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    Comparing Two Popular Eco-Friendly Cars: Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf

    autoIt doesn’t matter if you’re LGBT or straight when it comes to environmental awareness in the Bay Area; we’re all subject to the same social pressure to consider the Earth when we make decisions big and small. Of course, that’s why a lot of us gravitate here. When your sex buddy composts and the fetish fairs have biodegradable cups, then it feels like you’re part of a greater culture that acts on its collective concern for the future of our planet. The two vehicles we’ll examine here are directly keyed into that concern.

    Of course, we all know the Toyota Prius. California is the Prius’ most popular market, and driving even just through a few San Francisco neighborhoods in a Prius means seeing yourself coming and going. At Rainbow Grocery, this $36K tester I drove nearly tipped the parking-lot balance to half-Prius. It is unnerving at first to be part of the Prius swarm, but after a while, the relative anonymity it afforded was relaxing. Nothing to see here; we’re just another Prius.

    The $37K Nissan Leaf is another four-door hatchback that is increasingly seen on our roads. Whilcar2e the Leaf seems novel, some Leaf drivers I spoke to were on their second one. Going all-electric means committing to a limited range. It’s great for around town if you can plug in every night, and it would fit right in if you could commute with it and charge up when you arrive at work. Those HOV lane stickers that have been pulled from hybrids are there for electrics, and being able to pass long ribbons of traffic in the HOV lane could help you make better use of the hundreds of hours you’d spend in the bumper-to-bumper lanes.

    Parking is a primary concern around here, and the Leaf and Prius are within an inch and a half of each other, with both measuring less than a compact’s 177 inches. Chances are then good you’ll be able to squeeze into one of those tight SOMA spaces for that Eagle beer bust.

    carBoth are quiet over the road, and the Leaf’s lack of a gas engine makes it move with a whisper. It beeps as you back up, which is helpful, but you must remember that the surrounding bikers and pedestrians don’t hear you as you nudge through the streets of the city. It’s incumbent upon you to remember that your presence is not felt, lest you create an unpleasant surprise.

    As a compromise for those looking for a longer range and access to an HOV sticker, the $30K-base-priced Prius Plug-In might suffice. The Leaf automatically qualifies for a white sticker, while the Prius Plug-In must enter into a pool for the green ones, which expire in 2019. You’re therefore playing the lottery a bit for that sticker, but you’d be free from the range anxiety of pure electricity. Both the Prius and Leaf are pleasant enough, so it’s up to you to decide which one best suits your needs.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at Check out his automotive staging service at