Tesla may have been the first automaker to sell a modern electric vehicle (EV) in the U.S. when it introduced the low-volume Roadster for the 2008 model year, but it was the Nissan Leaf that made EV technology practical for Americans when it arrived for 2011. Now, just two years later, the 2013 Nissan Leaf receives numerous improvements as more electric vehicles enter the marketplace. Here, we take a look at the 2013 Leaf in comparison to the Ford Focus Electric, which debuted in 2012 and is the EV most similar to the Leaf in terms of size and price.
Ford Focus Electric Highlights
The Focus Electric is based on the 5-door hatchback version of the standard Focus. Offered in limited quantities in 2012, the car became available nationwide in 2013. The 2013 Focus Electric costs $35,995 after a $4,000 rebate and is loaded with equipment, with leather seats the only major option.
2013 Nissan Leaf Highlights
Specifically designed to be an electric car, the Leaf offers greater range, shorter recharging time, increased cargo capacity, a better warranty and a lower base price for 2013. This year, the Leaf starts at $29,650.
Driving Range and Recharging
The 3,624-lb Ford Focus Electric is equipped with a 23-kWh lithium-ion battery and a 107-kW electric motor generating 143 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. It is rated to get 105 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) in combined driving.
The 3,256-lb Nissan Leaf has a 24-kWh lithium-ion battery and an 80-kW electric motor rated to produce 107 hp and 187 lb-ft of torque. It is rated to get 115 MPGe in combined driving.
Ford claims the Focus Electric provides a driving range of 76 miles. The automaker says it takes 2.5 hours to recharge the Focus Electric using a 240-volt power outlet, and 20 hours using a standard household wall socket.
Nissan says the Leaf travels 75 miles between visits to an electrical outlet. When equipped with its standard 3.6-kWh onboard charging system, it takes seven hours to recharge the car using a 220-volt power outlet, and 21 hours using a standard household wall socket. Upgrade to the optional 6.6-kWh onboard charging system, which is standard for the Leaf SV and SL models and optional for the S model, and recharging time drops to four hours with the 220-volt outlet.
When equipped with the 6.6-kWh charging system, the Leaf is offered with an optional Quick Charge port that makes the car compatible with public DC Fast Charge stations, which can provide an 80 percent battery charge in 30 minutes.
A single mile of driving range separates the Focus Electric and the Leaf, which means the best choice for EV buyers is dependent on whether they charge the car at home or away from home. Based on manufacturer-supplied charging times, the Ford Focus Electric recharges faster, but the Nissan Leaf is compatible with DC Fast Charge stations.
We think the Leaf's added charging flexibility makes it the smarter pick.
According to crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Focus Electric is the safer choice.
The 2013 versions of both cars earn a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS. However, in NHTSA tests, the Focus Electric receives a 5-star overall rating, while the Leaf earns a 4-star overall rating. The Leaf's front passenger frontal-impact and rear passenger side-impact protection ratings are just three stars, contributing to the lower overall score.
When it comes to reliability, Consumer Reports gives the 2013 Leaf its highest reliability prediction, based on how well owners rated their 2011 and 2012 models.
The Ford Focus Electric remains a reliability mystery. Data for the 2012 Focus models with gasoline powertrains show that, except for the optional PowerShift automated manual transmission, the car excels in terms of reliability. Since the Focus Electric doesn't have a PowerShift transmission, it should, then, perform nearly as well as the Leaf in this regard.
Unfortunately, we cannot rule based on speculation. Thus, the Nissan Leaf is the victor when it comes to reliability.
The 2013 Focus Electric carries a base price of $39,995, including the destination charge of $795, and those that remain in dealer stocks are eligible for a $4,000 rebate. That rebate matches the amount that Ford has dropped the Focus Electric's price for 2014.
The 2013 Focus Electric can be leased for $229 per month for 36 months with $2,048 due at lease signing. A maximum of 31,500 miles is allowed during the lease. People buying a 2013 Focus Electric can take advantage of zero-percent APR financing for 60 months on top of the $4,000 rebate.
Over at the Nissan dealer, the Leaf that comes closest to matching the Focus Electric in terms of equipment is the top-of-the-line SL model at $35,690. That price includes a Quick Charge port, LED headlights, leather seats and a photovoltaic solar panel rear spoiler. Compared to the Focus, all it's missing is a premium sound system.
However, right now, the deals are not quite as good on the Leaf SL. Buyers can take advantage of 0.9 percent APR financing for 60 months. The lease special is $296 per month for 36 months with $1,999 down and a 36,000-mile limit.
While rebate, finance and leasing specials make the Focus Electric a more appealing value than an equivalently optioned Leaf, the Nissan provides better value by virtue of greater menu variety and a substantially lower base price. The Focus Electric comes one way: loaded. At the Nissan dealer, you pay for the extras you want.
When it comes to technology, the Focus Electric and the Leaf are well-matched except for the fact that the Nissan is offered with a Quick Charger designed to take advantage of public DC Fast Charge stations. Both cars offer mobile applications that give the driver remote control over certain vehicle systems, both cars are available with navigation systems that include EcoRoute navigation capability and both cars are offered with extended subscriptions to telematics services with EV-specific features.
Though the Leaf includes an Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians and, through its CarWings telematics system, is able to show a "reachable area" on the navigation map display, we think Ford offers a better technology package than the Leaf.
From a value-charging feature that allows the owner to program vehicle recharging during off-peak electricity rate hours to its SmartGauge with EcoGuide display that uses blue butterflies to reflect and reinforce range-extending driving styles, the Ford provides plenty in the way of useful technologies. Plus, the Focus Electric is equipped with SYNC Services with 911 Assist, which activates with airbag deployment to speed rescue, and MyKey programmable vehicle features designed to improve safety.
The Focus Electric sure is a good-looking car, especially for an EV. The Ford is also the safer car and, when using a home-charging station, takes less time to achieve a full battery charge. The Ford also has a more appealing suite of technologies and services and, if we were to speculate about reliability, our bet is that the Focus Electric is just as dependable as the Leaf.
However, based on available information, our choice between these two EV models is the Nissan Leaf. It offers greater value, proven reliability and Quick Charger capability. As a bonus, the Leaf provides significantly larger cargo space behind the rear seats.