Assembled this year now in Smyrna, Tenn., with batteries assembled and transported from a nearby state-of-the-art plant, Nissan’s third year for its all-electric Leaf sees the car better positioned than ever.
The Leaf has been the poster child for the company’s bullish-on-EVs CEO, Carlos Ghosn, who adamantly predicts by the year 2020 one in 10 cars will be electric.
Whether that comes to pass or not, the Leaf has passed through some teething pains, issues with range degradation, particularly in first-generation cars in hot regions that received the first cars rolled out.
But with tweaks and improvements to the 2013 car – none however addressing the degradation allegations, as Nissan says there was no real inherent problem – things are basically looking up again.
(Note: This is being written April 2013, backdated to January for archival purposes.)
In March 2013, the company set an all-time sales record of 2,236 units sold in the U.S. helped undoubtedly by pent up demand as the company increased production during the first two lean months of January and February.
Also helping things greatly was a major price slash in the form of a base “S” trim level.
This $28,800 car is a substantial $6,000 less than the previously least-expensive 2012 Leaf and with it, Nissan has thrown down a gauntlet showing it means business. Coupled with a $7,500 available federal tax credit, and potential state subsidies, the sales or lease price makes getting into a Leaf as pain free as it has yet been.
The heart of the front-wheel-drive, five-passenger Leaf is its battery powered drivetrain. The same “electric engine” is shared by the S, as well as the higher-line SV and SL trim levels. All share furthermore the same specification battery pack.
The battery was developed by the Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC), a joint venture of Nissan and NEC. Nissan says that unlike conventional cylindrical batteries, its thin, compact laminated cells offer more flexibility in design applications.
Said battery powers an 80-kw AC synchronous motor, rated at 107 horsepower and 187 pounds-feet of torque which channels its energy through a single speed reducer.
While the battery has the same 24-kilowatt-hour nominal power rating as previous Leafs, Nissan is predicting marginal improvements on the previous 73-mile U.S. EPA range and MPGe ratings.
Nissan is estimating as much as 130 MPGe city, and 102 MPGe highway, but as of March 2013, the EPA has not posted its estimates.
New also this year also is a 6.6-kw on-board charger – double the previous 3.3-kw rating and matching Ford’s Focus EV’s standard on-board charger. This cuts 240-volt charging time to four hours – half the time as was previously required. The Leaf S gets only a 3.6-kw charger, but the faster charger is optionally available.
As for performance, Nissan says the car takes off like a V6. This may be true up to 35 mph more or less, and it does get to highway speeds fine, but 0-60 time is in the low 10-second range. That is more in line with a Toyota Prius, there are plenty of four-cylinders quicker, and many more V6s that exceed this acceleration rate.
As mentioned, three are available. The $28,800 S, the $31,820 SV, and $34,840 SL.
Refreshingly, the S is not a stripped model even if the price was scaled down significantly.
Standard equipment includes The battery was developed by the Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC), a joint venture of Nissan and NEC. Unlike conventional cylindrical batteries, the thin, compact laminated cells offer more flexibility in design applications, full power accessories, automatic climate control, a heated tilting leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front and rear seats and 60/40-split-folding rear seats and heated exterior mirrors.
It rolls on 16-inch steel wheels and further amenities inside include a 4.3-inch LCF display, Bluetooth, trip computer, four-speaker sound system with CD player, satellite radio, USB/iPod port.
Aside from the 6.6-kw charger being an optional upgrade, also optional is a rearview camera.
The SV, as does the SL comes with the 6.6-kw charger. It adds also cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, recycled cloth upholstery, six-speaker sound system, a hybrid heater system, 7-inch touch screen, navigation and Nissan Connected, remote smart phone access to monitor data and control the climate system remotely.
The SV also gets automatic LED headlights, foglamps, and a quick-charge port for public DC-fast charging that can replenish the battery 80 percent in just 30 minutes.
Optionally available for the SL – and the SV – is a low power consumption, premium Bose sound system along with 360-degree view mirror.
The SL offers all the SV does, and adds a spoiler-mounted solar panel which provides enough energy to power accessories 17-inch alloy wheels, leather interior.
Platform, Suspension, Brakes
The aforementioned batteries are housed in the floor of the dedicated EV platform. The Leaf is not a converted gas car, but was designed as an electric vehicle.
It has a 106.3-inch wheelbase, 175.0-inch overall length, 69.7-inch width and 61.0-inch height. Dimensionally, the Nissan Leaf is between the Altima and Versa.
Rear cargo space is now 24 cubic feet with the second row seat upright. Nissan accomplished this by relocating the on-board charger to the front. With the standard 60/40-split rear seat folded down, there is 30 cubic feet of cargo space available.
The Leaf carries forward an independent strut suspension with stabilizer bar in front and a torsion beam rear suspension with integrated stabilizer bar. Steering is via a vehicle-speed-sensitive electric power steering system.
Braking is pretty standard too. The car uses power-assisted front vented disc/solid rear disc brakes with ABS, Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist.
Standard is of course a regenerative braking system. New this year is a “B-mode” for the SV and SL levels. This allows the driver to engage an even more aggressive level
of regenerative braking while decelerating, such as when going down hills.
The “B-mode” adds to the normal and Eco drive modes. The Eco mode increases regenerative braking, assists in limiting motor output and reduces HVAC power output.
The Leaf’s road manners quickly remove any preconceived notion a skeptic might have of associating an electric car with a golf cart.
It handles, brakes, accelerates and dissipates shock on par with other small-midsize hatchbacks and does so with amazing quietness.
A high-pitched pedestrian warning system is mildly audible at lower speeds, and wind noise can be heard at highway speeds more so because of a lack of engine noise, but the car is overall pretty pleasing, functional, and not overly noisy in any case.
Other cars to look into are Ford’s Focus Electric, the Fiat 500e (for California buyers only), the Honda Fit EV, and if you can wait a while, the Chevy Spark EV although this is a smaller car. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is also a possibility, but this car is being carried forward by Mitsubishi as a 2012 model and they are not even calling it a 2013.
For the money, the Leaf is really strongly positioned for those who can commit to the limits yet imposed by the EV lifestyle.
Of course if money is less of an object, Tesla will gladly put you in line for a Model S starting at around $70,000, and you can get range closer to the gas cars to which you may be accustomed.
Strategies that make the Leaf more practical include knowing where local chargers are or having charging at your destination point – such as work or school or where ever you park the car in a commute.
If you have access to a DC fast charger and opt for the SV or SL, this too can increase intraday range.
That is, of course, assuming you have range anxiety. Studies show 75 percent of Americans drive fewer than 40 miles per day, and if you are in that realm, you could conceivably go a day or two without charging the Leaf.
To be sure, it is a qualified decision, but the advantages in cost of daily all-electric operation, and benefits to the environment with zero emissions are greater than with any petrol burning car made.
For another perspective, please also check out our 2012 review.