More normal than ever. Electric cars once flaunted their rarity, embracing futuristic designs and loud styling. As electric powertrains become more common, the cars that bear them have drifted toward the mainstream, and the 2020 Nissan LEAF is a prime example.
In our eyes, it’s not a bad thing. The Nissan LEAF looks more normal than the bulbous models of years past, wearing Nissan’s corporate grille on a more conventional shape. Aside from the charging port and badging, you might not know that it’s electric at all. The body is dressed up with a floating roof and clever black panels, which add appeal without distracting.
The features are mainstream, too. For 2020, every LEAF comes with a full suite of active safety features and a smartphone-compatible infotainment system. Especially in long-range PLUS form, family buyers might genuinely consider the LEAF a contender.
More fun, too. As the styling grows more conservative, the handling has grown less so. The LEAF is far from a sports car, but it makes the best of all the instantly-available electric torque. It’s a heavy car, but the low center of gravity helps keep it planted in the corners.
The powertrain comes in two forms, with 147 horsepower in the standard LEAF and 214 hp in the LEAF PLUS. The PLUS's larger battery pack also extends its range, which jumps to 226 miles against the LEAF's 150, according to the EPA. Either number will drop about 10% in cold weather.
In either form, the LEAF is perky around town and manageable on the highway. We prefer the PLUS powertrain for its range and power, but the base model is competent enough.
Both versions come with several drive modes, including one that turns the car into a one-pedal driver by pulling energy when the accelerator is lifted. This is the most efficient way to drive the car, and it’s more fun than you’d think.
Back to the basics. The LEAF's powertrain may be futuristic, but its interior is Economy Car 101. The LEAF never feels like a luxury car, even in upper trims. The base trim is as basic as they come, and the hard plastics feel cheap in places.
Upfront, the seats are supportive and the cabin spacious. The rear seats themselves are less accommodating. An upright seating position helps make the most of the available space, but 33.5 inches of rear legroom will leave taller passengers cramped.
One bonus of an electric powertrain is the lack of noise – this is a quiet ride. The trunk is also generous, with 23.6 cubic feet available behind the seats. That’s strong even for a hatchback, and the rear seats fold for extra room.
Electric economy. With a starting price not too far past $30,000 before incentives, the LEAF remains among the most affordable electric cars on the market. Luxury entrants from BMW and Tesla are far more expensive, but even rivals like the Hyundai Ioniq Electric and Chevrolet Bolt EV start well above the Nissan.
The base trim still gets the 8-inch touchscreen, but not much else. We like the LEAF SV, which adds adaptive cruise control and 17-inch wheels along with opening up a few useful options. We like it even better in LEAF PLUS form, where a fast-charger is included along with the extra batteries.
Nissan is unusual among mainstream manufacturers in offering a driving assistant that approaches autonomy. Their ProPILOT Assist system comes on the upper trims, and while it’s helpful, it’s not as polished as software from the likes of Tesla. Don’t expect to zone out on the ride home.
Final thoughts. The Nissan LEAF (and its ilk) are the future, and we’re glad to see it becoming more approachable and affordable. The new look is handsome, and the technology is up to modern standards. It isn’t as luxurious or spacious as some competitors, but if you’re not trying to spend up, that’s a good thing.
Especially in long-range PLUS form, the 2020 Nissan LEAF is as versatile as any hatchback on the road. If you’re ready to make the leap to electric, we recommend checking one out.
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