2015 Nissan Leaf SL: A Global EV For The Masses

Nissan made a massive gamble in 2010 when it rolled out its first pure electric, the Leaf, for the 2011 model year. All-electric vehicles weren’t necessarily new at the time; we saw a couple of failed experiments a decade prior with the GM/Saturn EV1, Toyota's RAV4 EVs and various EV concepts. Tesla had its Roadster available at the time, too. However, Nissan’s risk wasn't introducing an EV. Rather, the gamble was making the Leaf available all around the world - not just California. This was the first real push for EVs from a major automaker.

The same company that produces the GT-R, which guzzles gas, was also building a mass-market EV to occupy the opposite end of the automotive spectrum. Crazy, right? But Nissan didn’t give up and now the Leaf is in its fourth model year with over 100,000 vehicles on the road.

That figure doesn't sound particularly impressive compared to the number of internal combustion engine vehicles that move off lots, but it's certainly respectable for the first nationally available EV. Think of it as the people's electric car, bringing affordable battery power to the masses.

Before Nissan's Leaf, I had never driven a pure electric vehicle, and never had to deal with range anxiety. I’m a car enthusiast at heart, with a true affinity for manual transmissions. In fact, our Tom’s Hardware project car is my personal 2014 Mazda 5 Sport with a six-speed manual. EVs are foreign territory for me. Still, I'm willing to give them a shot. Nissan's 2015 Leaf SL isn't a bad place to start. Our press car includes the premium package, carrying an MSRP of $37,540.

Exterior

Without question, the Leaf's exterior isn't as attractive as the Tesla Model S. Some might even call it ugly. But the design is functional. The front end is reminiscent of a Bulborb from Nintendo’s Pikmin series (or a Bulbasaur from Pokemon, according to my wife). Still, Nissan managed to make the Leaf quite slippery with a drag coefficient of 0.28. That's respectable, considering early versions of the GT-R had a CD of 0.27. Drag is particularly important in the world of EVs. The more aerodynamic they are, the more range you might expect. 

The bulbous headlights serve an aerodynamic purpose, directing air away from the side mirrors. This also reduces wind noise, keeping the cabin quieter. I'd say it works - Nissan's Leaf is eerily quiet inside at highway speeds. Most of the car's underside is also covered to minimize drag.

Around back is the Leaf’s more attractive angle; it has a normal-looking hatchback rear end that’s furnished with large Volvo-esque taillights and finished with a rear diffuser. As Meghan Trainor puts it, it’s all about that bass…

Overall I don’t mind the Leaf's looks. The three zero-emissions badges are a little excessive, but you can pull those off with a heat gun and dental floss. I only wish Nissan hadn't gone with chrome door handles. They're major finger print magnets on the most-touched part of the car's exterior.

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  • 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?) http://www.voltstats.net/Stats/Details/4835
    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
    Benchmarks?
  • 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.
    #2017...Hopefully
  • 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.
  • none12345
    Id love an electric car....except for 3 things....

    1) Most of them have no guts. Its not that elecric cars are weak, power to weight ratio, electric utterly destroys gas/desel/etc. Its just that they usually put an underpowered battery and/or engine in them. Im a HUGE fan of electric, and the auto industry has done a huge injustice to electric by building such low performance electric cards.

    2) Nearly all of them look so bad, id never buy them. Just god awful. Including this leaf, just butt ugly. It seems by and large they want to make a point that electric is different. So they get some art student to come out with some wacky/cutesy/fufu design. It looks like crap, and i dont want it. Another complete injustice to electric cars.

    3) The only one that doesnt look absolutely horrible is the tesla. And one of the few that doesnt suck performance wise is the tesla. And i cant afford that. Its not that the tesla is overpriced, i think its a great value for its price.

    So....oh welll....

    What i see as minimum necessary for an electric car. ~200 hp of electric motors. Ideally 4x50 hp one in each wheel. Second to that 2x100hp, one front, 1 rear. Last choice would be 1 motor in the rear. If its pure electric id want at least 200 miles range, 300 would be a lot better.

    I am also willing to accept only 50 miles of range with a range extension method. Be this a fuel generator, or a primary battery(non rechargable, ie 'air battery'), or something else. As long as its strictly for power and does not touch the drive train. The drive train needs to be 100% electric. I do not want a fuel engine connected to the drive train mechanically; it needs to be strictly a power generator. For instace, a non rechargeable battery that gives me another 500 miles of range and costs say $30 to replace, is completely acceptable. Thats about 50 miles/gallon(@$3/gal) equivilent. Or a gas generator that could do 500 miles on 10 gallons, would also be acceptable.

    And it needs to not look like utter crap, ie it needs to look like a normal car. Not some different fufu piece of crap. And stay under $35k(possibly higher before tax breaks)
  • Astrokolea
    Quote:
    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.
  • Astrokolea
    Actually, one of the things that we like about our Leaf is that our house does generate all of the electricity we need, via PE panels. We are leasing our car with an allotment of more miles than we are likely to use in a year, so there is essentially no marginal cost any time we decide to use it.
  • palladin9479
    What you just listed isn't possible, your literally asking for a car made from unobtainium.

