The Nissan LEAF is the world’s most popular electric car, with assembly plants in Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States cranking them out to meet growing demand for zero-emission vehicles.
Nearly 115,000 LEAFs have been sold since the model’s introduction in late 2010, meaning you’re more likely to see one on the road than any other electric car. Read on to see what all of the fuss is about.
The Nissan LEAF is equipped with an 80-kilowatt (107 horsepower) electric motor that also produces 187 pound-feet of torque and drives the front wheels through a single-speed reduction gear. A 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is mounted in the floor.
The EPA rates the 2014 LEAF at 114 miles-per-gallon-equivalent combined (126 MPGe city, 101 MPGe highway), with 84 miles of range.
While the LEAF isn’t a performance car, the electric motor’s instantaneous torque delivery does provide an initial driving experience similar to that of a gasoline V6, rather than the four-cylinder engine its power output is more readily compared to. A 370Z, however, it isn’t.
The base 2014 Nissan LEAF S comes with a 3.6kW onboard charger, which takes 8 hours to fully replenish the battery pack from a 240-volt Level 2 source.
Meanwhile, the LEAF SV and SL have a 6.6-kW charger as standard equipment (it’s also optional on the LEAF S), which lowers the charging time to a more reasonable 5 hours.
In addition, all LEAF models can be equipped for DC fast charging (standard on the top SL model), which can provide an 80-percent charge in just 30 minutes.The LEAF uses the CHAdeMO standard, as opposed to the CCS standard used by the Chevrolet Spark EV and BMW i3, and Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger.
Safety and practicality
The LEAF comes standard with dual-stage front airbags, seat-mounted side airbags, and roof-mounted curtain airbags. Overall the LEAF scores four out of five stars in safety tests.
In addition, the LEAF has an “Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians” feature to compensate for its lack of a noisy internal-combustion engine. A speaker mounted in the front of a car emits a sound at speeds below 19 mph.
The biggest advantage of the LEAF for most buyers is probably its compact five-seat hatchback layout. Thanks to the floor-mounted battery pack and nose-mounted charger, passenger and cargo space are fairly good for a car with the LEAF’s relatively small footprint.
Price and options
The 2014 Nissan LEAF starts at $29,830, including destination. This buys a base S model with the 3.6-kW charger and few other convenience features. In true base-model fashion, it even rides on steel wheels.
The midlevel SV starts at $32,850, and adds the 6.6-kW charger, navigation, 7.0-inch LCD screen, Nissan’s Carwings telematics system, an energy-efficient hybrid heater system, and a six-speaker audio system with Pandora Link (for iPhone), among other features.
The top SL trim level starts at $35,870. Additional equipment includes a DC fast-charging port, leather seats, LED headlights, and a photovoltaic solar panel rear spoiler.
In addition, there are three option packages. The Quick Charge Package for the LEAF S adds the 6.6-kW onboard charger and a DC fast-charging port for $1,250.
There’s also an LED Headlights + Quick Charge Port package for the midlevel LEAF SV, which adds those two features for $1,360.
Finally, the Premium Package for the LEAF SV and SL includes Nissan’s Around View Monitor system and seven-speaker Bose audio for $1,050.
The Nissan LEAF sits firmly in the middle of the small but diverse plug-in car segment.
When it launched in late 2010, the LEAF shared the world stage with the Chevrolet Volt, and the two still compete for top plug-in sales honors. Of course, the Volt is an extended-range electric, with a backup gasoline engine that eliminates range anxiety and a shorter electric-only range of 38 miles.
In addition, the Volt only seats four thanks to an intrusive, T-shaped battery pack. However, its $34,995 base price is fairly competitive with that of a comparably-equipped LEAF.
The LEAF’s closest all-electric rival is probably the Ford Focus Electric, another compact, five-seat hatchback. However, with a base price of $39,995, the Ford is more expensive, and its 76-mile range is more restrictive.
There are other electric cars on the market, but they differ more greatly in size, price, performance, and equipment levels. In addition, some are “compliance cars” built to satisfy California’s zero-emission vehicle mandate and thus subject to limited availability.
No major changes are anticipated for the LEAF in the near future, but a redesigned, second-generation model will be launched in 2017.
This new model will reportedly feature a 186-mile range, thanks to a new type of battery chemistry. It’s also expected to get updated styling that will align this electric car more closely with the rest of the Nissan lineup.