The seats, upholstered in a fabric made from recycled plastic bottles, are comfortable, and headroom is ample. To cut current draw, the seats are manually adjustable, but mirrors, windows, and locks are all electrically operated. While the steering wheel adjusts for tilt, it does not telescope (unlike that of the Chevrolet Volt, which does).
Rear-seat passengers (including those well over 6 feet tall) sit high, with the seat cushion above a portion of the battery pack. But because part of the pack is in the floorboards below their feet, their knees will be higher than the seat position might indicate.
Interior volume is substantial. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calls the Leaf a midsize car, based on its 113 cubic feet of interior space. That puts it in the same category as cars from the Toyota Prius to the Chevrolet Malibu.
Because the Leaf will inevitably be compared to the Volt, we can say that its interior looks and feels less luxurious. That's not in any way a knock on the Leaf; it simply reflects the car's more straightforward approach.
While the split rear seatback folds down, the Leaf does not offer a flat floor in the cargo area. Instead, the onboard 3.3-kilowatt recharger is housed in a box several inches tall that stretches from wheelwell to wheelwell across the middle of the deck.
The LCD navigation screen dominates the center stack and instrument panel, making it feel a bit like a piece of electronics hardware, but the sense of spaciousness in the cabin remains intact thanks to a low storage bin under the navigation controls, and thanks to a velvety upholstery material that's made of recycled plastic bottles and home appliances.
The gray molded headliner, which looks to be covered in the soft-touch nap informally called "teddy-bear fur," is actually hard to the touch and deflects easily—a sign of the focus on weight saving to maximize range.
The central issue in electric cars, it turns out, has always been noise. Relieve the car of its noisy internal-combustion engine, and all sorts of other sounds creep into the cabin. With the Leaf, the patter of tires slapping on pavement starts right away, turning into a low boom at 30 mph or more. There's also a bubbly, whispery whir that Nissan's programmed into the Leaf to warn visually impaired pedestrians that an EV is coming—and maybe like us, the first time you hear it you'll start singing the Jetsons theme song in your head, too. (And there's a fairly commonplace beep when the Leaf rolls in reverse, but it doesn't remind us of anything except the insipid backup tone in our Prius.)
The Leaf produced a little more wind noise than we'd expected, and a slight but discernible motor whine that was entirely absent in the Volt. At freeway speeds, wind whistle is evident. Overall, the Leaf's sweet spot for silent operation appears to be around 40 miles per hour, where it is almost eerily silent.