Both the Volt and the Leaf are among the 14 semifinalists for the 2011 North American Car and Truck of the Year award.
On challenging two-lane roads, the Leaf and Volt each felt quite at home, even traveling at brisk speeds. The Leaf's steering is lighter and has better feel than the Volt's, although the electric Nissan is hardly awash in feedback. The Leaf was quicker to head into a turn, and the Volt felt more nose-heavy. There was more of a pause before the Volt began to change direction.
Both cars' bodies felt solid, perhaps partly because their large battery packs provide some additional bracing for vehicles' structures. Even under hard cornering the body lean on each is nicely controlled, a benefit of the weighty batteries sitting low in the vehicles.
The grip is more than adequate, although their low-rolling resistance tires ultimately provide less cornering grip than a conventional tire. The ride quality of each car was adequately comfortable even on a broken surface. The feel of the Leaf's brakes was better than the Volt's, on which the pedal felt too soft.
The electric motors in each car provide instant as well as relatively strong and steady acceleration, a reminder that under the right circumstances electricity can be a great playmate.
Chevrolet says the Volt will go from zero to 60 m.p.h. in about 8.5 seconds. Nissan has not released a zero-to-60 time, but a writer for Green Car Advisor recently reported clocking the Leaf at 7.7 seconds.
When it comes to ride and handling, these are real cars with different dynamic natures. The Volt is a pleasant cruiser and commuter, while the Leaf is more lively and may appeal more to a driving enthusiast, albeit a driving enthusiast on a leash.