While there is not as much to report about the carried-forth 2014 Nissan Leaf as there was in 2013, the big news is the electric car holds a number of distinctions and is carving out a niche in the American automotive landscape.
Introduced in December 2010, it was refreshed last year with 11 more miles electric range, improved “MPGe” efficiency, and saw a new “S” trim level priced $6,000 less than 2012’s lowest trim level price. Nissan also began localized production in Tennessee, and every month last year it smashed sales records from 2012.
To balance this account, 2012 was a weak sales year for the Leaf – relatively flat compared to 2011 – so the Leaf had essentially no where to go but up. But up it has gone, and as of last month, Nissan had sold over 43,000 Leafs in the U.S. since launch and it crossed the 100,000 mark on a global basis.
Changes for 2014 include a price increase of $180, and the addition of the RearView Monitor as standard on all models (previously part of the Charge Package) and one new exterior color – Gun Metallic.
Suggested retail prices excluding $850 destination fee for the subsidy eligible car are $28,980 for the S; $32,000 for the SV; and $35,020 for the top of the line SL.
The Leaf was conceived and designed as a dedicated all-electric car with its 24-kilowatt-hour battery under the floor.
Available only with front-wheel-drive, its 80-kw AC synchronous motor delivers 107 horsepower and 187 electrically limited pounds-feet of torque – 20 pounds-feet down from 207 pounds-feet in 2012 which helps explain how Nissan wrung more range out of the same powertrain.
The simplified car has a single-speed gear reduction transmission.
Nissan’s estimates to replenish a fully drained battery are:
• via DC Quick Charger: 80-percent full charge in 30 minutes
• @240 volts with 6.6-kw charger (6.0-kw output): ~ 4 hours
• @240 volts with 3.6-kw charger (3.3-kw output): ~ 7 hours
• @120 volts via included trickle charger: 21 hours.
Midsized Functional EV
It looks rather diminutive, but the Leaf is classified as a mid-sized five passenger car, and it is sufficiently roomy for most averaged sized people.
Its external dimensions place it between a Nissan Altima and Versa, with a 106.3-inch wheelbase, 175.0-inch length, 69.7-inch width and 61.0-inch height.
Whether you like its funky looks, or not, its shape was decided upon after listening to focus groups, and it does make a statement.
Lessons learned from countless previous automobiles Nissan has made have been applied to the Leaf’s interior. Here the car does not try to stand out overly much and serves as a functional and comfortable environment.
All models include a 6-way manual driver’s seat, 4-way manual front passenger’s seats, trip computer showing instant and average energy consumption, driving time, outside temperature and range.
Rear cargo space is measured at 24 cubic feet with rear seats upright. With the standard 60/40-split rear seat folded down, cargo space is 30 cubic feet.
We might have titled this subsection “driving impressions,” but let’s face it, the Leaf with limited range is a trade-off between super efficiency with very quiet ride and the longer range of conventional cars.
The purpose of the Leaf is as a local commuter, and given most people’s drives are under 40 miles daily, it can work assuming you live where you can have a dedicated 240-volt charger to daily plug in.
Beyond that, the car is very normal. It is not scintillatingly quick to 60 mph, but to 40-50 mph where average traffic flow may gravitate, it is pretty peppy and will not leave you muttering that it’s too slow.
On the contrary, it can surprise some ordinary cars off the line with 100-percent of its available torque from zero mph, and quickly gets up to speed.
As for range, the advertised range is realistic, but if you do all highway driving expect less. And if you stay at lower speeds around town you can get more.
Last year on a 62-mile round trip mostly in Eco mode, we traveled a good 80 percent at highway speeds, and returned with 20 miles indicated range remaining. We kept speeds legal, and ran A/C intermittently.
Braking and cornering are also “normal” given the weight rides low, allowing the Leaf to conceal its 3,256-3,340-pound curb weight and return decent handling among commuter class cars.
The Leaf is the only EV sold by an automaker bold enough to make it available in all 50 states.
It has been rewarded by dominating the monthly sales charts, but is not without competition.
Other EVs in the general price range, and as available might also offer a compelling value, but really, the Leaf is the heavy hitter.
Those living in very hot climates may be advised Nissan updated its warranty after early adopters in hot regions of Texas, Arizona and California reported premature range loss.
The Leaf does not have liquid cooling for its battery pack, and Nissan says it does not need it, but this is has been questioned by some.
For a far-more comprehensive review of essentially the same car, please also see our 2013 Leaf Review with video.
Reprinted from 2013′s review is a sidebar elaborating on the cost-benefit equation.
The Leaf in a Nutshell
The Leaf is essentially a normal hatchback that comfortably seats four, can make it with five, has decent storage capacity – but has maybe a 3.5 to 4.0 gallon “gas tank” (battery). Replenishing this energy supply takes up to four hours at 240-volts with the 6.6-kw on-board charger. (This is compared to an imaginary internal combustion car’s 25 mpg multiplied by 3.5 = 87.5 miles easily attainable range. On a slower route, the Leaf might be good for 90-100 miles or more).
A decreased “fuel” supply that takes longer to refill may not sound too flattering for a $29,600- $37,000 car (before substantial potential subsidies), but while we’re imagining, imagine the Leaf’s “fuel” costs maybe one-fifth what you’d pay for gas – an energy source that’s getting comparatively more expensive as years go by.
Figuring Actual Cost To Power A Leaf
A reliable formula to calculate your actual cost of “fuel” (electricity) is to divide miles driven by MPGe (129 city, 102 hwy, 115 combined) and multiply by 33.7 (33.7 kwh=energy of one gallon of gas). Then use your actual electricity cost to calculate your actual operational cost.
The EPA figures electricity at 12 cents per kw and calculates based on 15,000 mile per year.
For simplicity’s sake, and to compare to an imaginary 25-mpg gas car, let’s figure 10 cents per kilowatt and cost to travel on one gallon of gasoline, or 25 miles.
Specifically, you can divide 25 miles driven by the combined 115 MPGe and multiply by 33.7. This equals your actual kwh consumed.
In this case, kwh consumed = 7.33.
Take 7.33 times your actual price per kw (10 cents in this example). This equals about 73 cents to drive 25 miles. A 25 mpg gas-powered car would use one gallon of gas at say $3.75 per gallon.
The Leaf’s hypothetical 73 cents per gallon cost is one-fifth the $3.75 per gallon of a comparable hatchback.
Can you live with a small fuel tank if you get an inflation-protected 73 cents per gallon “fuel” price? (At 12 cents per kilowatt, it’s 87 cents). What’s more, there are places where public chargers let you fill for free (like your Nissan dealer’s quick charger!) This would further reduce your “fuel” costs. Of course, some public chargers do require a fee, and at higher electric rates, and in these cases, you will pay more.
To make it work from a dollars-and-sense viewpoint, the Leaf must be driven enough miles to offset the electric car’s price premium over a comparable gas car.
This does not account for how you will also benefit the environment, and contribute to a solution that needs consumer acceptance to reach critical mass.
Throw in being able to recharge mostly during off hours at home and the fact that the car is just plain fun to drive and you could have a winner.