Chevy Bolt, two strong choices available today are the 2017 Nissan Leaf and 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf – both with a comforting range of 100-plus miles or more.

With a big push from Carlos Ghosn and the folks at Nissan, the Leaf is the most popular EV on the market and widely available across the U.S. and other industrial nations. The Volkswagen e-Golf competes directly with the Nissan Leaf, offers similar range but is sold in limited markets. As closely matched all-electric competitors, which is the better car – the 2017 Nissan Leaf or the 2017 VW e-Golf?

Quelling our range anxiety

When comparing BEV cars, range on a single charge is likely the most important spec that everyone looks at. The Nissan Leaf has a driving range of 107 miles, which is now standard on all trim levels for 2017.  The 2017 VW e-Golf also gets a boost in range from 83 miles to 125 miles due to an updated Lithium-ion battery pack with improved battery chemistry. Using the heavily congested San Francisco Bay Area roads as our real-world environment for testing, we drove a Leaf SV and e-Golf SEL extensively for a week in mild weather conditions (60 – 90-degree temperatures).

We confirmed that both the 2017 Leaf and 2017 e-Golf could meet their declared range of 107 and 125 miles, respectively, driving a mix of in-town errand running, commuting to/from work at peak traffic hours, and running at freeway speeds when the roads were not congested. After our time driving the plug-in eco-runners and possibly just as much time waiting for them to recharge, we logged close to 800 miles across both cars.

2017 vw e-golf
2017 VW e-Golf (photo credit: Volkswagen of America)

How long does it take to charge up the batteries?

The Leaf S models come standard with a 3.6-kW onboard charger; a 6.6-kW charger is optional on that model, and standard on the higher-level SV and SL models. Indeed, the higher power charger means recharge times are faster.  If the battery is near zero, it can take up to 26 hours to fully charge the Leaf’s 30-kWh battery with the standard 3.6-kW onboard charger and a 110-volt outlet or 21 hours using a 6.6-kW charger.

Getting back up to full capacity using a 240-volt AC Level 2 source takes approximately seven hours with the 3.6-kW charger and around 6 hours with the 6.6-kW charger, according to Nissan.

2017 nissan leaf recharging at ChargePoint station
Recharging at ChargePoint station in NASA Ames Research Center next to Moffett NAS Mountain View, CA

The VW e-Golf has a 7.2-kW charger, which is standard across all models. VW claims that the e-Golf can be charged in less than six hours using an AC Level 2 charger.

The CHAdeMO quick charge option – promoted by Nissan-Renault and adopted by primarily Japanese car manufacturers – is a charging standard with a specification for high-voltage (up to 500 V DC) high-current (125 amp) automotive fast charging. DC fast charging – using the CHAdeMO [https://www.chademo.com/] standard –  can get the Leaf’s battery up to 80 percent in 30 minutes or less.

The Volkswagen group adopted the SAE J-1772 “combo” charging system (CCS) as its standard for DC fast charging. Once we found the right type of connector, charging the e-Golf’s battery to 80 percent or better took about the same amount of time as the Leaf.

We don’t recommend waiting to get that last 20 percent unless you really need it. Both the Leaf and e-Golf battery systems taper down the charging rate as it gets closer to full battery capacity. Since rates per minute are much higher when using a DC fast charger, the cost to recharge that last 20 percent can get expensive.

2017 nissan leaf

How much does the Leaf and the e-Golf cost?

The 2017 Nissan Leaf is offered in three trims – Leaf S, Leaf SV, and Leaf SL. MSRP for the entry-level S is $30,680. The top-of-the-line Leaf SL trim lists for $36,790. With a base price of $34,200, our mid-level Leaf SV had an as-tested price of $36,835 before federal and state tax incentives.

The 2017 VW e-Golf is offered in two trims – SE and SEL Premium. Starting at $28,995, the new Volkswagen e-Golf SE trim comes with a list of standard equipment that overshadows the Leaf S model, including an available 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 7.2 kW onboard charger. A DC fast charging package is available.

2017 VW e-Golf all-electric battery powered car

Our fully equipped SEL Premium trim for the e-Golf has an MSRP of $35,595 and has an available 12.3-inch digital cockpit system that borrows display technology from its sister brand Audi. The SEL trim also comes with a Driver Assistance package – not available in the Leaf – which includes Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Forward Collision Warning system, Lane Assist, Active Blind Spot Monitoring with rear traffic alert, Park Assist, and Light Assist. Full LED headlights and LED daytime running lights are standard equipment for the SEL, whereas the LEAF SL only has an LED low beam headlight.

Cabin seating and interior features

The Leaf is a 5-passenger vehicle that has not changed much since reaching our shores back in December 2010. As such, the cabin design is dated compared with the e-Golf, the infotainment screen is only 7 inches and has low-resolution graphics, plus the rear cargo area loses some space storing the trickle charging kit and hardware for the Bose sound system. Even the glove box is a letdown with its narrow storage bin that isn’t large enough to hold the owner’s manual.

