By Keith Buglewicz
KBB Expert Rating: 7.8
The 2015 Nissan Leaf's rounded hatchback shape is on its way to becoming just as iconic for electric cars as the Toyota Prius is for hybrids. And why not? The Leaf made the electric vehicle (EV) mainstream thanks to its affordable price, easy driving manners and user-friendliness. Roomy and comfortable, it could be any other 5-passenger hatchback, except it doesn't require gasoline, and it's nearly silent on the road. Popular among commuters and the eco-conscious, the Leaf still isn't for everyone. Long charge times mean you have to wait for a while to get going again, and if you're getting 100 miles out of a charge, you're darn lucky. Nevertheless, the Leaf trumps others such as the Chevrolet Spark EV and Fiat 500e in both size and nationwide availability.
Do you stand in line to get the latest iDevice? Do you not just separate your recyclables, but sort them into glass, paper, and plastic, too? The 2015 Nissan Leaf appeals to eco-friendly early adopters who can live with its limitations, not a huge group, but a sought-after one.
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The base model Leaf S now gets the same "B-Mode" as the rest of the lineup, which engages an aggressive regenerative braking mode. Leaf SV models also get new standard 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, and Leaf SV and SL models get hands-free text messaging and voice-activated destination entry.
If you've never driven an EV before, starting up the 2015 Nissan Leaf is an experience. Rather than the rev of an engine, it simply informs you that it's ready...
... to go. When you pull away, all you hear is the rumble of the tires, the slight whine from the electric motor, and eventually, the rush of wind passing by. Then the novelty wears off, and you realize that whether you're in traffic, on windy roads, or at freeway speeds, the Leaf is mostly unremarkable, but in the best way possible. Like other electric cars, the Leaf has quick initial acceleration thanks to its torque-rich electric motor. A mileage-sensitive driver should avoid hard acceleration, and instead engage the Eco mode, which increases regenerative braking and reduces output of the motor and climate system. The B-Mode increases the aggressiveness of the EV's regenerative-braking system even further, handy for long downhill grades.
The 2015 Nissan Leaf comes with a smartphone app for iPhone, Android and Blackberry which allows Leaf owners to do things like check their Leaf's state of charge, begin or end a charging session, and adjust climate controls from almost anywhere. The service is free to owners for three years.
All electric cars are quiet, thanks to the lack of a noisy engine, but the Nissan Leaf is even more so thanks to sound-suppressing technologies such as vortex-shedding body pieces, an acoustic front windshield, and an aerodynamic antenna.
The Leaf EV boasts big windows and a high roof, meaning it's easy to see out and airy inside. Four can fit comfortably, five in a pinch, and behind the rear seats is an admirable 24 cubic feet of cargo space, with 60/40 folding rear seats for larger items. We'd like more side support from the otherwise comfortable front seats, though. The Nissan Leaf doesn't use a traditional shift lever. Instead, there's a small orb that toggles up for Reverse, down for Drive, and to the side for Neutral; engage Park by pressing a center button.
The Nissan Leaf's squat 5-door hatchback design is close to becoming iconic for electric cars. While not particularly exciting, it stands out thanks to its lighting treatments. The headlights sweep way into the body, almost as long as the hood, and the taillights form part of the entire rear design of the car, standing tall against the hatch. Above the grille opening in front is the Leaf's charging port and, thanks to the lack of a gasoline engine, there's no tailpipe.
The base model Nissan Leaf S comes nicely equipped. There's a rearview camera, Bluetooth wireless communication, and heated front and rear seats so you won't drain the battery with the main heater system. The 4-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system includes USB and auxiliary inputs, and a 4.3-inch display. The mid-range SV model adds a 7-inch display, six speakers, navigation, cruise control, and the CARWINGS app integration. Top-line Leaf SL models add leather, LED headlights, a solar panel on the rear spoiler to support the 12-volt system, and HomeLink remote transceiver.
There aren't a lot of standalone options for the 2015 Leaf, since most of the upgrades are bundled into the S, SV and SL models themselves. On the S you can add a 6.6 kW onboard charger for faster recharging. SV trims can be had with LED headlights, fog lights and a quick-charge port for specialized high-speed chargers. Top-line SL models can be outfitted with Nissan's snazzy Around View Monitor backup camera system and a 7-speaker Bose premium audio system.
An 80 kW lithium-ion battery and 107-horsepower motor powers the Leaf's front wheels through a single-speed transmission. That motor churns out a stout 187 lb-ft of torque from zero rpm, resulting in a 0-to-60-mph sprint of about 10 seconds, and topping out at 90 mph. How long it takes to charge depends on the system you have. The base Leaf's 3.6 kW onboard charger takes about 8 hours on a 220-volt line, while the 6.6 kW version, optional on the S and standard on the SV and SL, reduces that to about 5 hours. A Fast Charge receptacle on SL models gets the Leaf to an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. Recharging on a 110-volt outlet will take more than 20 hours.
AC synchronous electric motor
24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack
187 lb-ft of torque
EPA-estimated range per full charge: 84 miles
EPA city/highway fuel economy equivalent: 126/101 mpge
The base 2015 Nissan Leaf S starts at about $30,000. That steps up to about $33,000 for the mid-level SV, and about $36,000 for the top-line SL. That sounds like a lot, but when you factor in the $7,500 federal tax credit, plus any state incentives for electric cars, the price drops rapidly. Then there's the potential access to carpool lanes with a single occupant. If you're in a hurry to recharge, the SL and its Fast Charge port is a good idea, otherwise, the SV offers most of the SL's features in a less expensive package. The Leaf starts several thousand dollars less than the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus Electric and the tiny Fiat 500e. However, it's not the price leader, undercut by the tiny-but-fun Chevy Spark EV. Be sure to check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying, and expect a below-average resale value.