The Nissan Leaf is an odd-looking vehicle, but most of its exterior features serve an aerodynamic function. For example, the raised headlamps cut a slice into the air for the wing mirrors to pass through, reducing drag and wind noise.
The Leaf SL comes standard with a rearview camera with live-updating trajectory lines. All Nissan Leaf models feature a pedestrian warning-sound system that emits subtle audible tones when reversing or driving forward at low speeds to alert those nearby that the otherwise silent EV is in motion.
The Leaf SL features two charging points under its front filler cap. On the left is the Chademo compatible quick-charger that can mostly fill the battery in about 30 minutes. On the right is the standard charger that juices the Leaf in about 7 hours on 240V power and 20 hours on 120V power.
The Leaf's 16-inch alloy wheels seem impossibly small when compared with the slab-sided body. Four-wheel disc brakes are augmented by the regenerative braking system and bring the Leaf to a stop reasonably quickly when asked.
To save cost, weight, and power, the Leaf's driver's seat is fully manual. Heated seats for all four seating positions and a heated steering wheel allow the driver to use less climate control, saving valuable energy and increasing the range.
The Leaf uses a two-tiered instrument cluster. The lower tier is where you'll find gauges for battery temperature and charge level/cruising range. There's also a power/regen meter that gives the driver an idea of the current power usage and an LCD trip computer.
Where a shift lever would be, the Leaf has this puck-shaped shifter. It's similar in operation to the Prius' shift stalk, but I wish the forward and reverse directions were reversed for more intuitive operation when parallel parking.
The Leaf's energy-monitoring systems are integrated into the navigation system and viewable via the standard touch display. Changes to estimated range caused by the climate control state, drive mode, and your driving style are updated live on this screen.
All Leaf models feature standard USB/iPod connectivity, an analog auxiliary input, and Bluetooth audio streaming; all are great ways to connect your smartphone or MP3 player for playback. The single-slot CD player also supports CD-Text metadata display, as seen here.
SiriusXM Satellite Radio and AM/FM terrestrial radio round out the available audio sources for the standard six-speaker stereo system. Audio quality is good enough for listening to NPR, but audiophiles will find the system lacking.
The Carwings telematics system uses an in-car data connection to send information about your driving to Nissan's servers for your retrieval. It also allows you to update the database of charging stations and to connect to your Leaf via a smartphone app.
With the climate control timer you can schedule the Leaf to activate its heating or air-conditioning system while plugged in to set a comfortable temperature using grid power, rather than battery power.