When it comes to entry-level EVs, two cars are miles ahead of the pack: Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan LEAF. They’ve given every other competitor a good run for their money, setting the pace with a brilliant selection of specs and robust performance at very competitive prices. Plus, they have been on the road for a while so drivers know what to expect. The (relative) newcomer to the hatchback market is the Hyundai Kona EV, which was released in 2019, two years after the Bolt and eight years after the LEAF.
These hatchback EVs are a good fit for a wide demographic, from individuals to small families, sports lovers, camping enthusiasts, and errand-runners. For the Bolt and the LEAF, they have had many years and several releases to hone in on their value, handling, and other selling points. The Kona is newer to the scene but just as well-loved as the first two. In fact, since it came out later, Hyundai was able to appoint it with some features that they knew drivers wanted.
Are you deciding between entry-priced hatchback EV options? Here’s how they go head to head in critical areas.
Nissan LEAF Basics
The Nissan LEAF, released in 2011, is generally considered the first widely available EV. It was also the world’s best selling EV until the Model 3 took the crown in 2020. Although the original range was only around 70 miles, it has kept up with the times and now boasts either 150 miles or 226 miles, depending on the version. The MSRP has hovered around the $30k mark for a new LEAF, and depending on the model year, used ones can be very affordable. However, EV batteries and range do degrade with age, so the inexpensive price point of an older LEAF has to be balanced against how much range you need. Starting in 2018, the LEAF was revamped to include a larger, 40 kWh battery, and the option to upgrade to the Plus version, which has a 62 kWh battery and comes close to the range seen in the Bolt and Kona.
Chevrolet Bolt Basics
The Chevy Bolt got a lot of coverage last year due to a highly publicized battery recall, but the opinion of most owners is still that it’s a great, reliable car. It was released in 2017 with a range of 238 miles that was really only matched by Teslas, at the time. That made it a great choice for drivers who wanted to go electric but needed more range flexibility than the LEAF. As a reminder, in 2017, the LEAF range was only 107 miles. Even in 2018 and 2019, there were still few competitors, and while the second generation LEAF offered 151 miles of range and 226 miles with the Plus upgrade, the Bolt won over many new drivers. Now, it is offered both in the traditional hatchback, as well as a crossover “EUV” option,
Hyundai Kona Basics
The Kona nameplate has been around for longer than the Kona EV. It is also a popular gas and hybrid powered car. The all-electric version was introduced in Korea in 2018 and made its way to the US in 2019. It already had name recognition and offered a healthy 258 miles of range - just enough to challenge the Bolt and slightly out-distance the LEAF Plus. Moreover, the Kona appealed to drivers who didn’t want to drive a car that was obviously electric. It blends in with the crowd, and you have to look closely to tell it’s all green.
EV Battery Size and Range
The Bolt and the Kona have battery sizes and ranges that are very competitive with each other - the Kona is 64 kWh and gets 258 miles of range, while the Bolt was originally a 60 kWh battery with 238 miles of range. Note that after the 2021 Bolt recall, models were replaced with the newer, 66 kWh battery that gets 259 miles of range. Most Konas have not seen major battery degradation, since the earliest models only go back to 2019, and many on the road today see ranges as high as 380 miles - far above the EPA rated range. The same is true for Bolts, although as a reminder, most have now had the recall addressed and are driving around with essentially new batteries and full ranges. We have a full discussion of the range estimates for Bolts that have had their batteries replaced.
"The LEAF... is the crocodile of the electric cars - it’s been around forever and keeps getting better."
The LEAF, on the other hand, is the crocodile of the electric cars - it’s been around forever and keeps getting better. The earliest models were equipped with 24 kWh batteries, which are super small by today’s standards, and only got around 70 miles of range. Now, the LEAF comes standard with a 40 kWh battery and the option for the Plus, which has 62 kWh. The Plus comes closest to the EPA range of the Kona and the Bolt with 226 miles, but in actuality, we have found the LEAF to be far more efficient than it gets credit for. The standard LEAF is EPA rated at 151 miles, but we often see cars getting more than 175 miles per charge.
