America’s Affordable EV: Nissan Leaf

The road to electrification is paved with many challenges, including electric grids that need updating. Another area is vehicle affordability, with costs determined by battery size, range, design, and amenities. The Nissan Leaf solves many of the problems inherent to electric vehicles, even if it seems deficient against newer competition. What the Leaf has going for it is longevity, as it is the first mass-produced model for middle-class Americans.

2023 Nissan Leaf front fascia

2022 Nissan Leaf, by the Numbers

The Nissan Leaf is a front-wheel drive, compact hatchback with room for five. It runs exclusively on electric power, therefore there is no gas engine to supplement it. This model rolled out in 2011 with the second-generation model arriving seven years later.

The following is our look at the Nissan Leaf, by the numbers.

1 – First affordable mass-produced EV.

When the Nissan Leaf arrived in 2011, its main competition was Tesla. But Tesla’s model offerings and pricing were and are aimed exclusively toward luxury buyers, therefore the Leaf was the first mass-produced EV for America’s middle class. The only model that approached the Leaf in affordability was the Chevrolet Volt. However, that model is a plug-in electric hybrid with a small gas engine to supplement its battery system. Only the Leaf is pure electric, and this model has maintained that place even as niche competitors emerged over the ensuing years.

2 – Two grades to consider.

For 2023, the Nissan Leaf comes in two grades: S ($28,040) and SV Plus ($36,040). Add $1,095 for the delivery charge. That’s down from the five offered previously. We believe the Leaf will soon be replaced; therefore, Nissan chose to reduce the number of trims offered accordingly. The two grades are represented by the size of the battery pack: 40 kWh for the S and 62 kWh for the SV Plus.

4/6 – Speakers available.

Audiophiles will likely be disappointed with the Leaf’s music choices. The S grade comes with four speakers, and the SV Plus with 6. There is no 10-speaker Bose audio system option available.

The Leaf, though, comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility. It also has Bluetooth, satellite radio, and four USB ports. Choose the SV Plus and this model has integrated navigation. Both grades feature an 8-inch touchscreen display.

2023 Nissan Leaf profile
2023 Nissan Leaf profile

5 – Room for a quintet.

On paper, the Nissan Leaf seats five. That’s doable, but the vehicle is narrow. This means that the rear seat space is quite tight with three adults pressed extraordinarily close. It would be better to leave the middle seat empty.

The front seats are comfortable and contoured. The rear seat is also cozy. All seats come wrapped in cloth. There is ample headroom in both rows and the rear seat’s 33.5 inches of legroom means pressing against the front seats for taller passengers. The lack of a drivetrain hump makes the rear compartment seem that much larger.

5 – Safety rating.

The Nissan Leaf garnered a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That’s the best possible score. As for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), we haven’t seen fresh testing in several years.

Automatic headlights are standard with the Nissan Leaf. This model also comes with driver-assist safety technology, including automatic emergency braking. Further, Nissan bundles automatic rear braking, lane control, blind-spot monitoring, and blind-spot intervention.

Adaptive cruise control comes standard. However, choose the SV Plus and this grade features ProPilot Assist. This package offers a more sophisticated adaptive cruise control system that “reads” the traffic surrounding the vehicle. Consequently, when activated, it keeps the Leaf centered and spaced at all times. The Leaf even “drives itself” although hands must always remain on the steering wheel.

2023 Nissan Leaf dashboard

7 – The Leaf moves fast.

The Nissan Leaf won’t match Tesla in speed, nor does it outperform traditional muscle cars. What it does deliver is a decent 0-60 mph time of 7 seconds with the SV Plus. That’s about a full second faster than the standard model.

23 – Cargo space.

There is 23.6 cubic feet of standard cargo space in the Nissan Leaf. That’s a generous amount of room that supplies enough space for luggage and other paraphernalia. Oddly, folding the second-row seat only increases that space to 30 cubic feet. The reason? The rear seat doesn’t fold flat, thus the amount of space supplied only increases incrementally.

147/214 – Power to the people.

How much power does the Nissan Leaf deliver? When equipped with the standard battery system, the Leaf supplies 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Move up the SV Plus and there is 214 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. A single-speed transmission routes power to the front wheels.

