The 2012 Nissan Leaf electric car offers comfortable seats, with ample headroom front and rear. Rear-seat passengers sit high, since a portion of the battery pack is under their seat cushion, but their knees are also high because part of the pack is built into the floorpan.
There's a lot of space inside the Leaf, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines as a mid-size car based on its interior volume of 113 cubic feet. For what it's worth, the Toyota Prius hybrid is also a five-door hatchback that's considered a mid-size.
The seats are upholstered in a velvety fabric made from recycled plastic bottles, and they're manually adjustable to avoid using electricity to move them forward and back, up and down. The headliner, covered in the soft nap often known as "teddy-bear fur," is actually a hard but thin molding that moves easily when touched--a demonstration of Nissan's relentless focus on weight savings to stretch driving range.
The steering wheel tilts but, unlike that of the Chevy Volt, does not telescope as well. The rear seat-back folds down, but the load floor isn't flat due to the box containing the car's onboard 3.3-kilowatt charger, which runs side to side between the rear wheels and protrudes several inches above the floor.
Compared (inevitably) to the Volt, the Leaf's interior looks and feels more basic. It's far from unacceptable; it's simply a bit more straightforward and appliance-like than the stylish and unexpectedly luxurious Volt. The LCD navigation screen is the main element of the center stack, above a low storage bin.
In the Leaf, because the electric drive motor is so quiet and there are no engine or transmission noises to mask other sounds, tire noise is evident at any speed. It turns into a low roar by 30 mph. Nissan has built a whispery, bubbly whirring noise that is broadcast by the Leaf to the outside at low speeds to warn pedestrians that this otherwise silent electric car is coming. The car also beeps when the driver puts it in reverse.
Overall, the Leaf was slightly noisier inside than we had expected, given its electric drive. There was also a low but noticeable motor whine that was completely absent in the Chevy Volt. The Nissan Leaf's best speed, we concluded, is around 40 mph, where it's almost eerily silent.