Nissan Leaf Electric Vehicle
The graphics for the Leaf’s digital gauge cluster and central infotainment display provide information in a clear and mostly useful manner, but they are starting to look old. (The little “trees” that sprout somewhat unpredictably in the cluster based on driving behavior look odd and aren’t particularly useful.) But we appreciated Nissan’s helpful display that estimates how many miles of range may be lost or gained by turning the climate control on or off. As expected, the navigation system, standard on SV and SL models, offers several EV-specific functions such as information about nearby electric charging stations and the ability to overlay estimated driving range onto the map so you don’t set a destination that’s too far away for the amount of juice remaining in the battery.
Not Exactly Quick
A stronger battery doesn’t affect the Leaf’s power output, which remains at 107 horsepower and 187 lb-ft of torque. Translation: It’s still quite slow. A zero-to-60-mph run takes 10.4 seconds, which won’t impress your passengers the way a Tesla will, to say the least. It’s also slower than a Volkswagen e-Golf (9.4 seconds) or a Ford Focus Electric (9.9 seconds) and lagged 0.2 second behind the last Leaf we tested, in 2013, a difference at least partially attributable to this 2016 model’s 37-pound weight gain.
Even if it doesn’t have a “Ludicrous mode, ” the Leaf’s acceleration around town is acceptable for a compact hatchback. That’s thanks largely to the electric motor’s ability to deliver maximum torque just above zero rpm. The Leaf struggles a bit more when asked to merge onto the highway or pass slow-moving semis. This car is not meant to be an effortless long-distance cruiser and, even with the added battery capacity, the Leaf’s range is still very much a limiting factor.
Although Leaf owners may not be able to beat e-Golf drivers in zero-tailpipe-emissions stoplight drag races, the Leaf did deliver significantly better energy efficiency than either the e-Golf or the Focus Electric. Despite relatively close EPA ratings among the three, our observed 114 MPGe from the Nissan beat the VW’s result by 10 MPGe and the Ford’s by a whopping 43 MPGe.
Roomy Transportation Pod
There’s not much fun to be had behind the wheel of the Leaf; its soft suspension results in lots of body roll and the low-rolling-resistance tires it’s equipped with give up easily in hard cornering. The steering is also overly light for our tastes, providing little feedback and feel. The brake pedal feels vague, too, a common issue in hybrid and electric cars that blend regenerative and friction braking. It’s best to think of the Leaf as a comfortable transportation pod, with a soft, supple ride and good visibility that make it easy to drive, as long as you don’t push the car too hard.
We found ourselves driving mostly in the car’s shifter-selectable “B” mode, which increases the amount of regenerative braking that happens when you lift off the gas pedal. An even more aggressive regeneration mode would be appreciated; other EVs such as the BMW i3 offer more variability in their energy recuperation, with the highest settings allowing the option to essentially drive the car without tapping the brake pedal.