Electric Vehicles

Nissan Leaf or Ford Electric ?

Put aside, for a moment, the question of all-electric car versus plug-in hybrid–and the Volt-LEAF deathmatch that would likely ensue. We’ve had that question a lot here on PluginCars.com and much of the answer to it simply comes down to knowing your lifestyle and the driving needs generated by it. In many ways the two types of vehicles aren’t even in competition with each other because they satisfy very different needs. As a result, the coverage of Volt vs. LEAF tends to be overblown and reality-challenged. It’s a fake market comparison resulting from the lack of any other consumer-priced plug-in competition besides those two vehicles.

But, if you’re in the market for an all-electric car, the lack of competition for the Nissan LEAF is about change with the impending arrival of the 2012 Ford Focus Electric. What this represents is no less than the first time ever that two mass-produced, relatively affordable, consumer-oriented, mid-sized 100% electric cars will be available for regular folks to buy and own. Think about that. A competition the world hasn’t seen since the advent of the automobile.

It brings up all sorts of new questions and has sent more than few Nissan LEAF fence sitters and pre-orderers back to the drawing board to re-evaluate their allegiance. While it’s difficult to compare the two cars–the LEAF has been out in the wild for more than a month now, whereas nobody’s yet driven the just-unveiled Focus Electric–much is known about Ford’s intentions and I recently had the chance to drive the gas-powered version of the 2012 Focus hatchback. Ford has promised that the electric version of the Focus won’t lose any of the driving dynamics of the gas version. I’ve also had extensive time behind the wheel of the Nissan LEAF–including the world’s first public full range driving test.

At this point I feel at least moderately qualified to answer some of those burning questions to help those who are now trying to decide what to do. I’ll do my best. And I’ll leave the question of styling preference up to you–I’d be daft not to.

The Nissan LEAF is a fun car to drive. With its batteries low and in the exact center of gravity the LEAF has an exact 50/50 weight distribution making cornering effortless. Four-wheel disc brakes and stabilizer bars bring it under control quickly, and the electronic brake force distribution gives you the confidence to dodge impending obstacles with the best of them. With a 107 horsepower electric motor, and an always available 207 lb-ft of torque, the LEAF rockets from a standing start–beating even some high end performance cars at speeds from 0-40 mph. All that torque also makes passing on the highway a breeze. The Nissan LEAF has shown that it can reach a top speed of more than 95 mph.

Although no one has yet driven the production version of the Ford Focus Electric, I’m working on the Ford-professed principle that the electric version will lose none of the driving dynamics of the gas version–which I drove last week on the national media launch.

Like the LEAF, the 2012 Ford Focus is incredibly fun to drive. It, too, has four-wheel disc brakes, stabilizer bars and all the benefits of electric driveâ

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