Skip to main content

2015 Nissan Leaf SL: A Global EV For The Masses

I Bought One

Nissan took a big risk in developing the Leaf, and we think it's paying off. Although it's the oldest mainstream electric vehicle, Nissan's Leaf is also the best EV south of a Tesla Model S price tag. Competition is heating up in this space, given entries from VW, Fiat, Kia, BMW and GM. Still, the Leaf strikes a good balance of range, features, pricing and proven reliability. By launching this car globally long before its competitors, Nissan had time to refine its EV with tweaks and upgrades to address early issues.

As a car, the Nissan Leaf drives well. Accelerator response is good, and you get enough space for a family of four. The torque-rich electric motor makes the car entertaining from light-to-light. As far as handling goes, the car is nose-heavy, and you really feel it when driving aggressively. Nevertheless, the Leaf isn’t performance-oriented; it drives as an economy car should.

Pricing on the Leaf is a touchy subject. The as-tested MSRP of our loaner was $37,540, which is unquestionably expensive for a car that’s more Versa than Maxima. But there are a lot of rebates available. Nissan offers $3500 cash for vehicles financed through Nissan Motors Acceptance Corporation (NMAC), its finance arm, and 0% financing for up to 72 months. There’s also the $7500 tax credit you get from our lovely government for EV purchases. Each state has their own incentives as well. Washington, for example, charges no sales tax on EV purchases, which amounts to $3000 or so in savings. With all of that added together, you're looking at an economy car in the mid-$20,000s, which is a lot more reasonable.

Still, EV ownership isn’t for everyone. It requires a complete change to your driving style. Only after two weeks was I able to shake my range anxiety. I learned to plan ahead, check the status of public charging stations and not be cocky guessing driving distances.

If most of your trips are with the Leaf's range, or you have easy access to public charging stations, this is a compelling car. And although the initial costs are significant, an EV should save you money over time. Engine-powered vehicles require oil changes, gasoline, water pumps, fluid flushes and other recommended maintenance items. Nissan's Leaf needs very little maintenance other than tire rotations, cabin filters, brake pads and possibly brake fluid changes. So, if you’re looking to jump into an EV, the Leaf is still a great choice. It’s not the fanciest car, and the infotainment system is perhaps more rudimentary than most of what we review at Tom's Hardware. But it works well and has proven itself over the last five years.

As a car enthusiast, the Nissan Leaf isn’t as fun for me to drive as our Project 5. But after spending two weeks in the press car, I signed the papers for a black SL premium package, which my wife will be driving. We did the math on fuel and maintenance savings compared to her 2011 VW Routan and found the EV to be a better fit for our family. Most of the trips we take have free public charging along the way, and where it's lacking, we've seen CHAdeMO stations. I also still have the Mazda 5 project car for longer trips. 

I didn’t blindly buy the Nissan Leaf after testing one EV, either. I've driven every electric vehicle available at a Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) event, and found the Leaf to be an optimal balance of reasonable price, range, public quick-charge capabilities, amenities and space to fit my family. 

  • pyoverdin
    Despite deviating from the regular tech reviews I found this article surprisingly enjoyable.
  • dstarr3
    So is Anh T. Huynh replacing Clarkson in the next series?
  • dweiser
    Great article, nice mix of honest pros and cons. I've owned my 2015 Nissan LEAF SV in the mountains of western NC for almost 3 weeks now and I am loving it!
    My only quibble with your review is that both 2015 SV and SL have the faster 6.6 charging as standard.
  • JPNpower
    Electric cars are just so cool. Practicality is getting there, but even if that doesn't match gas cars yet.... they're still so cool!
  • SVoyager
    Great article!! The Leaf is certainly an excellent electric car and I am very happy that they are selling as much, nice to see an article on toms about it too, cars are getting techy enough for us :-). The next gen leaf is looking great too with possibly 200 miles range. With that much range and with how battery tech is evolving, I hope the regular gas cars have something ready to counter it because electric cars are coming, this time for good!!

    I own a 2014 chevy Volt and while it is not 100% electric, it is as close as you can get and still get a gas engine for the longer runs (best of both worlds imho). Winter is pretty much done now and I can say goodbye to the gas engine for about 6-7 months. We had a rough winter and my average MPG was close to 200 (the worst was at 75mpg when it was -30 Celcius). In my case, I am saving so much in fuel that it costs me LESS to own this car. You can check the stats here (links allowed?)
    So, electric cars just rock. Check what type of driving you do, look for the right EV (in my case, EV with range extender) and you'll never regret it!!
  • apache_lives
  • turkey3_scratch
    Lol it does actually look like a Bulbasaur.
  • kenjitamura
    The competition will really heat up when the Tesla Model 3 hits. A $35,000 electric car with >200 mile range.
  • palladin9479
    Something that need mentioning is that your house doesn't generate electricity out of thin air, instead it gets it from a distant power plant which is likely utilizing coal. So in essence almost every "EV" is really a coal powered car with a poor efficiency rate due to long haul line losses, unless you happen to live within a hundred miles of the primary power plant. EV's are still far to expensive and from an engineering stand point very poor for anything other then bragging rights.

    The comment on regenerative braking is also wrong as not stopping is always supperior then having to stop and restart. It takes less energy to keep an object in motion then it does to accelerate it from a rest state.
  • CaedenV
    Awesome review. I have been rather fascinated by EVs for the last few years, and now that I am soon going to be in the market for a 2nd car I am seriously considering getting one of these for my wife and taking her 10 year old car to drive into the ground the rest of the way. She only has to drive some 15-25 miles per day, so we would really only need to charge it once every few days. Still need to find out what availability/financing/charging options are available in Cincy though before biting the bullet.

    Never mentioned how much that level 2 charger costs retail... I mean, I could look it up, but it may be nice to add to the article.