The 2013 Nissan Leaf is comfortable to ride in, very quiet in operation, and has a lot of interior volume. Despite its compact shape and size, it's classified as a mid-size car by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)--as is the Toyota Prius hybrid, another five-door hatchback that's viewed as a compact but has far more cubic feet inside than you'd imagine.
The seats of the Leaf are comfortable, and there's plenty of headroom front and rear in its tall shape. Rear passengers ride nice and high, with part of the battery pack under the seat, but they sit in an unusual knees-up position because the floorpan contains the pack and isn't as far below the seat cushion as you'd expect.
For 2013, Nissan has added leather upholstery as standard to the Leaf SL top trim level--fulfilling a common request from buyers. Black interior fabric is also now available as an option to the pale grey velvety standard upholstery, which is made from recycled plastic bottles. The seats are manually adjustable--electric motors to move seats use up battery energy--and the headliner is a thin panel covered in the soft nap often known as "teddy-bear fur," all in service of reducing the weight being moved around to stretch driving range.
The Leaf's interior looks and feels more basic than those of other plug-in cars, including both the Chevy Volt and the Ford Focus Electric. It's closer to that of the Toyota Prius, though less Space Age-y and incoherent. The Leaf's steering wheel tilts, but doesn't telescope. And some interior fittings are similar to those in Nissan's economy cars. It's perfectly acceptable, just more appliance-like than luxurious.
For 2013, Nissan relocated the Leaf's onboard charger from the load bay to under the hood. This increases load-bay volume and, just as important, provides a flatter load floor with the rear seat folded down--removing the hump found in earlier Leaf models that ran side to side between the wheel arches and protruded several inches above the floor.
Traveling in the Leaf is a quiet, smooth, serene experience. The electric drive motor is smooth, though we detected some low but noticeable whine, and there are no engine or transmission noises to mask other sounds. That means tire noise is much more evident, starting around 30 mph and building to a low roar at higher speeds along with wind noise. The Leaf beeps to warn bystanders when the driver engages reverse, and Nissan has also built in a sort of whispery burbling noise as a pedestrian warning below about 20 mph. The Leaf's best speed seems to be the range up to about 40 mph, where it's almost eerily silent.