Standard equipment for the Leaf S and SV trims have seats that are covered in cloth made from partially recycled materials (leather seats are standard with the top-of-the-line SL model) and there is a lot of hard plastic throughout the cabin. Whereas the e-Golf SEL Premium models boast faux leather covered seats as standard equipment and a cabin that is significantly upscale in comparison. The Leaf’s palm-size shifter for the shift-by-wire drive selector is another touch-point that didn’t win any favor from us.

Another indication of the Leaf’s dated cabin is the tilt-only adjustability of the steering wheel; it does not telescope. Some of the minor switches and controls look and feel more suited to an economy car than an advanced technology all-electric car. The low-resolution display of the instrument cluster looks downright primitive and requires using a perimeter button to view the number of information pages.

Conversely, the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf is a practical mode of transportation that delivers a big car feel in a small package. The Golf’s light and airy cabin can accommodate five passengers in suitable comfort while providing a very usable 22.8 cubic feet of cargo room (52.7 cubic feet with its rear seats folded). Overall, the cargo area is more spacious than the Leaf when the seats are folded and it has more useable space because the cargo area floor is on a single plane. Plus, the cargo area is kept tidy with the car’s trickle charger stowed out of sight underneath the floorboard.

Even the simple things can make a big difference. Volkswagen engineers chose a 1-speed automatic transmission and use the same gear selector as gasoline-powered Golf, making the e-Golf’s gear shifter easier to grip and more fun to use. This encouraged us to change up the regen/recuperation stages more often to match driving conditions and boost our driver interaction more than anyone would ever think when driving an electrical appliance disguised as a car.

Since Mk7 Golf was only released a couple years ago, it has the advantage of having a newer infotainment system with better features. The 8-inch touchscreen looks sharp and the user experience is overall better than the Nissan’s dated software.  Smartphone integration [http://www.vwcarnetconnect.com/] and access to a smartphone’s apps are available through Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or MirrorLink.

Driving impressions

When comparing the driving characteristics of the two BEVs, they differ more than the politics of Democrats vs. Republicans. The Leaf was designed to bring zero emission mobility to the world and encourage drivers to drive conservatively. VW took a more conventional path to retain as much of the Golf’s driving dynamics as possible while delivering a car that would save money on fuel costs and reduce environmental impact.

2017 Nissan Leaf EV interior

Taking off from a stoplight, the Leaf jumps from the line. It is not a performance car by any measure but has sufficient response for it to be a non-issue on city streets. It is more noticeable when entering the freeway. Those accustomed to rocketing up to freeway speeds right out of the gate might be a bit disappointed with the Leaf, but again, the emphasis is on fuel economy, not performance. When the pedal is depressed rapidly, it’s as if the acceleration curve flatlines.

Despite its ho-hum launch capabilities, the Leaf drives smooth and comfortable, with continuous acceleration and the calm, quiet travel of an all-electric vehicle. What’s missing is sufficient insulation and noise damping materials to keep the road noise at bay.

2017 Nissan Leaf EV

Quietness is also a virtue of the e-Golf. You don’t hear any electric motor moaning and VW packed extra soundproofing materials to mute as much noise as possible. Road noise – which is always more noticeable in a quiet EV – was present, but distant.

The e-Golf’s instrument display looks nearly identical to the standard Golf and leaves the fancy graphics to other players. In front of the driver are two large analog gauges that display information on power consumption and regen status of the battery, the power output of the electric motor, speed, and battery level. Sandwiched between the two analog gauges is a configurable display that provides instructions from the onboard navigation system, music details from the audio source, trip computer stats, fuel economy, or configuring some of the car’s settings. Intimate details about range, efficiency, and active working status of the e-Golf’s powertrain are available for viewing on the sharp-looking infotainment display.

2017 vw e-golf 8-in infotainment touchscreen display

As you’d expect, acceleration from a standstill is brisk with all the torque instantly at work. As with other Golfs, the dreaded torque steer from a front drive car has been eliminated. Power delivery is smooth and linear, but you won’t beat most cars in a drag race. Zero to 60 is leisurely, but an acceptable 9.5 seconds.  Top speed is limited to a rather conservative 85 mph.

The ride in the e-Golf is decisively more engaging over the Leaf. The suspension easily soaks up most road roughness and the extra battery weight keeps the German hatchback planted. Its suspension is pliant but not harsh.

Despite that spacious interior, the Golf’s exterior proportions remain small and compact. It’s an easy car to maneuver and park on tight city streets, yet it still cruises confidently and comfortably on the open highway.

