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The Golf has a standard Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, which automatically applies the brakes in the event of a crash to help prevent secondary collisions and prevent further injuries. The Leaf doesn’t offer a post collision braking system: in the event of a collision that triggers the airbags, more collisions are possible without the protection of airbags that may have already deployed.
The Golf has standard Car-Net, which uses a global positioning satellite (GPS) receiver and a cellular system to remotely unlock your doors if you lock your keys in, help track down your vehicle if it’s stolen or send emergency personnel to the scene if any airbags deploy. The Leaf doesn’t offer a GPS response system, only a navigation computer with no live response for emergencies, so if you’re involved in an accident and you’re incapacitated help may not come as quickly.
Both the Golf and the Leaf have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, front wheel drive, height adjustable front shoulder belts, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, crash mitigating brakes, blind spot warning systems, rearview cameras, rear cross-path warning and available lane departure warning systems.
For its top level performance in all IIHS frontal, side, rear impact and roof-crush tests, and its standard front crash prevention system, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants the Golf the rating of “Top Pick” for 2017, a rating granted to only 202 vehicles tested by the IIHS. The Leaf has not been fully tested, yet.
The Golf comes with a full 4-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, which covers the entire car and includes 24-hour roadside assistance. The Leaf’s 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty expires 1 year and 14,000 miles sooner.
The Golf’s corrosion warranty is 2 years longer than the Leaf’s (7 vs. 5 years).
Volkswagen pays for scheduled maintenance on the Golf for 2 years and 20,000 miles. Volkswagen will pay for oil changes, lubrication and any other required maintenance. Nissan doesn’t pay scheduled maintenance for the Leaf.
J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 survey of the owners of three-year-old vehicles provides the long-term dependability statistics that show that Volkswagen vehicles are more reliable than Nissan vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Volkswagen 12th in reliability, above the industry average. With 6 more problems per 100 vehicles, Nissan is ranked 15th.
The Golf’s maximum EPA estimated driving range on a full tank of fuel is 475.2 miles, after which it can be refueled at any gas station in minutes. The Leaf’s range is only 149 to 226 miles, after which the minimum recharge time is 45 minutes for only an 80% charge at a specially configured quick charge station not available in most areas. A full recharge at a conventional charging station can take up to 53 hours and 40 minutes.
For better stopping power the Golf’s front brake rotors are larger than those on the Leaf:
The Golf stops much shorter than the Leaf:
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The Golf has a standard space-saver spare tire so you can replace a flat tire and drive to have the flat repaired or replaced. A spare tire isn’t available on the Leaf; it requires you to depend on roadside assistance and your vehicle will have to be towed.
For superior ride and handling, the Volkswagen Golf has fully independent front and rear suspensions. An independent suspension allows the wheels to follow the road at the best angle for gripping the pavement, without compromising ride comfort. The Nissan Leaf has a rear torsion beam axle, with a semi-independent rear suspension.
The Golf TSI handles at .86 G’s, while the Leaf pulls only .76 G’s of cornering force in a Motor Trend skidpad test.
The Golf TSI executes Motor Trend’s “Figure Eight” maneuver 1.4 seconds quicker than the Leaf SL PLUS (26.8 seconds @ .65 average G’s vs. 28.2 seconds @ .6 average G’s).
The Volkswagen Golf may be more efficient, handle and accelerate better because it weighs about 600 to 950 pounds less than the Nissan Leaf.
The Golf is 8.8 inches shorter than the Leaf, making the Golf easier to handle, maneuver and park in tight spaces.
The Golf has 1.6 inches more front shoulder room, .8 inches more rear headroom, 2.1 inches more rear legroom and 1.4 inches more rear shoulder room than the Leaf.
The Golf has a larger trunk with its rear seat folded than the Leaf with its rear seat folded (52.7 vs. 30 cubic feet).
