Nissan Leaf

The Nissan LEAF is the first all-electric vehicle to be built on a large scale by a major automaker. Unlike the Chevrolet Volt or Toyota Prius, the LEAF runs on electric power only, with four doors and room for five. Three trim levels are available: the S, the SV and up-market SL.

Motivation for each comes in the form of a 107-horsepower 80kW AC electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Nissan claims this combination allows for an 84-mile range between charges on the S and an impressive 107-mile range on the SV and SL. Recharging can be done via either a 110-volt or 220-volt household outlet. At 110 volts, a complete recharge takes around 20 hours, while a 220-volt outlet achieves a full battery in just 8 hours. The LEAF comes only with a single-speed transmission that is said to function transparently-- much like a conventional automatic.

A total of 48 battery packs are located centrally in the chassis, which helps provide a good balance and decent handling. Torque from the electric motor is always instantly available, so the LEAF is no slouch; Nissan compares its performance to that of a similar car fitted with a 2.5L gasoline engine. City streets with stop-and-go driving are where the LEAF is most at home, although it's capable of 90 mph -- albeit at a significantly decreased range. Braking is achieved via standard 4-wheel power-assisted discs, which are also regenerative, providing power back into the system.

On the outside, the LEAF features unique styling and "Zero Emissions" markings, as well as special aerodynamic underbody panels and diffusers to help reduce parasitic drag. Inside, the LEAF features a 6-way adjustable driver's seat and a 4-way passenger's seat, both of which are adjusted manually. In keeping with the LEAF's green cred, the seats are made of partially recycled fabric.

Safety features include those that might be expected on any small car on the market today. Anti-lock brakes, traction control and an anti-skid system are all part of the package, as well as dual-stage front side airbags and curtain side airbags.

The LEAF S is the most basic trim level but still comes with electric windows and door locks, a push-button start with Intelligent Key, automatic temperature control, RearView Monitor and a 3.6kW onboard charger.

Both the SV and SL come with navigation. The SL features a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls and a 6.6kW onboard charger. SL models add fog lights, a roof-mounted solar panel to charge batteries that run accessory items, automatic headlights and an available "quick charge" port that can bring the batteries to 80% charge in just 30 minutes. Nissan's CARWINGS system allows remote connection into the LEAF's computer via cell phone, which can monitor charging status, start a charge and even activate heating and air conditioning systems to prepare for an upcoming drive.

A Premium Package is available on SV and SL models. It includes Nissan's Around View Monitor system and a 7-speaker Bose stereo.

Editors' Review

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Range anxiety in electric vehicles is a very real thing. It's akin to the fear of your phone going dead, but instead of not being able to check Twitter for the latest hot takes, you're stranded on the side of the road -- hopefully with a charged phone so you can summon a tow truck. In the Nissan Leaf's case, an EPA-estimated driving range of 149 miles isn't miniscule, but you know what would be better to alleviate range worries? A range of 226 miles, which is where the Leaf Plus comes in.

Better equipped to compete

Unlike 2011 when the first-generation Leaf went on sale, the EV landscape today is much different. The Nissan is no longer the only electric hatchback in town, with entries like the Chevrolet Bolt, Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV now in showrooms. Each boasts well over 200 miles of range, leaving the base Leaf and its 40-kilowatt-hour battery pack far in the rearview mirror.

The Leaf Plus officially arrived last year with a bigger 62-kilowatt-hour battery. In the base S Plus trim, it returns the previously mentioned 226 miles of range, but the better-equipped SV Plus and SL Plus models with more options that use up power receive an official rating of 215 miles. Without question, those numbers are a healthy improvement over the standard Leaf, but still lag behind the ranges of the Chevy (259 miles), Hyundai (258 miles) and Kia (239 miles).

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The Good ~ Smooth and quick acceleration ~ Seamless regenerative and mechanical brake integration ~ Impressive list of safety technology

The Bad ~ Less driving range than competitors ~ Light, uncommunicative steering ~ Steeper base price than the opposition

The Bottom Line The Nissan Leaf Plus boasts key improvements over the base model, but it's still not as compelling as competing EVs.

Editors' Rating
  • Performance 8.5
  • Features 8.5
  • Design 7
  • Media 7.5

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