2012 Nissan Leaf SL

Headlamps

Aerodynamically formed

Hatchback

No tailpipe

Storage and stowage

Solar panel

120V charging cable

Charging ports

Engine bay

Function over form

Driver's seat

Interior

Instrument cluster

Eyebrow gauges

Shift nub

Steering wheel

Center stack

Rear seat

Energy information

Navigation

Audio sources

Satellite radio

Carwings by Nissan

Range estimates and charging

Hands-free calling

Zero-emissions menu

Charging options and timers

For urban and suburban drivers looking to go zero-emissions, there aren't many pure-electric vehicles that are as well-rounded as the 2012 Nissan Leaf is.
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LED headlamps are standard on the Leaf and draw a minimum amount of power from the 12-volt system while flooding the road ahead with a good deal of light.
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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.
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The Leaf's body appears bulbous and bulky from many angles, but the hatchback design offers plenty of interior space for people and cargo.
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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.
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The Nissan Leaf's 60/40-split rear seats fold flat, but a large plastic hump prevents the loading floor from being totally flat.
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The SL model features a solar panel on its spoiler that trickle-charges the 12-volt battery and accessory system when parked in bright sunlight.
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Every Nissan Leaf comes with this 120V charging cable that connects to a standard wall outlet. However, it is recommended that you charge from a 240V charging station for reasonable charging times.
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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.
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The engine bay doesn't look much different from the one in your average economy car. However, that 80kW electric motor is whisper-silent and outputs 207 pound-feet of torque from a dead stop.
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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.
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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.
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The Leaf's cabin feels spacious and airy with plenty of light let in by the generous greenhouse.
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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.
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The upper tier of the Leaf's gauge cluster is home to a Honda Civic-esque digital speedometer, an Eco gauge that rewards drivers for efficient driving with digital trees, and a clock/thermometer.
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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.
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The heated steering wheel features controls for the audio and hands-free calling systems on one spoke and cruise controls on the other.
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A glossy, floating center stack is home to the climate controls and the standard Nissan navigation system with Carwings integration.
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The rear seats of the Nissan Leaf are not an unpleasant place to be, featuring ample headroom and heated surfaces. Four adults fit in the Leaf comfortably, but it's officially listed as a five-seater.
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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.
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The navigation software itself is quick and responsive, but fairly basic in its operation.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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The white semicircle overlain on this map represents the estimated driving range for our Leaf given the current battery state. The blue circles are nearby charging points.
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Bluetooth hands-free calling is standard on the Leaf at all trim levels and includes address book sync.
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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.
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You can also adjust the Leaf's charging time to schedule charging when the rates in your area are the least expensive.
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