Full 2013 Nissan Leaf Review
What's New for 2013
The 2013 Nissan Leaf receives a new 6.6-kW onboard charger that cuts charging times in half. There's also a new "B-mode" driving mode that increases regenerative braking during deceleration. Finally, Nissan has added a more affordable S model to the lineup.
One of the first full-electric vehicles marketed to American buyers, the Nissan Leaf enters its third year of production with a handful of refinements that should keep it foremost in the minds of EV shoppers. Now assembled at Nissan's Tennessee plant, the 2013 Nissan Leaf features a new 6.6-kW onboard charger that can replenish the battery in about four hours using a 220-volt electricity source. That's about half the time it took previously.
The bigger news, however, is the introduction of the more affordably priced entry-level S trim level. With it, Nissan has made the Leaf one of the most accessible electric cars on the market. The S is not a bare-bones stripper model either, as it features power accessories, keyless entry, heated front and rear seats, Bluetooth and USB/iPod connectivity. The Leaf's older 3.6-kW charger is used here to keep costs down, but the new, quicker charger -- standard on the upper trims -- is an option.
There's a lot to like about the Leaf, including a spacious cabin and a tall, airy greenhouse that comfortably seats four full-size adults and provides excellent visibility. For 2013, increased cargo capacity makes the electric hatchback even more useful. On the road, the Leaf offers peppy acceleration and, were it not for the lack of engine noise, you might think you were driving any number of gas-powered compacts.
If you're an EV shopper, 2013 is a good year, as there are now more choices than ever. The 2013 Ford Focus Electric is the most formidable challenger, with a slightly more powerful electric motor and sharper handling. The 2013 Fiat 500e is smaller than either, but offers shoppers in California (the only state where Fiat plans to sell it) another urban-friendly alternative. Honda is also in the game now with its competitive Fit EV.
For long-distance commuters, the Chevrolet Volt, Ford C-Max, Toyota Prius and Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid all offer a combination of gas and electric power and greater range. Still, if a full-electric vehicle makes sense for your lifestyle, the 2013 Nissan Leaf is a smart choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Nissan Leaf is an all-electric four-door hatchback available in S, SV and SL trim levels.
Standard equipment on the S includes 16-inch steel wheels, heated exterior mirrors, a battery heater, keyless ignition/entry, full power accessories, automatic climate control, a heated tilt-only leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front and rear seats and 60/40-split-folding rear seats. Also included are a 4.3-inch LCD information display, Bluetooth, an advanced trip computer and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB/iPod port and auxiliary audio jack. A rearview camera and upgraded 6.6-kW charger are optional.
The SV adds the upgraded 6.6-kW charger, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a hybrid heater system, cloth upholstery made from recycled material, a six-speaker sound system with Pandora radio streaming, a 7-inch touchscreen, a navigation system and Nissan Connected, a remote vehicle access system that reports battery recharging data and can activate the climate control via a smartphone. The SV's LED Headlights and Quick Charge Port package adds, as you can likely guess, automatic LED headlights, foglamps and a quick-charge port that facilitates charging to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes at high-voltage public charging stations.
The SL tops off the lineup with the SV's optional features as standard plus 17-inch alloy wheels, a spoiler-mounted solar panel (used for powering the Leaf's accessories) and leather upholstery. A premium seven-speaker Bose sound system, packaged with a 360-degree-view monitor, is optional on both SV and SL trims.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Nissan Leaf is powered by an 80-kilowatt electric motor (107 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of torque) fed by a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. In Edmunds performance testing, a Leaf accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 10.2 seconds, which is a bit slower than the Fit EV and Focus Electric.
EPA estimated range with a full charge stands at 75 miles, a couple miles better than last year thanks to improvements to the Leaf's regenerative braking and aerodynamics. Of course, real-world range varies due to driving style, traffic conditions, cruising speed, battery age and ambient temperature. In terms of efficiency, the EPA says the Leaf will typically use 29 kWh per 100 miles driven (remember that the lower the number here, the better). Converted, that's an energy efficiency equivalent rating (MPGe) of 129 mpg city/102 mpg highway and 115 mpg combined.
The 2013 Nissan Leaf comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is optional on the base model, while SV and SL trim levels can opt for a 360-degree-view monitor. In Edmunds brake testing, a 2012 Leaf came to a stop from 60 mph in 130 feet, which is a bit longer than average for a compact hatchback.
In government crash testing, the Leaf received five out of five stars for overall protection, with four stars for total frontal-impact protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Leaf its highest rating of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Leaf's battery pack is located under the floor beneath the seats. This space-efficient placement is partially responsible for the car's roomy rear seats, which provide comfortable accommodation for adults. There's no shortage of headroom in the first row, though taller drivers may find their legs a little crunched. Nissan relocated the onboard charger to the front of the 2013 Leaf, increasing rear cargo space to 24 cubic feet behind the rear seats. Folding the rear seats yields 30 cubic feet of space.
A split-level instrument cluster dominates the cabin. The center control panel features a touchscreen, which controls the navigation system and shows special displays for parameters like cruising range and energy efficiency readouts. You can even program the start time for the recharging system to take advantage of lower electricity rates. Interior quality is similar to other compact cars, but overall fit and finish is a cut above.
While you can charge the Leaf on a standard 110-volt household outlet, this is best reserved for when you can park the Leaf overnight. For most owners, a 220-volt home charging station is almost a necessity. At around $2,200, it's a practical investment that can fully charge the Leaf in four hours if your car has the 6.6-kW charger.
If you've driven a hybrid, you know how silent they are in electric-only mode. The 2013 Nissan Leaf cruises with this kind of serenity at all times, with only a vague high-pitched whine detectable under heavy throttle. Even the high-pitched noise the Leaf generates to alert pedestrians at low speeds is largely undetectable in the cabin. The downside is that wind and road noise are more noticeable at highway speeds, but overall Nissan's EV is impressively quiet.
Due to its all-electric nature, the Leaf offers brisk acceleration from a stop, though getting up to freeway speeds can feel a little belabored. Many newer EV or hybrid competitors are a bit quicker. The Leaf's brake pedal feel is firm and sure, though, without the strange, vague feel of many regenerative braking systems. With its battery pack mounted low in the body and a well-tuned electric power steering system, the Nissan Leaf is surprisingly steady around turns. It responds pretty much like other well-engineered compact family cars, and in most ways it feels very normal to drive.