Used 2015 Nissan LEAF Review
Edmunds expert review
Though there are more choices than ever for an electric vehicle, the pioneering Nissan Leaf continues to be a top pick for an EV.
What's new for 2015
Nissan introduced the Leaf back in the 2011 model year, an epoch relative to modern technology's timeline. In that span, electric vehicles have evolved from auto show novelty to mainstream business case, largely thanks to the Leaf. It pioneered the segment by driving like a regular compact car but with the affordability of a family sedan and persuaded thousands of shoppers to make the EV leap. Short of spending three times as much for a Tesla Model S, shoppers looking for a capable all-electric car will be pleased with the 2015 Nissan Leaf.
The Leaf can travel 84 miles on a full battery charge. That may not sound like a lot, and for long-range suburban commuters without access to a charging station, it may not be. But it's enough range for most in- and around-town driving and short commutes, and still ranks as one of the highest in its class.
How long it takes to recharge the battery depends on the Leaf trim level. The base S trim comes with the slower 3.3 kW onboard charger, but all others have the quicker 6.6 kW charger. With this upgraded charger hooked to a 240-volt station, a full charge takes about four hours. The Leaf also features an optional quick-charge port. Together with a special high-capacity power source, it allows you to charge the battery to 80 percent capacity in a claimed 30 minutes.
Part of the Leaf's charm -- and success -- comes from its comfortable cabin with cutting-edge technology that doesn't intimidate. You won't need a computer science background to operate the Leaf's various bells and whistles, and the cabin is pleasant and roomy. There's also impressive space for cargo and, of course, hatchback utility.
Since the Leaf's introduction, the EV market has sprouted a few similarly priced competitors. The Ford Focus Electric is the most significant alternative, offering a little more power than the Leaf and sharper handling, but less range at 76 miles. The 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV and 2015 Fiat 500e are worth considering given their snappier performance, but they're not as roomy and also suffer limited availability. There is the new fully electric Volkswagen Golf (the 2015 e-Golf) which received an Edmunds.com "A" rating. Also a smaller alternative (about 1.5 feet shorter) to the Leaf is the new BMW i3, which can be had with a gasoline-powered range extender. But this new arrival is pricey. Overall, we think the pioneering Leaf continues to be a great choice and a good value for an EV.
Trim levels & features
The all-electric 2015 Nissan Leaf is a four-door hatchback available in three trim levels: S, SV and SL.
Standard features for the base S model include a 3.6 kW onboard charger, 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, full power accessories, keyless ignition and entry, automatic climate control, a trip computer, heated front and rear seats, cloth upholstery, a six-way manually adjustable driver seat (four-way passenger seat), 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a tilt-only heated steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a 4.3-inch color touchscreen, a rearview camera and a four-speaker CD player with iPod/USB input and satellite radio.
Stepping up to the SV trim gets you a 6.6 kW charger, 17-inch alloy wheels, a navigation system with a 7-inch touchscreen, Nissan's Carwings telematics to remotely monitor and manage charging and climate control, a more efficient heating system for better range in cold weather, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, partially recycled cloth upholstery and a six-speaker audio system with Pandora integration for smartphones.
The range-topping SL trim adds automatic LED headlights, foglights, a quick-charger port, a solar panel mounted on the rear spoiler to help power accessories, leather upholstery and a cargo cover.
Options are sparse and grouped into packages. The S model can add the 6.6 kW charger with the quick-charge port, and the SV can be upgraded with the automatic LED headlights, foglights and quick-charge port. Both the SV and SL model are eligible for the Premium package, which adds a seven-speaker Bose stereo and a 360-degree parking camera system.
Performance & mpg
The front-wheel-drive 2015 Nissan Leaf is powered by an 80-kW electric motor (107 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of torque). The system draws power from a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. All Leaf models offer Normal, Eco-Mode and B-Mode transmission settings. The latter mode delivers more aggressive regenerative braking (which converts the car's forward momentum into battery energy) when the driver lifts off the accelerator. This mode is also useful for controlling speed when going down hills.
In Edmunds performance testing, a Leaf accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.9 seconds, which is a bit slower than either the Ford Focus Electric or Volkswagen e-Golf and about 2 or more seconds off the pace of the Fiat 500e and Spark EV.
The EPA's estimate for range with a full charge is 84 miles, but real-world range varies due to driving style, traffic conditions, cruising speed, battery age and ambient temperature. Our six-month experience with a Leaf showed this estimate to be accurate, as we recorded an average projected range of just over 85 miles. The agency also says the Leaf will typically use 30 kW per 100 miles driven (the lower the number here, the better). Again, we backed up this claim with our own 33-kW-per-100-miles average. Both of these figures are good for the segment, though not quite class-leading.
With a 240-volt power source, a Leaf with the 6.6 kW charger can recharge a depleted battery in about four hours (eight hours with the S model's standard 3.3 kW charger). The quick-charge port (standard on the SV, optional on the others) can potentially be used to recharge the Leaf's battery to a claimed 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes utilizing a special high-capacity power source.
Standard safety features on all 2015 Nissan Leafs include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is also standard, and the SV and SL trims are eligible for a 360-degree-view parking camera system. In Edmunds brake testing, a Leaf came to a stop from 60 mph in 126 feet, which is average for a compact hatchback but better than most EV competitors.
In government crash testing, the Leaf received four out of five stars across the board for overall, frontal and side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Leaf its highest rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests, but a "Poor" rating in the small-overlap crash test. The Leaf's seat and head restraint design was also rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Absent an internal combustion engine, the all-electric 2015 Nissan Leaf cruises with a quiet serenity at all times, with only a vague high-pitched whine audible under heavy acceleration. The lack of engine noise vibration makes wind and road noise that much more noticeable at highway speeds, but overall Nissan's EV is impressively hushed.
Due to its electric powertrain, the Leaf offers brisk acceleration from a stop, though getting up to highway speeds can feel a little belabored. Many newer EV or hybrid competitors are a bit quicker. The Leaf's brake pedal is firm and sure, however, without the vague wooden feel of many regenerative braking systems. And with its battery placement and low center of gravity, the Leaf is surprisingly steady around turns. It responds pretty much like other well-engineered compact cars, and in most ways feels very normal to drive.
The 2015 Nissan Leaf's battery pack is located under the floor beneath the seats, a design that contributes to the car's airy cabin and rear seats roomy enough even for tall passengers. There's no shortage of headroom in the first row, though taller drivers may find their legs a bit cramped. Cargo room behind the rear seats is generous, at 24 cubic feet. Folding them flat increases maximum capacity to 30 cubes.
Despite the Leaf's economy car roots, the interior is surprisingly pleasant. There's a strong emphasis on modern design, with a large center stack in the middle of the dash housing most of the car's system controls. Split-level instrument panels reinforce the high-tech feel with sharp graphics that relay key information. Interior materials are also slightly above average for an EV in this price range.
Logical menus in the central touchscreen and physical buttons for the climate control make operating the Leaf's many systems a snap. With this display and the Carwings telematics, owners can schedule charging times during off-peak hours for more favorable utility rates. Plugging into a standard 110-volt household outlet is best reserved for when you can park the Leaf overnight. For most owners, a 240-volt home charging station is almost a necessity.
Edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.