Forget about Who Killed the Electric Car? How about who brought it back to life? While there have been $100,000 electric sports cars and funny garage-built oddities in recent years, the Nissan Leaf made its mark by being the first fully electric car that could be purchased outright, seat five people and have enough cargo space for a shopping trip. The Leaf is a real car you can buy right now, and thanks to a hefty government tax credit, it won't cost that much to do so.
When fully charged, the Leaf is estimated to have an effective maximum range of about 100 miles. That's enough to get most people from home to work and back, but longer road trips are pretty much impossible to do. As such, the Leaf is best suited for two-car households and/or those with commuting habits that err on the short side. Another must is having a garage, ideally with a 240-volt charger. Get past these hurdles, though, and the car of the future has truly arrived, and its name is the Nissan Leaf.
Current Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf is an all-electric, five-seat hatchback available in three trim levels: S, SV and SL. Despite being the base model, the S still features keyless ignition/entry, automatic climate control, a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, Bluetooth and an iPod interface.
Stepping up to the SV and SL most notably adds a "B-mode" function that allows for more aggressive regenerative braking in certain situations as well as a more robust onboard charger that halves the S model's battery recharge time. They also offer standard and available features including 17-inch alloy wheels, a 360-degree rearview camera, a navigation system with 7-inch display and a premium Bose audio system. SL models get leather upholstery and a quick-charge port standard.
The Leaf is powered by an 80-kilowatt electric motor fed by a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Output is 107 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque -- of course, you might take this information with a grain of salt, since the power delivery of an electric motor is vastly different from that of one powered by a gasoline or diesel engine.
Anyone who has driven or at least stood next to a hybrid will know how eerily quiet it can be when operating in electric mode. Well, such serenity never ceases in the Nissan Leaf, as there is only a high-pitched whine from the electric motor under heavy throttle. In such situations, there is an abundance of torque available from the first touch of the accelerator pedal, giving the Leaf an alert, energetic feel around town. This fairly heavy car also handles surprisingly well because its burden of batteries lies beneath the floor, delivering a low center of gravity that enhances agility.
With the Nissan Leaf, driving an electric car doesn't mean you have to leave people or stuff behind. This is a mainstream passenger car, not a science experiment with a cramped cabin. The rear seat is comfortable for adults, and this hatchback's cargo area can be expanded to accommodate larger items (though its load floor with the seats down is not flat). Like other alternative-fuel vehicles, the Leaf features a futuristic cabin design with split-level instruments and a center touchscreen that operates the stereo, standard navigation system and special electric system displays.
Used Nissan Leaf Models
The Nissan Leaf was an all-new model for 2011 available only in SV and SL trims. Both came standard with the less powerful onboard charger found on the current S trim, so expect longer charge times to be a downside of buying a used Leaf from 2011 or '12. In the Leaf's first year, it also lacked the heated front seats and steering wheel, while the SL's quick-charge port was also not available.
Read the most recent 2013 Nissan Leaf review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Nissan Leaf page.