By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor
KBB Expert Rating: 7.7
Nissan’s Leaf EV for 2016 stands proudly as the fossil-fuel alternative that doesn’t look like it was designed by an old fossil. The Leaf’s unique exterior is both artistic and functional, helping it cheat the wind and maximize interior space. Unlike some fancier EVs, Nissan’s Leaf has brought electron-inspired propulsion to the masses with an affordable price tag, relaxed driving manners and user-friendly features that can even help drivers find recharging stations. But, while the 5-passenger Leaf may be popular among commuters and environmentalists, its limited range and longer charging times won’t soon cause the gasoline or hybrid car to go extinct. However, the Leaf holds an advantage over electrics like the Chevy Spark and Fiat 500e, both in size and nationwide availability.
If you’re the type that doesn’t do long road trips, lives in an urban environment and travels less than 100 miles a day, owning a 2016 Nissan Leaf EV makes sense. Its sophisticated interior and features will appeal to your techy side, while its zero-emissions appeal to your inner earth child.
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A new, 30-kWh battery is fitted to SV and SL trims, extending the Leaf’s range to 107 miles. The low-price S trim retains the smaller battery and 84-mile range but receives a new 5-inch color audio screen with NissanConnect Mobile Apps. NissanConnect and navigation are now standard on SV and SL trims.
Driving Nissan’s 2016 Leaf EV for the first time can be quite an eye-opening experience. With no engine noise the car simply alerts you that it’s ready to go, at...
... which point a simple push of the accelerator starts one gliding silently down the road. Only the faint whine of the electric motor and the slight whir from the tires indicate momentum, followed by the rushing wind as speed increases. Thanks to its torque-happy electric powertrain, the Leaf is quick off the line and sprightly when asked to make low-speed passing maneuvers. However, to achieve the promised 107-mile range, one should avoid hard acceleration or risk having to call for a tow. Engaging the Eco mode will increase efficiency through regenerative braking and a reduction of the motor and climate systems. B-Mode activates an even more aggressive regenerative braking cycle, most useful on long, slow descents.
Nissan’s Leaf EV for 2016 includes a smartphone app that permits owners to check the car’s current state of charge, start or terminate a charging session and make adjustment to climate controls all from the convenience of their phone. NissanConnect EV includes three years of complimentary service (requires subscription).
With no engine or transmission noise, you’ll be more aware of background noise from the tires, wind and outside world. To keep things silent, the 2016 Nissan Leaf uses sound-shielding vortex-shedding body panels, an aerodynamic antenna and an acoustic laminated windshield.
Nissan’s Leaf EV for 2016 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 2016 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, cruise control 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 5-inch color screen with NissanConnect Mobile Apps. The mid-range SV model adds a larger 30-kWh battery, 7-inch display, six speakers, navigation, 17-inch wheels and the NissanConnect EV 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 stand-alone options for the 2016 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 (standard on SV and SL). SV and SL trims can be had with Nissan's snazzy Around View Monitor rearview camera system and a 7-speaker Bose premium audio system.
An 80-kWh lithium-ion battery and 107-horsepower motor power 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. The base Leaf's 3.6-kWh onboard charger takes about eight hours on a 220-volt line, while the 6.6-kWh version, optional on the S and standard on the SV and SL, reduces that to about five hours. A Fast Charge receptacle on SV and SL models gets the Leaf to an 80-percent charge in 30 minutes when attached to a public charging station using a CHAdeMO fast charger. Recharging on a 110-volt outlet will take more than 20 hours.
AC synchronous electric motor
24-kWh lithium-ion battery pack (S trim)
30-kWh lithium-ion battery pack (SV, SL trims)
187 lb-ft of torque
EPA-estimated range per full charge: 84 miles (24 kWh), 107 miles (30 kWh)
EPA city/highway fuel-economy equivalent: 126/101 mpge (24 kWh), 124/101 mpge (30 kWh)
The base 2016 Nissan Leaf S has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of about $30,000, stepping up to about $35,000 for the mid-level SV, and $37,700 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 undercut by the tiny-but-fun Chevy Spark EV. Do check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying, and expect a below-average resale value.