149/215 – A tale of two ranges.

How much all-electric range do we need? We like to think that we’ll drive hundreds of miles daily before needing to make a connection. For some drivers, that is a true assessment. In that case, there is no affordable electric vehicle available to them.

For everyone else, the Nissan Leaf delivers a 149-mile range with the S grade and 216 miles with the SV Plus. Notably, these numbers depend on optimum conditions, including ambient temperature, load, and driving habits. The latter range is based on a model costing $8,000 more. That’s 67 additional miles achieved, although the equipment level is also significantly improved.

2023 Nissan Leaf EV

7,500 – Federal Tax Credit

The Nissan Leaf is still eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit. This means that Nissan has yet to reach the 200,000-unit limit offered before tax credits reduce and eventually disappear. For consumers there is additional good news: the recently passed “Inflation Reduction Act” includes a provision lifting the limit. Therefore, eligible buyers should continue to enjoy a tax break on their federal returns for years to come.

Buyers should also know that other incentives are in place. For instance, in some states, state-level credits exist. In addition, priority parking, public charging discounting, and at-home charger installation are other factors. Check with your dealer and state for local information.

100,000-mile battery warranty.

We’ve shared this fact before, but it is worth repeating. By federal law, the Nissan Leaf requires an 8-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty. This means that if the battery fails, you’re covered. In California, the battery is guaranteed for 10 years or 150,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Consumers should be concerned about battery life when purchasing an EV. This is especially important for anyone considering long-term ownership as they might with a gas- or diesel-powered model. For leasing, an electric vehicle is a sensible approach as the issue of long-term care disappears.

2023 Nissan Leaf seats

On the Road

We praise the Nissan Leaf for its decent seating positions and excellent forward sight lines. The wide-angle windshield is truly a welcome feature.

If you’re not familiar with the workings of an electric vehicle, the Leaf offers a decent primer. Indeed, one push of the ignition and the vehicle remain silent. But the dashboard alights. Familiarize yourself with the transmission shifter, a bizarre layout that comes with instructions on how to operate it. We believe Nissan could have developed a less complicated design, but here we are.

The Leaf either glides forward or moves with authority. Just how much pressure you place on the accelerator makes that determination. When operated normally, the Leaf offers decent step-off acceleration and capable passing power. Notably, with instantaneous torque, it scoots with ease.

The available e-Pedal mode is great for local driving. With this feature, the car automatically brakes once the driver removes his/her foot from the accelerator. Conceivably, the car will eventually come to a full stop when operating in e-Pedal mode. At the same time, the kinetic energy harnessed shuttles to the battery pack to replenish the same. Certainly, this mode is much less taxing on the brakes. On the other hand, it is not worth using on the highway.

The Leaf’s steering is light and this EV is easy to maneuver. Braking is firm and the ride quality is decent for this vehicle’s size. A hard press of the accelerator oftentimes results in torque steer – the Leaf shifts from side to side before regaining its composure. This EV holds its own on twisty roads, but take your time when cornering.

Competitive Set

The Chevrolet Bolt and Mini Electric Hardtop are among the Leaf’s top competitors. All three models are the most affordable in the segment too. The Bolt has a 259-mile range to the 114 miles of the Mini. As mentioned, the Leaf falls somewhere between the two, depending on the grade.

Newer competitors are far pricier and worth a mention only to offer a comparison. These include the Volkswagen ID.4, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai Ioniq 5, and the Kia EV6. All four rival the Bolt’s range, but pricing is generally at least $10,000 higher.

2023 Nissan Leaf rear fascia

Nissan Leaf Considerations

The significant price difference between grades is worth noting. But it is also worth exploring the differences that go beyond the modest power increase for the SV Plus, namely the heated seats, heated steering wheel, and 8-way power driver’s seat. Further, the upgrade yields LED fog lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, and an electronic parking brake. Finally, there are no package updates with the Leaf, therefore the chosen grade delivers exactly as outfitted.

See AlsoBy the Numbers: 2022 Nissan Altima

Photos copyright Stumpwater Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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