2017 Nissan Leaf photo gallery
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Random Observations

  • German translation for regeneration is “recuperation”
  • A neat feature we found in the e-Golf is tapping the gear selector to the left, which gives the driver three selectable levels of aggressiveness for battery regeneration/recuperation from braking. On a 10-mile downhill section of road, we added roughly 15 miles of range to the battery by playing with the e-Golf’s regenerative braking system and controlling the rate of descent without applying the brake pedal.
  • The e-Golf has no forward idle creep but will creep when shifted into reverse
  • Hands down, the e-Golf is a lot more fun and engaging to drive than the Leaf
  • More financing incentives seem to be available for the Leaf over the e-Golf
  • Leaf SL model has an available solar panel spoiler to help power the car’s accessories and has heated rear seats – features not available for the e-Golf
  • Features unique to the Leaf not found on the e-Golf are Nissan’s 360-degree Around View® Monitor camera system, a hybrid heater system that provides superior cold weather performance while consuming less energy, heated outside mirrors and steering wheel
  • The e-Golf has two rear seating positions with complete child seat (LATCH) hardware that is easy to find and requires less force needed to attach compared to the Leaf, which earned an IIHS “acceptable” rating”. The Leaf received a “marginal” rating from IIHS after evaluating the child seat anchors (LATCH) ease of use because the lower anchors were too deep in the seat and they found it difficult to maneuver around the anchors.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf photo gallery
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What about the 2018 Nissan Leaf?

The next-generation Leaf is rumored to feature the Japanese automaker’s most advanced driver assistance system and pundits are guessing that the Leaf will have an all-electric range of 200–300 miles. Nissan first revealed its plan to include the ProPILOT Assist technology, which allows single-lane autonomous driving, in the forthcoming version of the Leaf back in January at CES. With plans to officially launch the Leaf in September, Nissan has been releasing teaser images showing the vehicle’s grille, headlights, and silhouetted body shape. The world premiere will be broadcast from Japan on September 6 and shown at the inaugural Technology in Motion (TIM Detroit) exhibition and conference in Detroit. The three-day event will be one of the first opportunities to see the next-generation LEAF electric car following its global unveiling.

Curious about the 2018 Leaf? Read our full review of the 2nd generation Nissan Leaf HERE.

The Verdict

Compared to some of its competitors, the Nissan Leaf is way past its expiration date. Rivals like the Chevy Bolt and BMW i3 offer more range, superior technology, better fuel economy, and a more engaging driving experience.

The VW e-Golf is a sleeper car that delivers more than its run-of-the-mill exterior suggests. It is not your father’s BEV, but rather an all-electric compact car with some serious range and genuinely special features that make it a contender for many commuters looking to save money on fuel costs, gain access to the HOV lane, and reduce their carbon footprint.

2017 Nissan Leaf SL 2017 VW e-Golf SEL Premium
Range 107 miles 125 miles
Battery 30 kWh Li-ion 35.8 kWh Li-ion
Power 107 hp 134 hp
Torque 187 lb-ft 199 lb-ft
Electric Motor 80kW AC synchronous motor 100kW AC synchronous motor
Drivetrain layout FWD FWD
Transmission single speed gear reducer 1-speed automatic
EPA efficiency rating 112 MPGe (124 city / 101 hwy) 119 MPGe (126 city / 111 hwy)
Seating Capacity 5 5
Passenger Volume 92.4 cu. ft 93.5 cu. ft.
Cargo Volume Trunk 23.6 cu. ft. 22.8 cu. ft.
Cargo Volume w/Seats Folded 30 cu. ft. 52.7 cu. ft.
Drag Coefficient 0.28 cD 0.27 cD
Wheelbase 106.3 in. 103.5 in.
Length 175.0 in. 168.1 in.
Width 69.7 in. 70.8 in.
Height 61.0 in. 57.2 in.
Ground Clearance 6.3 in. 5.0 in.
Curb Weight 3,405 lbs 3,455 lbs
Acceleration 0-60 mph N/A 9.6 sec
Top Speed N/A 85 mph
Crash Test Ratings NHTSA – 4-star frontal crash and rollover; no ratings for other categories | IIHS – crash worthiness is good except for the “poor” results when it came to the small overlap front crash test NHTSA – no data available | IIHS – 2017 Top Safety Pick – received a “good” rating in all the crash test categories.
Warranty 3 year/36k mile new car warranty | 5 yr/60k mile powertrain warranty | 3 yr/36k mile roadside assistance | 8 yr/100k mile battery warranty 3 year/36k mile new car warranty | 5 yr/60k mile powertrain warranty | 3 yr/36k mile roadside assistance |8 yr/100k mile battery warranty

Other all-electric five-door compact hatchbacks this year include the BMW i3, Chevrolet Bolt EV, Kia Soul EV, and the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, along with the lower-volume Ford Focus Electric and Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive.

VW e-Golf: 124 miles 35.8 kWh Li-ion battery 134 hp / 100 kW motor
Nissan Leaf: 107 miles 30 kWh Li-ion battery 107 hp / 80 kW motor
Hyundai Ioniq: 110 miles 28 kWh battery 118 hp / 88 kW motor
Kia Soul EV: 93 miles 27 kWh Li-ion battery 109 hp / 81.4 kW motor
BWM i3: 114 miles 33 kWh Li-ion battery 170 hp / ? kW motor
Ford Focus Electric: 115 miles 33.5 kWh battery 143 hp / 107 kW motor
Mercedes-Benz B250e: 87 miles 28 kWh battery 177 hp / 132 kW motor
Chevy Bolt: 238 miles 60 kWh Li-ion battery 200 hp / 150 kW motor

Watch this 2017 VW Golf vs e-Golf Mashup Review. Which one is the future?