Nissan has declared the Leaf to be the first successfully mass-produced electric car. Given the Leaf's sales success over the last 5 years, it would appear that it has lived up to the company's expectations. The 2015 Nissan Leaf possesses everything necessary to placate environmentalists, technophiles and any forward-thinking consumers looking to cut back on high fuel bills.
Upon its arrival in 2011, the Leaf garnered much praise but also a few complaints that were mostly to do with charging times and a high sticker cost. Since we know how rumors can persist, we are happy to say that the 2015 Leaf no longer suffers from any of these flaws.
A revised 6.6-kilowatt on-board charger lets the Leaf recharge in half the time that it took the 2012 model to recharge. The entry-level S resolves the pricing problem, while numerous upgrades to the upper trims make the Leaf feel more like any other gasoline car.
What's New for 2015?
All Leaf trims now feature three drive modes: Normal, Eco and B-mode, with the latter employing a more aggressive use of the regenerative braking system. SV and SL trims receive hands-free text-message assistance and voice destination entry. The SV trim also receives new 17-inch alloy wheels.
What We Like
Never uses a drop of gas; longest range to date; available luxury equipment; drives just like a normal car
What We Don't
Even at its peak, range is less than 90 miles; long-term reliability is uncertain; performance may leave something to be desired
All Nissan Leaf models have front-wheel drive. Regardless of trim level, the Leaf is rated at 107 horsepower and uses a single-speed automatic transmission. Because the Leaf uses an electric motor, its full 187 lb-ft of torque is available at any speed.
Of course, the Leaf trades performance for efficiency. Officially rated in terms of miles-per-gallon equivalency at 126 mpg city/101 mpg hwy (good for 114 mpg combined), the Leaf never actually uses any fuel. Instead, it offers a fully electric range of up to 84 miles, though that number can vary substantially based on driving style. In the city, the Leaf is far more efficient thanks to its regenerative braking, with energy transferred back to the batteries as the Leaf slows down. On the highway, where drivers don't brake as much, the Leaf is less efficient.
Our test of the 2015 Leaf involved both city and highway driving. Surprisingly, the battery charge, which is now displayed in the gauge cluster, was just below 50 percent after 50 miles of mixed driving. The test even included constant use of the Leaf's climate-control functions and stereo. Naturally, the battery capacity will deplete over time, but in its fully charged state, the 2015 Leaf seems capable of reaching nearly 100 miles on a single charge -- although many drivers will never take it that far due to range anxiety.
Standard Features & Options
Nissan offers the Leaf in three trim levels: S, SV and SL.
The Leaf S ($28,860) includes Nissan's Intelligent Key system, which allows drivers to open the doors and start the car without removing the key from a pocket or purse. It also includes heated front and rear seats, Bluetooth, split folding rear seats, a rear backup camera, a CD player with USB and auxiliary connections, and a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Other standard features include power windows, power locks, power mirrors, 16-in steel wheels with full covers, automatic temperature control, a rear defroster and a vehicle security system. Optional on the Leaf S and standard on the other trim levels is the 6.6-kW charger that speeds up charge times.
The Leaf SV ($32,950) adds 17-in alloy wheels, a navigation system, the 6.6-kW charger, and Nissan's CARWINGS system, which allows drivers to use a smartphone to check their battery charge remotely or even activate the Leaf's climate-control system. SV models also add audio controls and cruise control to the steering wheel, along with Pandora Internet Radio capability. Seats are upgraded to a partially recycled cloth seat fabric. Options for the SV include a Quick Charge package (with a 220-volt quick-charge port, LED head lamps and fog lights) and a Premium Package that brings the Around View Monitor and a Bose audio system.
The Leaf SL ($35,970) includes the 220-volt fast-charge port, leather seats and automatic LED headlights. Options for the SL include the Premium package mentioned above.
Nissan also offers a number of port- and dealer-installed options such as the Eco Design, Protection and Recycling/Organizational packages.
All 2015 Nissan Leaf models include dual front airbags, front-side airbags and side-curtain airbags. The Leaf also has standard anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control and a tire-pressure monitor.
The Leaf has performed well in government tests. The hatchback earned an overall 5-star rating in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, which measure front impact, side impact and rollover protection. The Leaf also received the Top Safety Pick designation from the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). IIHS rates cars based on front, side and rear crash tests, as well as on rollover protection.
Behind the Wheel
For all the new technology in the Leaf, it certainly operates like a normal car. That's high praise for Nissan, since the Leaf isn't meant to confuse drivers with gadgetry and high-tech equipment. While it can be a little slow, highway merging is acceptable, as is passing. The seats are comfortable, and the driving position is good. Visibility is great, especially with the redesigned rear headrests. The ride is supple, and while steering is light, it provides adequate feedback to the driver. The only major difference between the Leaf and a gas-powered car comes during acceleration, when the Leaf doesn't make a sound.
Despite the Leaf's small appearance, interior room is ample, both in the front and back. Yes, the rear seats can be slightly cramped, but they're far better than back seats in many similarly sized compact cars. Unfortunately, the Leaf's large interior doesn't include its cargo area. While it's not small, the Leaf's rear space certainly concedes some room to the car's batteries. At just 24 cu ft. with the seats down, the Leaf offers half the cargo room of Nissan's subcompact Versa hatchback.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Volt -- The plug-in hybrid Volt is among the Leaf's biggest competitors. Although it isn't fully electric, the Volt can be operated in electric mode for around 30 miles before its gas engine kicks in.
Ford Focus Electric -- Based on the Ford Focus hatchback, the Focus Electric has a similar range as the Leaf, though its $36,000 base price is much higher.
Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid -- The Prius Plug-in operates much like the Volt. While the Prius Plug-in is priced higher than the Leaf, it offers more room and -- thanks to its gasoline engine -- more range.
Before drivers consider a Leaf, they should decide whether it fits their lifestyle. Many car owners need to travel more than 100 miles at a time, and others don't have access to a charging station. Some will want more performance. But if the Leaf fits your lifestyle, it's hard to ignore the major savings that comes with driving a car that doesn't require fuel. That's especially true with the Leaf's low lease rates and available federal tax credits. For drivers who do choose a Leaf, we recommend a mid-level SV model; it has all the luxury that you'll need, plus the new 6.6-kW on-board charger.