Introduced in 2011, the LEAF was soon acclaimed as the car that turned the idea of an all-electric vehicle from an auto-show exhibit into a functional, everyday driver. Now in its sixth year, the Leaf continues to gain in popularity.
A four-door hatchback, the LEAF is designed to seat five, though four will be a lot more comfortable. Until this year, maximum range between battery charges has been limited to about 84 miles. That’s more than enough to cover short commutes and around-town errand running. In fact, most drivers travel far fewer miles each day. For those concerned about running out of energy, however, a longer-range battery is now available.
What's New for 2016
A new higher-capacity 30 kWh battery pack goes into SV and SL trim levels, boosting driving range to an EPA-estimated 107 miles. That’s 27 percent longer than the preceding LEAF’s range. The base-level LEAF S retains that older 24 kWh battery and its 84-mile range. All models use an 80 kW AC motor that generates 107 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of torque.
Every LEAF now has NissanConnect with Mobile Apps, Nissan’s infotainment system. The LEAF S has a 5-inch display and Bluetooth for both phone calls and audio streaming. Hands-free Text Messaging Assist and a USB port also are included. SV and SL models get NissanConnect with Navigation and Mobile Apps, with a 7-inch display and voice recognition. Improved charging-screen information will update every 12 miles when driving.
Choosing Your Nissan LEAF
As an all-electric car, the LEAF operates solely on battery power, with an electric motor to provide propulsion. In the base S trim level, the 80 kW electric motor teams with a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery, providing a range of about 84 miles on a full charge. Maximum range escalates to as much as 107 miles with the new, higher-capacity battery used in SV and SL models. Note that range depends on such factors as traffic and your particular driving style.
Two chargers are available. What Nissan calls the “normal” 3.6 kW charger is standard for S trim. A 6.6 kW charger is standard with SV and SL trims. A quick-charge port that substantially speeds up charging times is standard with SL trim and available for S and SV.
Charging with a basic household 120-volt outlet can take 15 hours or more. Adding a 240-volt charging system to your garage (if you have one) will likely cost $1,000 or more, depending on whether you can install it yourself or need professional installation.
Three trim levels are offered:
When picking a LEAF, consider how each choice of charger will affect your lifestyle and driving capabilities. Although the LEAF S starts at $29,010 (plus destination charge), SV and SL trim levels, with their higher-capacity battery and longer range, are priced considerably higher: $34,200 and $36,790, respectively. Nissan’s LEAF is expected to be redesigned in 2017, with a longer-yet range and more mainstream styling.
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
16-inch alloy wheels
An optional Premium Package includes an Around View Monitor and seven-speaker Bose audio.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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