A Smart Alternative to Boring Cars: Our 2016 Nissan Leaf Impressions

2016 Nissan Leaf SL

There are no falcon doors, there is no Ludicrous Mode, and the company isn’t run by a man fashioning himself after Tony Stark. The center console isn’t comprised of a mega-iPad, and there are no rear-facing jump seats in the trunk. The Nissan Leaf is no Tesla Model S—a brilliant car, made by a fascinating company, and the first image to come to mind when one thinks of electric cars. But in the end, the Leaf may be more likely to succeed.

Electric cars have a certain mystique. Instantaneous torque, brutal acceleration, and the notion that they are the wave of the future (even more so than the BMW i8) are brilliant tools for a robust marketing campaign. Elon Musk’s Teslas utilize their insanity to drum up public interest and coax consumers into opening their wallets. The most impressive feature of the Leaf, however, is its complete lack of insanity.

For better or worse, the typical consumer is looking for transportation to deliver them reliably, safely, and cheaply from point A to point B. Anything beyond that is just icing on the cake. This is why Camrys, Corollas, and Accords continue to dominate lists of the best selling cars in America. The Nissan Leaf will provide the same basic functionality shoppers seek. We expected to hop behind the wheel of the Leaf and marvel at its silence and its brilliant acceleration. What we experienced, instead, was a shockingly normal car. Sure, starting the car isn’t accompanied by the sound of an engine turning over, and with a 1-speed transmission and a very linear power curve, the Leaf doesn’t offer the familiar upshifts and dips in power of a “regular” car, but after a few seconds of driving, these quirks fade to the subconscious. The interior of the Leaf is comfortable, and because it was designed as an electric vehicle, not converted into one, the interior packaging is less restrictive than a traditional gas-powered EV competitor, like the Kia Soul EV. We don’t love the beeping that accompanies reverse, but the major take-away from the Leaf is that it is just a car, and not a reason to worry.

Regardless, the Leaf has encountered some resistance from typical consumers. With 84,000 U.S. sales and 188,000 worldwide, the Leaf may be the best-selling electric vehicle in the world, but those figures are dwarfed by the numbers for comparable gas-powered cars. Frankly, we don’t see why they should be. The Leaf is comfortable, powerful enough to get out of its own way, and incredibly inexpensive to run.

Every car represents a trade-off of usability versus cost. A 2015 Toyota Corolla will carry a driver and 4 passengers some 400 miles, but at a price of 13 gallons of gasoline. The Nissan Leaf reverses that trade-off. It provides limited range (84 miles, or 107 miles, depending on whether you’ve purchased an SV or SL trim with the new-for-2016 30kWh battery) but at the cost of electricity, a resource much, much less expensive than gas.

The Leaf’s limited range is precisely what’s held its sales back thus far, but that new, larger battery extends the total combined driving range to over 100 miles. For the average commuter, 107 miles is plenty. We have a few questions about how the car will hold a charge sitting overnight in a New England snowstorm, but the Leaf is also capable of charging to 80% in 30 minutes with a 125-amp DC quick charger, and a full charge using a 240-volt home charger takes only 6 hours. On top of that, Nissan’s offering two years of free charging at those 125-amp DC quick chargers in their top 20 Leaf markets, including Boston. Finally, the new battery is warrantied for 8 years or 100,000 miles. Sales figures indicate folks are hesitant to pull the trigger on one, but Nissan has done an awful lot to reduce the anxiety associated with electric cars.

If your lifestyle calls for regular long road trips or your commute takes you on 50-mile highway jaunts, the Leaf isn’t the car for you. If you’re a city dweller thinking about a new Corolla, take a deep breath and test-drive a Leaf instead.

-Words by Matt Smith; video by Jake Hughes

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