Nissan calls it the LEAF (all capital letters). When launched for 2011, it led the way for “affordable” electric cars. Improvements have been made since, and the 2016 edition gets a substantial range increase.

Pricing and Equipment

Starting at $29,010 (plus $850 destination charge), the LEAF comes in S, SV and SL trim with an electric motor, 24 or 30 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, and single-speed transmission.

Standard equipment for the LEAF SV ($34,200) includes:

  • 30 kWh battery (new for 2016)
  • 6.6 kW onboard charger
  • 107-horsepower electric motor
  • 7-inch touchscreen
  • Navigation system
  • NissanConnect
  • Rearview monitor
  • 16-inch alloy wheels

An optional Premium Package includes an Around View Monitor and seven-speaker Bose audio.

Performance Pros

Nissan Leaf Plug-in
  • Improved range. A new 30-kWh lithium-ion battery pack goes into SV and SL models for 2016, increasing range to an estimated 107 miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The S model retains a 24-kWh battery, with an 84-mile range.
  • Economical operation. With no liquid fuel consumed, the only cost is for electricity to charge the battery. The EPA says LEAF “fuel-economy” is equivalent to 114 miles per gallon.
  • Driving ease. All you do is press Start, move the console-mounted selector knob into Drive or Reverse with your palm, push the accelerator pedal, and you’ve rolling. Except for lack of sounds, it’s not much different from driving a conventional car. Acceleration is satisfying when starting off, but tapers down as you approach highway speeds.

Performance Cons

  • Range still limited. While the 107-mile range provided by the new battery is a sizable step forward, and beats all comparable electric cars on the road, it’s still well short of the distance provided by the far more costly Tesla. It’s also unlikely to ease the minds of electric-car doubters.
  • Charging location. Forget any electric unless you have a 240-volt charging site handy. That requirement leaves most apartment dwellers out of the running.
  • Safety ratings could be better. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the LEAF four stars for frontal and side impacts, and four stars overall; but the early-model (2011-12) LEAF earned a five-star crash-test rating. Good ratings were earned from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, except for Poor in the stringent small-overlap test.

Interior Pros

Nissan Leaf Interior
  • Quietness. As expected, a LEAF is smooth-running and nearly silent. Some drivers consider the driver experience calm and soothing, which is a welcome benefit during crowded commutes.
  • Front-seat space. Headroom is huge, with good legroom. Elbow space, not quite as extensive.
  • Useful driving data. Instrumentation gives plentiful data about the likely number of miles remaining, along with locations of nearby charging stations. They could be at workplaces, theaters, malls, parking lots, commuter train stations -- or nowhere in the immediate area.

Interior Cons

  • Rear-seat space. Some Nissan small cars have spacious back seats, but the LEAF is not among them. Back-seat riders can expect to be forced into a knees-up position, at least to some extent.
  • Short front seats bottoms. Nissan certainly isn’t alone in curtailing the length of seat cushions. Even so, front occupants can get pleasantly comfortable, helped by good support and ample cushioning.
  • Basic-looking dashboard. All the information needed is there, most of it on a dual-level instrument layout ahead of the driver.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Nissan Leaf

Knowledge that you’re doing the “right thing” is a subtle benefit of electric-car ownership. It’s easy to feel self-satisfied. After all, at least in a tiny way, you’re contributing toward saving the planet -- while enjoying a comfortable and satisfying ride along the way. Still, for every driver who gives a resounding thumbs-up, another shuns the electric experience, even dubbing it weird.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

Certainly, price remains an obstacle, especially for SV and SL models -- the very ones that are most attractive. Nissan reminds prospective buyers about the $7,500 tax credit from the federal government, as well as local incentives. Note that federal credits vary depending on how much you owe in taxes.

The Bottom Line

Naturally, neither the LEAF nor any other electric car is for everyone, or even for a large proportion of shoppers. For starters, unless you have a convenient location for a 240-volt charging system, going electric is not for you. Better to look for an appealing hybrid (or plug-in hybrid) instead.