- Big discounts easy to find
- Distinctively designed
- Silent operation
- Interior especially roomy
- Poor safety scores
- Range falls notably in cold weather
- Chevrolet Bolt EV is only slightly pricier but offers far better range
- Starting to feel very dated
Eclipsed by the Chevrolet Bolt EV's 200-mile-plus range, the Nissan Leaf is best enjoyed with the substantial discounts dealers are eager to offer.
For what's likely to be its last year before a major redesign, the original mass-market electric car largely stands pat.
The Nissan Leaf does many things well, but it's certainly starting to show its age—especially as Chevrolet jumps up into the big leagues with its 238-mile range Bolt EV. Still, the Leaf, available in S, SV, and SL trim levels, remains worth a look.
We score it a 5.8 out of 10 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
It's an icon in its own time, albeit one that hasn't been nearly as successful as its maker intended. Blame the lack of infrastructure, persistently fluctuating gas prices, or simply the compromises it requires from some consumers, but the Leaf will nonetheless go down as one of the most important cars of the 21st century.
Leaf styling and performance
The battery-electric five-door hatchback sits on the footprint of a compact car, but has the interior room of a mid-size vehicle under Federal rules because it is especially well-packaged. Like the Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid that requires gasoline to run, the all-electric Leaf's shape is distinctive and unique, which translates to polarizing for many shoppers and buyers. A sloping front replaces the grille a rectangular hatch over the electric charging ports, and its bug-eyed headlights sweep back almost to the windshield pillars. At the back, vertical ribbons of LED taillights flank the tailgate.
Inside, the Leaf is more conventional aside from a chintzy gear knob that requires a little acclimation. The base S trim level isn't exactly opulent, but higher end models feature a big infotainment screen and surprisingly nice leather trim.
On the road, a Leaf operates and drives like a normal compact car—albeit a quiet one—though many of its controls have a slightly remote feel, since virtually all of them control a device that's electrically actuated. Although its 0-60 mph sprint of a hair less than 10 seconds isn't impressive, the Leaf's immediate torque is appreciable around town, where it'll beat even sports cars off the line. It's also very quiet at lower speeds since its electric motor transmits no rumble into the cabin.
The Leaf keeps up with traffic, is easy to drive, carries four people comfortably—and five when needed—and comes with the usual features and accessories found on any compact car.
Leaf comfort, safety, and features.
You might be surprised with the Leaf's interior room. Thanks to its flat battery and the fact that it doesn't need a gas tank, it offers more space inside than its compact dimensions might suggest. Front seat passengers are treated to upright thrones that don't adjust for height on the base S trim level but are heated on all models. The back seat offers good room for two adults or three in a pinch, and even the Leaf's cargo area is deeper than you might expect.
On the safety front, however, the Leaf is let down in part by its humble roots and in part by its age—its basic design has changed little since 2011. The NHTSA gives it four stars overall, while the IIHS scores it a disconcerting "Poor" in the challenging frontal small overlap test. The Leaf also offers no active safety tech, like automatic emergency braking.
S models are fairly skimpy with features, which may be a surprise considering they're over $33,000 once the important Charge Package is added. That package is standard on SV and SL models, and it slices Level 2 (240-volt) charging to just over 5 hours from 8 hours and it allows for Level 3 charging.
The big change for 2017 is that all models now feature 107 miles of all-electric range, according to the EPA, thanks to a 30-kwh battery that was made standard on every trim level very late in the 2016 model year.