The Golf uses gas struts to support the hood for easier service access. The Leaf uses a prop rod to support its heavy hood. It takes two hands to open the hood and set the prop rod, the prop rod gets in the way during maintenance and service, and the prop rod could be knocked out, causing the heavy hood to fall on the person maintaining or servicing the car.
To help each driver find a more comfortable driving position, the Golf has a telescoping steering wheel. Much better than just a tilt steering wheel or adjustable seat, this allows a short driver to sit further from the steering wheel while maintaining contact with the pedals. The Leaf doesn’t offer a telescoping steering wheel.
The power windows standard on both the Golf and the Leaf have locks to prevent small children from operating them. When the lock on the Golf is engaged the driver can still operate all of the windows, for instance to close one opened by a child. The Leaf prevents the driver from operating the other windows just as it does the other passengers.
The Golf’s front and rear power windows all open or close fully with one touch of the switches, making it more convenient at drive-up windows and toll booths, or when talking with someone outside the car. The Leaf’s passenger windows don’t open or close automatically.
If the windows are left open on the Golf the driver can close them all at the outside door handle. On a hot day the driver can lower the windows with the driver’s door power window switch. The driver of the Leaf can only operate the windows from inside the vehicle, with the ignition on.
The Golf’s power window, power lock, power mirror and cruise control switches are lit from behind, making them plainly visible and easier to operate at night. The Leaf’s power lock and cruise control switches are unlit, making them difficult to find at night and operate safely.
The Golf’s rain-sensitive wipers adjust their speed and turn on and off automatically based on the amount of rainfall on the windshield. This allows the driver to concentrate on driving without constantly adjusting the wipers. The Leaf’s manually variable intermittent wipers have to be constantly adjusted.
Heated windshield washer nozzles are standard on the Golf to prevent washer fluid and nozzles from freezing and help continue to keep the windshield clear in sub-freezing temperatures. The Leaf doesn’t offer heated windshield washer nozzles.
The Golf’s standard outside mirrors include heating elements to clear off the mirrors for better visibility. Heated mirrors cost extra on the Leaf and aren’t offered on the Leaf S.
The Golf has a standard center folding armrest for the rear passengers. A center armrest helps make rear passengers more comfortable and it can provide a boundary between children. The Leaf doesn’t offer a rear seat center armrest.
Both the Golf and the Leaf offer rear vents. For greater rear passenger comfort, the Golf has standard rear air conditioning vents to keep rear occupants cool in summer or warm in winter. The Leaf doesn’t offer rear air conditioning vents, only heat vents.
A built-in pollen filter removes pollen, exhaust fumes and other pollutants from the Golf’s passenger compartment. This helps prevent lung and/or sinus irritation which can trigger allergies or asthma. The Leaf’s air conditioner doesn’t offer a filtration system.
Insurance will cost less for the Golf owner. The Complete Car Cost Guide estimates that insurance for the Golf will cost $495 less than the Leaf over a five-year period.
The Golf will cost the buyer less in the long run because of its superior resale value. The IntelliChoice estimates that the Golf will retain 41.43% to 42.06% of its original price after five years, while the Leaf only retains 25.21% to 25.92%.
According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the Golf is less expensive to operate than the Leaf because typical repairs cost much less on the Golf than the Leaf, including $199 less for a water pump and $787 less for a power steering pump.
IntelliChoice estimates that five-year ownership costs (depreciation, financing, insurance, fuel, fees, repairs and maintenance) for the Volkswagen Golf will be $8335 to $11197 less than for the Nissan Leaf.
Consumer Reports® recommends the Volkswagen Golf, based on reliability, safety and performance. The Nissan Leaf isn't recommended.
The Golf was chosen as one of Car and Driver’s “Top Ten” for 13 of the last 14 years. The Leaf has never been a Car and Driver “Top Ten” pick.
Motor Trend selected the Golf as their 2015 Car of the Year. The Leaf has never been chosen.
The Volkswagen Golf/GTI outsold the Nissan Leaf by over three to one during 2019.
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