In Depth

Tesla Model 3 vs. Nissan Leaf: which is the best budget EV?

Both offer driverless technology and 150-plus miles on a single charge

Electric vehicles are becoming much cheaper to own, with many major carmakers offering budget versions that cost around the same as a combustion-engined hatchback.

Two of the biggest names in the market are Tesla and Nissan, both of which have budget EVs hitting the UK in 2018. 

Tesla’s Model 3, its cheapest production car yet, was launched amid great anticipation in March 2016. While it’s already available to buy in the US, WhatCar? says buyers in the UK will have to wait until the end of 2018. 

The Model 3’s biggest rival is the new Nissan Leaf, available to order now. It’s the follow-up to the company’s first electric car from 2010, which according to Autocar, is currently the “world’s best-selling electric car”.

Both are sure to be very popular in the UK's electric car market, but how do the two compare and which one should you choose?

Design and practicality

The Tesla Model 3 bears an almost identical four-door saloon silhouette to the company’s range-topping Model S. The budget EV incorporates the same boot spoiler and headlight design, and indentical chrome accents around the windows.

The most noticeable difference between the two is that the Model 3 has a different front bumper, which doesn’t feature a grille and is more rounded than its sibling. 

Meanwhile, the Nissan Leaf is a five-door hatchback with a more angular look than the Model 3. 

Despite its “sharper” and “quirky” styling, Teslarati says the Model 3 boasts a “timeless” look that is both attractive and practical. 

Driverless tech

Although the Model 3 is the cheapest vehicle in the Tesla line-up, it’s still available with the company’s Autopilot driverless mode, allowing the car to “match its speed to traffic conditions and change lanes automatically”, WhatCar? says. 

Tesla plans to update the vehicle with “full self-driving capability” in the future, but it is not yet known what features will be included.

Nissan, meanwhile, has equipped the Leaf with its new ProPilot system. Auto Express says the system can steer, brake and accelerate autonomously, and drive the car at speeds of up to 62mph while in motorway queues. 

Battery and performance

You can expect a range of around 151 miles on a single charge from the new Leaf’s floor-mounted 40kWh battery, says the Daily Express, which is calculated under the US-based Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) system. Charging the battery to 80% capacity takes around 40 minutes using the UK’s rapid-charge network. 

The entry-level Model 3 can be driven for 220 miles before it needs charging, although Tesla offers a range-topping version with a 310-mile range battery. The Model 3 also accelerates faster than the Leaf, doing 0-60mph in 5.4 seconds compared to the Nissan’s eight-second time.

However, Autocar says the Nissan has a range of 235 miles under the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC) system, significantly higher than its EPA rating. But the Model 3 has not yet been tested under this system, so the EPA ratings are the closest comparison we have so far.

Price and release

With a price tag of just £21,990, the Nissan Leaf is the cheaper of the two cars, CarBuyer reports. Range-topping models sell for £27,490 and come with better interior options, including an upgraded infotainment system.

UK pricing has yet to announced for the Model 3, but Auto Express reports that prices are expected to start at around £35,000.

Meanwhile, Tesla has missed manufacturing deadlines for the Model 3 for the past four months, with production woes delaying the company’s target of building 5,000 examples per week. So far, the budget EV is still expected to launch in the UK later this year.

The Leaf should be easier to get, with Nissan already delivering the new EV to some customers who pre-ordered.

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