The lines of the 2013 Nissan Leaf continue to be polarizing--as were those of the startling second-generation 2004 Toyota Prius--with most people either loving or loathing them. You'll find few people who have no opinion on the Leaf's upright yet surprisingly swoopy styling. The Leaf looks like nothing else on our roads, really, with a design Nissan aimed to make "iconic, but not weird." The company admits, though, that the styling comes "right up to the edge of "unusual."
The front of the Leaf droops down to the bumper because it doesn't have to cover a radiator. Replacing a non-existent grille is a large center door with a big Nissan logo on it, rather like a bigger gas door. It pops open to reveal one or two ports for connecting a cable to recharge the battery pack. Headlights (LEDs on most trim levels) are mounted high atop the fenders and sweep back almost to the base of the windshield, with translucent vertical fins sticking up out of the lens that channel air along the body to reduce drag and boost battery range.
The upright side doors contain a window line that sweeps up at the rear, and the tailgate is almost hexagonal, framed by high-mounted vertical taillights containing a strip of red LED brake lights. Most models have a horizontal spoiler extension on top of the tailgate, and the top-level Leaf SL model incorporates a small photovoltaic solar panel into that panel.
For 2013, Nissan has made subtle, invisible tweaks to the Leaf's aerodynamics that it says cut the drag coefficient by one point, to 0.28. Different manufacturers test in different wind tunnels, though, so be wary of making direct comparisons among models. Nissan also added two new paint colors for 2013--Metallic Slate and Glacier White--to join five carryover colors, including a unique Blue Ocean shade that's become the electric car's characteristic color. We recommend avoiding the black if you live in a warmer climate--shedding cabin heat with the air conditioning can sap driving range. We particularly like the rich Cayenne Red color, a rare choice among Leaf buyers.
Inside, the Leaf's cabin styling is radical than its shape. There's no shift lever, just a mouse-shaped "driving mode selector" on the tunnel. While it's not immediately intuitive, drivers quickly learn to pull it back and left once to engage Drive, and once more to switch to the energy-conserving Eco mode.
The instrument panel itself has digital gauges viewed through the steering wheel, plus a small upper panel with a digital speedometer, a clock, and a temperature gauge. In the upper center of the dash on all but the base Leaf S model, there's a large rectangular screen for displaying more detailed and graphic information: energy usage, driving range, maps, nearby recharging points, and more. (The Leaf S gets a smaller, simpler display.) These displays are dynamic and real-time: Switch on the air conditioning and watch available range drop, turn it off and see it rise again.
Once behind the wheel, though, drivers will quickly forget the Leaf is a battery electric vehicle--aside from the quite operation, that is. Some of the fittings are shared with more basic Nissan economy models, though many parts--including the windshield wipers--had to be developed from scratch to be far quieter since a Leaf has no engine noise to mask their sound.