A final note on range, though - depending on your lifestyle, more is not always better. A LEAF may get fewer miles per charge, but the 40 kW battery will recharge in only 4 hours. If you have lots of places to charge, the extra range may not matter as much as you think.
Despite well documented savings over the lifetime of an electric car, we know that many drivers have one big question: how much will I be paying for this car today. Chevy is particularly attuned to that question since they just dropped the price of a new Bolt to under $26,000. This makes it almost $2K less than the basic LEAF (the Plus, with comparable range, starts at $35,400) and almost $10K less than the Kona. However, there is a big “however” here. In large part due to the success of the Bolt, Chevrolet EVs are no longer eligible for the $7500 federal tax credit for new EV purchases, while the Kona and LEAF still are. However, car makers are currently lobbying the federal government to lift the cap that phased out this credit for EVs that sold well.
Used Bolt prices are just about the same as the price for newer used LEAFs, but they are hard to find right now. As part of Chevy’s recall, Bolt batteries were recently replaced with new, 66 kWh packs, meaning that they are all essentially new cars. The warranty was also reset, so people are definitely holding onto them. If you find a used Bolt that you like with the recall already done, it’s not a bad move to buy.
And then, the Kona. This is a newer car and used prices have not come down as much in the past few years. The average is around $38K, which is actually higher than the entry price for a new Kona, and is not eligible for the federal tax credit. Plus, as of writing, there are only 82 of them in inventory at dealers across the US.
All three of these hatchbacks are DC fast charge compatible, but their peak charging speeds do vary. The Chevy Bolt and the Nissan LEAF remain pretty stuck around 50 kW for its peak DC charge, while the Kona comes standard with 100 kW fast charge speeds. The newer LEAF Plus’ are also available with 100 kW fast charge.
So what does this mean for you? If you plan to do a lot of road trips, or rely heavily on public fast chargers, higher peak charge rates are definitely going to be a quality of life improvement. You will spend less time waiting to refill and be able to take advantage of faster chargers. However, if you plan to charge mostly at home, as 80% of American drivers do, DC fast charge speeds are much less important.
The Kona EV and Chevy Bolt both came off the production line with a 7.2 kW onboard charger, which was fast for 2019, and is no slouch today. 2022 Bolts were upgraded to an industry-leading 11 kW. The LEAF has a 6.6 kW charger, while older models may still have the 3.3 or 3.6 kW version.
One important thing about charging, especially if you’re planning to make use of public chargers, is that LEAFs use CHAdeMO plugs to fast charge, rather than the more common CCS plug that most other, non-Tesla EVs use. You’ll have to look for charging stations that accommodate CHAdeMO, such as EVgo.
One of the reasons that people like hatchbacks is the cargo space. Bolt’s overall interior space shines through in the trunk, with a 16.9 cubic foot trunk that can be enlarged to 56.6 cubic feet. Kona’s trunk is 19.2 cubic feet and 45.8 with the seats down, while the Leaf’s 23.6 cubic feet trunk space extends to only 30 cubic feet with the back seat folded down.
The Leaf and the Kona tie for overall interior space at 92.4 cubic feet - a few inches shy of Bolt’s 94.4 cubic feet. In the cabin itself, the Leaf boasts the most headroom, especially up in front, although Bolt offers more headroom and legroom in the back seats. The Leaf’s front passengers enjoy 41.2-inches headroom compared to Kona’s 39.6 inches (38 in the SEL trim) and Bolt’s 37.9 inches. Rear passenger seats are roomiest in the Bolt, though, with 36 inches of legroom, compared to 33.5 inches in both the LEAF and Kona EV. All three EVs can seat 5 passengers, two in front, three at the back, but especially in the LEAF and Kona, an adult will feel squished.
Recurrent polled our driver communities to find out how much they liked their cars, and what the high points were for each. The Kona won for all-around satisfaction, with 4.7, compared to 4.6 for the Bolt and 4.5 for the LEAF. But, more Bolt drivers would buy another Bolt than either Kona or LEAF drivers. And LEAF won in terms of cost of ownership and time to charge. It all boils down to what matters most to you. The only way to know which one is right is to try them out and see for yourself.
The Recurrent community scores are: