Consumer Reports: Electric cars put to the test

March 10, 2011 5:06:38 AM PST
Electric vehicles are being touted as the car of the future. The Nissan Leaf has just arrived in showrooms. And the Volt went on sale a few months ago.

At the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, testers have checked out the Volt, which has a backup gasoline engine, and the Nissan Leaf, which is 100 percent electric.

Range (how far an electric vehicle can go on a charge) is a big issue. Testers have found that cold weather is a problem. The Nissan Leaf can go about 100 miles on a charge in ideal conditions. But in Consumer Reports' experience, driving in cold weather can easily shorten that to about 65 miles.

The Volt, in low temperatures, has trouble fully heating the car. It can go anywhere from 25 to 50 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in, which can take the car up to 300 miles. But the added gasoline engine makes the Volt expensive, and on long drives you may use more fuel than you would in a conventional hybrid such as the Prius.

As for recharge time, the Volt takes about 4 to 5 hours using a 220-volt charger installed in your home. The Leaf takes about 8 hours on average.

The Leaf is less expensive, costing about $35,000. The Volt is about $45,000. But even with federal and state tax credits, Consumer Reports says that neither is likely to save you money.

Consumer Reports says that electric vehicles have come a long way. But they have a long way to go before they're ready to replace the average person's primary vehicle.

If you're interested in a car that will be kind to the environment and save you money, Consumer Reports recommends the Toyota Prius.

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