2013 Nissan Leaf Review
Behold an affordable electric.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: September 13th, 2013
Nissan's Leaf draws attention, and not because of its sexy styling (this bland compact doesn't exactly have panache in the looks department), but because most everyone who knows what it is knows it's all-electric. That means the driver will be fielding plenty of questions about range and charge time.
While electric-car technology might be interesting, what's more pertinent to buyers is how the car actually drives in day-to-day commuting. Most Leafs will be consigned to family-hauling and urban commuting duties, just like their gas-powered brethren; while range matters, what happens when the car isn't plugged in matters more.
On the Road
One of the benefits of an all-electric car is instant torque, and the Leaf has that. The problem is, it doesn't have enough of it. One-hundred-eighty-seven lb-ft of torque is fine for around-town duties and acceptable for merging, but the Leaf is not a hot hatch.
That shows on the back roads, too. The Leaf feels uncomfortable, with a bit too much body roll and understeer. Its handling is probably mid-pack or slightly below, so it's not terrible, but if you want something that handles well and is gas-free, investigate the Ford Focus Electric.
Ride is acceptably smooth, with rough pavement posing few problems. The Leaf is comfortable on the highway, and it doesn't suffer much on surface streets. It's a pleasant, if inoffensive runabout.
Range is always an issue with electric cars, and while we noticed that it didn't drop too quickly on city streets, we found that it dipped in a hurry at highway speeds. So fast, in fact, that we ran our tester almost dead. Range will be a concern for some folks, no doubt.
The Leaf has a conservative design with some aerodynamic tricks to maximize range, but the look works. We like it better than the Versa Note gas-powered hatch in the same lineup. It's also perhaps the most unobtrusive of the available all-electrics out there (the Tesla Model S turns heads, the Mitsubishi i is a manifestation of ugliness), and that's not a bad thing.
Nissan didn't skimp on the cabin to save weight - our top-line SL-trim tester had nav, Bluetooth, and heated seats among its bells and whistles. The leather was upscale, as were most touch points and materials. Headroom and legroom are sufficient up front, and the hatchback has adequate cargo room.
That nav system has special electric-only features - it can tell you where the nearest charging station is or how far you can travel on available range, for instance. It comes in handy - trust us, we know.
Our only beef was the dang-blasted automatic transmission shifter. It's like a computer mouse, but a lot more annoying. It's not at all intuitive.
The Leaf remains one of only two truly affordable all-electric cars (We aren't counting Chevy's Volt, because its range can be extended via its gas motor.), and the Mitsu i is just not nearly as good as the Leaf. And as car for the masses, it's fine - provided you can plug in each night and live with a range of about 85 miles, maximum.
That means for many, it will be a second car. Only city dwellers who never leave the urban jungle and have steady access to a charge port will use the Leaf as a primary car. That's a shame, because the upscale cabin and decent ride give the Leaf some solid cred.
As a compact, the Leaf is good, but not great. As an electric, it's above par - it's affordable, offers a standard amount of range, and has a real cabin (unlike the i). We can't love this car until it becomes more practical, but when it has juice, it's a decent compact choice - provided you don't drive too far.
Specs, Features, and Prices
Engine: 80 Kw AC synchronous electric motor
Torque: 187 lb-ft.
Transmission: Single-speed reducer
Fuel Economy: 130 mpge city/102 mpge highway
Base Price: $34,840
As-Tested Price: $36,910 (including $850 destination fee)
Available Features: Navigation, Bluetooth, satellite radio, AroundView monitor, fog lights, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, Pandora, USB, charging timer, 17-inch wheels.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2013 Nissan LEAF, click here: 2013 Nissan LEAF.