The Nissan Leaf is the first mainstream all-electric vehicle to be offered in the U.S. While it has a limited driving range, in most other respects the Leaf is quite similar to a conventional gas-powered compact hatchback, offering a comfortable interior and surprisingly snappy acceleration (albeit with zero emissions).
The latest model year brings a handful of revisions to Leaf, including a trio of Drive Modes for all models - Normal, Eco-Mode and B-Mode - as well as new standard 17-inch alloy wheels for the SV trim level. In addition, SV and SL trims gain Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant and Voice Destination Entry.
What sets the Leaf apart from most other vehicles on the road is its electric powertrain, which is comprised of 48 laminated compact lithium-ion battery modules and a high-response 80kW AC synchronous motor that generates 107 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque.
Thanks to a handful of tweaks, including a more aerodynamic front fascia and a lower curb weight, the latest Leaf is significantly more than before. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the EV at 129 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) in the city, 102 MPGe on the highway and 115 MPGe combined.
Driving range has also increased to a maximum of 84 miles, up from 73 miles in earlier models.
Charging is accomplished via a port located at the front of the car. Completely replenishing the battery requires roughly 16 hours via a standard 110V outlet, but a new 6.6 kW onboard charger (optional on the S, standard on the SV and SL trims) nearly halves 220V charging time to about hours. An available quick charge port allows charging to 80% capacity in 30 minutes at public charging stations.
An available Nissan-developed iPhone app lets owners check the Leaf's battery level from afar, and also displays how much time is required for a full charge and, for public charging stations, the approximate cost of a fill-up.
All Leaf models offer Normal, Eco-Mode and B-Mode settings, the last of which increases regenerative braking during deceleration to reduce battery consumption.
The Leaf rides on a dedicated EV platform with a multilink front suspension and a torsion beam setup at the rear. Handling is predictable, and acceleration is strong from a dead stop thanks to the nearly-instantaneous torque from the electric motor.
Inside, the Leaf features a digital "eyebrow" display at the top of the instrument panel that provides high visibility for the Eco indicator and speedometer, while a lower liquid crystal meter display houses the power meter, battery temperature gauge, multi-function display, remaining energy gauge, capacity level gauge and distance to empty display.
The available navigation system boasts an "Eco Route" feature that includes suggested power-saving alternative routes. Also new is Pandora radio compatibility and Google local search, which allows users to search for restaurants, shops and other points of interest and browse user reviews using Google's POI database.
Passenger space is slightly greater than that of the typical compact, while cargo room was recently improved by moving the onboard charger to the front of the Leaf. There's now 24 cubic feet available with the second-row seats upright, up from 14.5; fold the second-row seats down, and there's an additional six cubic inches for a total of 30.
To comply with pending federal regulations, Nissan has proactively equipped the Leaf with an "Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians" that plays through an external speaker at speeds below 19 mph.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Leaf is offered in S, SV and SL trim levels.
The S comes standard with automatic climate control, power windows and locks, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo system with an AUX input jack and a USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, a proximity key with push-button start, a rearview camera and 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.
The SV adds with a navigation system with NavTraffic and NavWeather, the efficient B-mode for the transmission, a more efficient and effective heating system, cruise control, auto-dimming inside mirror, partially recycled cloth seat fabric, passenger side map pocket and 16-inch aluminum wheels. New additions for the latest model year include Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant and Voice Destination Entry.
The SL adds the quick charge port, photovoltaic solar panel spoiler, fog lights, auto on/off headlights, cargo cover, HomeLink Universal Transceiver, Quick Charge Port, leather-appointed seats, LED headlights and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.
Three new option packages are available for the latest model year. The Quick Charge Package (S grade only) includes the 6.6 kW onboard charger, Quick Charge Port and RearView Monitor. The LED Headlights + Quick Charge Port Package (SV grade only) includes LED headlights, auto on/off headlights, fog lights and Quick Charge Port. Finally, the Premium Package (SV and SL grades) offers the advanced "Around View Monitor" 360-degree camera and a seven-speaker Bose audio system.
All Leaf models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Battery Warranty Extension
To provide Leaf owners with extra peace of mind, Nissan has extended the EV's battery warranty. Under the terms of the new warranty, Nissan will repair or replace the Leaf's lithium-ion battery if the 12-bar capacity gauge falls under nine bars, which represents a 70 percent charge. The warranty is good for five years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first.
It should be noted that the goal of the repairs is to return capacity to a minimum of nine bars, not to restore all 12 bars.
Nissan's all-electric Leaf competes with the Ford Focus Electric directly, as well as the little-known Coda electric sedan - assuming it stays in business. Realistically, the Leaf will also be cross-shopped with the Chevrolet Volt, as well as the Toyota Prius and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.