Ready to get an electric car?

March 1, 2011 3:53:24 PM PST
Electric vehicles are being touted as the car of the future. The Nissan Leaf has just arrived in showrooms and the Chevy Volt went on sale a few months ago. As the price of gas goes up, so, too, does the interest in electric cars and hybrids. If you are thinking of a Chevy Volt or a Nissan Leaf, Consumer Reports just finished testing both. Tests show the cars hold promise, but there are also significant drawbacks.

The Chevrolet Volt is available on a limited basis, but when Eddie Luvic saw the electric car in the showroom, he was sold.

"I saw the Chevy Volt on the floor," he said. "I looked it over and I had to buy it."

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

Range, or 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, but that's in ideal conditions," said Jake Fisher with Consumer Reports. "In our experience, cold weather can shorten that to about 65 miles."

The Volt, in low temperatures, has trouble fully heating. 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 you pay a price for this.

"The added gasoline engine makes the Volt expensive, and on long drives, you may wind up actually using more fuel than you would in a conventional hybrid like the Prius," said Fisher.

As for recharge time, with a 220-volt charger that you can install in your home, the Volt takes about four to five hours. The Leaf takes about eight 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, neither is likely to save you money.

"Electric vehicles have come a long way,' said Fisher. "But they still have a long way to go before they're ready to replace the average person's primary vehicle."

However, if you're willing to pay a premium for going gas-free, one of these vehicles might be right for you.

If you're interested in a car that will be kind to the environment and get good mileage, Consumer Reports recommends the Toyota Prius. It gets 44 miles per gallon overall.