The 2011 Nissan Leaf's exterior design is distinctive, even polarizing. Like the 2004 Toyota Prius hybrid in its day, the Leaf doesn't look quite like anything else on the road. Nissan said its stylists went "right up to the edge of unusual," but tried to keep the car "iconic but not weird."
The lines are rounded, but with a few subtle clues that this is a different kind of car. Without a tall radiator or engine under the hood, for instance, the entire nose can taper down. And no grille opening disturbs the sweep of the body back from the front bumper; instead, there's a hatch under the Nissan logo that opens for access to the recharging ports. The swept-back headlights actually bulge into vertical fins that sit proud of the hood and fender surface to channel and direct airflow past the door mirrors. It's all in the interests of reducing air turbulence, to cut the aerodynamic drag that reduces battery range at higher speeds. Nissan quotes a drag coefficient of 0.29.
Moving from front to rear, the side doors are probably the most conventionally styled part of the Nissan Leaf. At the rear, the hatch is almost a hexagon, with tall vertical tail lamps along its upper sides.
Colors available include one unique to the Leaf, known as Blue Ocean, which Nissan expects to be 30 percent of the total based on early orders. Beyond that, in order of popularity, are silver, white, red, and black. We think the Leaf looks particularly striking in red.
Inside, the Leaf is somewhat less radical, though in some ways, its economy car roots are more evident. (It's built on a heavily adapted platform from the company's Versa compact, though the Leaf is larger, with a wheelbase 6 inches longer and a wider track to accommodate the battery pack in the floor.)
If you ended up in the driver's seat of a Leaf without seeing the outside first, you wouldn't know on first glance it was electric--until, perhaps, you noticed that there's no "shift lever." Instead, the mode selector is a mouse-shaped object on the tunnel--with a "P" (for Parking) button on top--that you pull back and left once for Drive, and again for Eco mode.