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.