The new Leaf might seem to be an enticing electric vehicle at first blush. It offers decent--albeit limited--driving range and a low entry price. The base model is thousands less than the entry-level versions of the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3, even before federal or state tax incentives.
And even though this redesign improves on the original, it offers little beyond an attractive price to distinguish it from its EV competitors.
The Leaf’s 40-kWh battery gives it a range of 140 miles, which should be enough for typical commuters. It takes about eight hours to charge from empty on a 240 volt connector. While the range is an improvement compared with the original Leaf, the competition has moved ahead: The Chevrolet Bolt can comfortably go 250 miles between charges, and the range of the upcoming base Tesla Model 3 is estimated at 220 miles. Shoppers may want to wait for the 2019 Leaf, which will offer a 60-kWh battery with a promised range of more than 200 miles.
Like all EVs, the Leaf takes off silently and immediately, and builds up speed in a smooth, linear way. But unlike the Bolt or Tesla, there's no thrilling shove that glues drivers to their seats.
The ride is seemingly soft initially, but the suspension can bottom out when the Leaf hits a sharp bump, which sends a nasty thump into the cabin. In addition, the mushy handling doesn't inspire driver confidence, which makes the Leaf rather boring to drive.
A feature called e-Pedal allows what’s known as one-pedal driving: When drivers take their foot off the throttle, the Leaf slows significantly, even coming to a full stop if the driver desires. In our testing we didn't find any difference in range when the Leaf was driven in that mode.
We found the cabin ambience to be rather austere, but the Leaf's fit and finish is better than the Bolt's so-so interior furnishings.
It takes some getting used to manipulating the gear selector, but it functions well. The center touch screen is straightforward to operate. However, the display in the instrument panel--which is used for trip information, EV-specific data, and turning off the safety features--is confusing. Android Auto/Apple CarPlay compatibility are available starting with the midlevel SV trim.
Electric cars can be slow to heat, so we suggest buyers add the optional all-weather package, which includes heated seats and a heated steering wheel.
We found the SL's powered driver’s seat to be comfortable, helped by its adjustable lumbar support. The Leaf is missing a telescoping steering column to accommodate drivers of all sizes, and the center console rubs against the driver’s knee, which is annoying and compromises the driving position.
The Leaf's elevated stance makes it easy to get into the car, and the rear seat is roomy enough for two adults. The hatchback design contributes to its versatility, but the cargo floor is uneven when the rear seats are folded.
Owners can charge on a regular 120-volt outlet, but that takes around 30 hours to refill the Leaf. The supplied home charging kit includes a neat dual plug that can easily convert a 240-volt heavy-duty plug. So owners with a 240-volt outlet (such as for a clothes dryer or oven outlet) near where they park their Leaf won’t have to buy a dedicated charger.
Nissan's optional ProPilot Assist combines adaptive cruise control with lane-centering. It's not designed as a self-driving feature but can be a convenience in stop-and-go traffic. Forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking are standard.