Life in a Leaf / Fun in my Fiat
We recently had the chance to drive not one, but two of the new breed of affordable, every-man electric vehicles: the Nissan Leaf and the Fiat 500e. Rather than extol their various virtues independently, we decided it could be fun to do a head-to-head, scoring each for its strengths and weaknesses in 7 key areas of importance to an EV: appearance, driving, ergonomics, infotainment, range/charging, passenger comfort, and storage. Our two guest authors, Aviv (Leaf driver) and Lewis (Fiat driver), will give their take on why their eco-friendly ride reigns supreme in each area, with our impartial judge, Derek, declaring a winner for each round.
Lewis: I hate to start so strong but appearance is an easy win for the Fiat. Classic European styling with a modern twist makes you get the kind of attention you’re looking for when trying to drive eco-chic. Think of all the great designs to come out of Italy: apparel, art, architecture, and automobiles. The Fiat represents a strong link in a long history of Italian classics.
Aviv: I agree that the Leaf has a bit of an awkward design but I find that refreshing. the aerodynamic design makes the leaf more energy efficient and the height of the vehicles makes the inside very spacious considering the overall size. I didn’t buy it for the appearance but I can definitely appreciate the thought that went behind the overall design.
Derek says: While the Fiat is not Italy’s best example of design finesse, it still has more character over the utilitarian look of the Leaf.
Fiat takes the round. Fiat: 1 Leaf: 0
Aviv: The Leaf is surprisingly fun to drive, the quick acceleration off the line gives a sporty feel to the beginning for the drive but as you keep going that feeling gives away to a very consistent and smooth drive. Compared to gasoline power class competitors, the Leaf is more fun and has more power which makes it a clear winner in its class.
Lewis: Driving a Fiat 500e is what you’d hope for and more. The low-end torque of being an EV gives you a lot of pep at speeds up to 40 mph and then the power you need for accelerating on the freeway. Electronic Stability Control and a low center of gravity also makes the Fiat 500e a blast on mountain curves. Couple that with beating the Leaf off the line and we have a knockout.
Derek says: The Leaf is a snooze when cruising to the next charging station compared to the Fiat’s zippy acceleration and tossable driving dynamics.
Fiat wins again. Fiat: 2 Leaf: 0
Lewis: With the 500e’s focus on style, it’s no surprise that the interior of the Fiat kept beauty in design, but not at the expense of function. Controls are easily accessible with a theme that pays homage to the circle. Simple push-button controls with P-R-N-D made shifting and steering wheel controls helpful and intuitive.
Aviv: The Leaf is built with comfort and functionality in mind, unlike the Fiat – the window controls are intuitively in the right place and so are all the other controls and switches. The in-dash display is bright and clear, providing all the needed information including guides on how effective your EV driving is. The joystick like gear shift is a great combination of usability and simplicity.
Derek says: The Japanese are masters at car ergonomics. The Italians have been known to sacrifice functionality over style. First point for the Leaf
Score one for the Leaf. Fiat: 2 Leaf: 1
Aviv: This is easy, the 500e’s idea of an integrated navigation is a removable TomTom personal navigation device that needs to be plugged in and out whenever you need it. The Leaf has a large touch screen monitor integrated into the dash that provides access to navigation, information, phone and entertainment including satellite radio. The interface is simple, clear, and all functions are easy to access and use.
Lewis: I happen to really like the optional navigation. 98.82% of the time I’m driving I know exactly where I’m going anyway. It’s nice to be able to pop the system out with the push of a button and store it so I don’t have one more LCD screen glaring at me during the day. And for those few times I do need directions (not that I’d admit it), the TomTom can be put back in just seconds.
Derek says: Placement of the navigation screen is an obvious afterthought in the 500e. Thank goodness Fiat Engineers didn’t opt to use suction cups. Leaf earns another point to tie.
Leaf takes the round. Fiat: 2 Leaf: 2
Lewis: Thanks to being a good deal smaller than the bulky Nissan, the Fiat gets more juice out of its battery packs. It also accepts both the 120V and 220V adapters so you get a timely overnight charge, though if I had one long-term I would definitely spring the extra cash for the 220V.
Aviv: With the ability to get 80% charge in less than 15 minutes using a DC Fast Charger (DCFC), the Leaf is more than making up for the small gap in range. The domestic power charger will give you close to full charge overnight even if you have to push it for the last few miles to reach a charging station.
Derek says: Waiting hours for your EV to charge is good if you have time for a siesta. Advantage Leaf because it has DC fast charging (DCFC) capability and can charge up to 80% in about 15 minutes.
Leaf takes the round. Fiat: 2 Leaf: 3
Lewis: You know what? If you want storage, get a minivan. The Fiat has built-in storage for a charger under its trunk area and plenty of space for a few pairs of Ferragamo shoes in the back. Do your grocery shopping with something else.
Aviv: This is easy. The Leaf has a surprisingly large trunk. it is able to carry a cart load of Costco shopping and still have enough space for my daughter’s stroller. Inside the car the storage is a bit limited and the glove compartment is too small to fit my iPad – time to move to a mini version.
Derek says: The Fiat has more than enough cargo space to carry groceries home from the farmer’s market or Costco. Plus, all the women love shopping in style. Point goes to the 500e.
We have another tie. Can you feel the tension building? Fiat: 3 Leaf: 3
Aviv:While it’s not built for long distance drives, the Leaf is well equipped and a lot of effort was put into making it comfortable for the driver and the passengers. The Leaf has more than enough hip room and headroom for the driver and can easily carry the entire family. while Lewis will be on his 3rd round to pick up his kids from school I will be having my second drink. Now who is cool???
Lewis: You know what else doesn’t have a great backseat? A Ferrari. Some cars you buy for hauling people, some for you and one other lucky passenger. Sure there are some seatbelts in the back, but I’d rather be stylishly comfortable with a hot date than socially uncomfortable with lots of friends. The 500e gives the driver & passenger plenty of space with comfortable racing-style leatherette seats.
Derek says: There are Italian sports cars with more back seat legroom than the Fiat 500e. Final point and win goes to the Nissan Leaf.
Leaf takes the final round and the overall win. Fiat: 3 Leaf: 4
|2013 Fiat 500e||2013 Nissan Leaf SV|
|EPA Estimated Range (MPGe)||122 city / 108 hwy / 116 combined||129 city / 102 hwy / 115 combined|
|Range||87 miles||75 miles|
|Power||111 hp | 147 lb-ft torque||107 hp | 187 lb-ft torque|
|Electric Motor||83 kW electric-drive motor||80 kW AC synchronous motor|
|Battery||24 kWh Li-ion||24 kWh Li-ion|
|0 – 60 mph||9.92 sec (*TFL.com)||10 seconds (unofficial)|
|Top Speed||88 mph||90 mph|
|Passenger Volume||75.6 cubic feet||92.4 cubic feet|
|Cargo volume (max.)||33.3 cubic feet||30.0 cubic feet|