The 2013 Nissan Leaf gets some updated equipment and new features, following requests from owners and potential buyers alike. You could view it as part of the Leaf's mission to dispel prevalent myths about electric cars, one being that electric cars don't offer the same level of features and equipment as a "regular" car.
The 2013 model year brings a new base trim level, known as the Leaf S, at a new and much lower base price of $29,650, including a mandatory $850 destination charge. Compared to previous years and models, the Leaf S substitutes 16-inch metal wheels with plastic wheel covers for alloy wheels, and replaces LED headlamps with less expensive projector-beam lights, and loses the cruise control. There's no navigation system, and no remote connectivity to let users communicate with the car via mobile phone.
Options for the Leaf S include a new 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger, which reduces charging time for a fully depleted battery pack to roughly 4 hours from the previous 7 to 10 hours. A rearview camera is also optional.
The previous base trim, the Leaf SV, now becomes the middle of three trim levels. It rides on 16-inch alloy wheels, has the 6.6-kW charger as a standard feature, and includes dual powered door mirrors, a rear air deflector at the top of the tailgate, and chrome door handles. The LED headlamps and running lamps are optional. The SV starts at $32,670 including delivery, or about $2,500 less than the 2012 price for the same trim level.
For 2013, the top-end Leaf SL model has added several new features, among them leather seats and a new design for its 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as the 6.6-kW charger. The SL models also adds automatic headlights and a backup camera. It can be recognized by the small photovoltaic solar panel mounted on the roof spoiler over the tailgate. The price starts at $35,690, again including delivery--a reduction of roughly $1,500 over the 2012 sticker.
The SL model also includes a standard DC quick-charging port. This type of charging (now found at about 160 stations nationwide) can recharge the battery to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes or less. But the Leaf uses a quick-charging standard known as CHAdeMO that has not been accepted as an international standard, and U.S. and European cars have settled on a different standard--known as CCS--that's incompatible with the Leaf system.
Other changes for 2013 include available black upholstery (previously all Leafs used a pale grey synthetic fabric made out of recycled plastic bottles), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and long sun visors. Bluetooth hands-free connectivity is standard on all 2013 Leaf models, as is an intelligent key fob and auto-dimming rear-view mirror. And the charging port door on the nose is now illuminated by a light inside, and can be locked and unlocked using the intelligent key.
All Leafs except the base S model can be controlled via smartphone app, which gives the driver lots of information on the car and its charging behavior. All the information is also displayed on the car's in-dash monitor, including distance estimators to keep a Leaf driving within its range, charging status and battery energy indicators, and pre-heating or pre-cooling while still plugged in. Owners can also direct the car to charge when energy rates are cheapest, usually in the dead of night. While plug-in electric cars may one day "talk to" the grid to charge when electricity costs are lowest, for now owners must program this manually based on their local rate structures.
A new option for 2013 is a hybrid heater that replaces the electric resistance heater used previously, but consumes less battery energy. Owners can disable climate control altogether if they like, all in service of teaching drivers how to extract the highest number of miles from the energy stored in the battery. As always, though, heating (or cooling) the cabin while the car is still plugged in minimizes range loss by using grid power rather than the stored energy in the battery pack.
As of last year, standard equipment on all Leafs includes the formerly optional winter package. It provides an electric heater for the battery pack, heated seats passenger both front and rear, and a heated steering wheel. Warming riders' backs and backsides and the driver's hands makes everyone feel warmer, but uses much less battery energy than heating the entire cabin.Regardless of trim level and sticker price, all 2013 Nissan Leafs qualify for a $7,500 Federal income-tax credit for purchasing a plug-in car. In California, Leaf owners qualify for a $2,500 purchase rebate from the state. Depending on where the buyer lives and works, other state, regional, and corporate incentives may be available as well--including the much-prized ability to drive in the carpool lane on crowded California freeways with just a single occupant.
For 2013, Nissan will continue its three-year, $199/month lease on the Leaf. The cost can be low because the Federal tax credit goes to the loaner, reducing paperwork and letting the buyer benefit immediately from the credit rather than waiting until that year's taxes are filed.