    First realize that you can't possible compare EV to ICB in the realm of PtWR because EV's don't generate power, that's generated by a huge steam turbine powered a thermal reaction involving Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. Battery's just store power and then release it at a later date. Now the lower powered electric enginers are that way because of cost and weight. Making them more powerful requires the use of more rare earth elements (REE), 98% of which come from strip mines in China because China is the only country that doesn't care about the ecological consequnces of mining REE's cheaply. The electric engines inside an automobile can't be your standard electromagnet drive, they need to have extremely high torque with really low mass and that requires very special and very expensive materials. The battery also suffers from a similiar situation. Lots of capacity can be obtained cheaply from using lead acid batteries, they have a high reutilization rate but come at cost of mass. Going smaller to high density storage comes at a cost, NiMH works but it's still too bulky so we move on to LiB which has really good energy density but requires large amounts of expensive lithium. You can go even further but then your getting into expensive exotic stuff where the battery alone would be more expensive then any car on the market.

    That's just the material science that forces you to accept certain preconditions to designing the rest of the vehicle. Your going to take a low power solution to keep costs down and still be functional, which forces you to design the vehicle to not waste energy. Thats why EV and cost-conscious hybrids always look they way they do, they are reducing the amount of forward facing surface area while also reducing drag and maximizing other aerodnamic effects to get the most out of their limited power.

    At the end of the day, from a purely engineering stand point gasoline / CHO fuel is a far supperior mechanism to design around. It has over an order of mangitude higher energy density then anything possible with any known technology short of nuclear batteries. Most of the efficiency increases seen in hybrid / EV design's revolve around the use of a low power engine. Take the same 100~150HP engine and put it in a small, compact, light weight ICV and you get similiar results but at a drastically reduced production cost. Heck you can even syntheisize the fuel from bicarbonate and H2O (both freely available in Ocean water), just need a power station nearby and it still comes out cheaper.
  • Shankovich
    Cool but ugly imo. I have faith the Model 3 will be good looking and will meet the $35,000 USD price. By then I will have paid off my student loads :p
  • mrmez
    I've got no problem with these cars, but why do they have to look so bloody awful?
    Looks like a catfish with buck teeth.

    And since when is a Nissan GTR considered a 'gas guzzler'?
    It's as economical as a jeep wrangler, and while they don't sell it for super car prices, it certainly has super car performance.
  • tuanies
    Quote:
    Despite deviating from the regular tech reviews I found this article surprisingly enjoyable.


    Thanks! I'm going to work on getting more EV and alternative fuel content in the future.

    Quote:
    So is Anh T. Huynh replacing Clarkson in the next series?


    I don't have the hair and all the hosts are old enough to be my dad ;)

    Quote:
    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.


    I'll double check that. I thought I mentioned the SV had it.


    Quote:
    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!


    It depends on where you live. Some areas are a lot more practical than others.

    Quote:
    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?) http://www.voltstats.net/Stats/Details/4835 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!!


    I like the Volt but the size packaging wasn't great for a family car. The trunk couldn't fit our single or double strollers.

    Quote:
    Benchmarks?


    There's the dyno sheet on the engine page. Is that not enough?

    Quote:
    Lol it does actually look like a Bulbasaur.


    Its a funky design. My wife wants to replace the Zero Emission badges with Pikachu shooting out thunderbolt stickers.

    Quote:
    The competition will really heat up when the Tesla Model 3 hits. A $35,000 electric car with >200 mile range. #2017...Hopefully


    I'd say MY2018 vehicles in late 2017, hopefully.

    Quote:
    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.


    I live in Washington State. My power company sources 90% power from hydroelectric dams and only 1.16% from Coal, so for the most part its clean.

    Quote:
    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.


    I recommended my friend get a Leaf for his work commute. He has a 10 mile commute and charges for free at work every 2-3 days. He can go a week during the summer, but the cold winter and greater heater use takes away quite a bit of range.

    The Bosche 30 Amp / 18ft charger is $575 right now from Amazon Prime - http://www.amazon.com/Bosch-EL-51253-Electric-Vehicle-Charging/dp/B00FM7B1AO

    Quote:
    Id love an electric car....except for 3 things.... 1) Most of them have no guts. Its not that elecric cars are weak, power to weight ratio, electric utterly destroys gas/desel/etc. Its just that they usually put an underpowered battery and/or engine in them. Im a HUGE fan of electric, and the auto industry has done a huge injustice to electric by building such low performance electric cards. 2) Nearly all of them look so bad, id never buy them. Just god awful. Including this leaf, just butt ugly. It seems by and large they want to make a point that electric is different. So they get some art student to come out with some wacky/cutesy/fufu design. It looks like crap, and i dont want it. Another complete injustice to electric cars. 3) The only one that doesnt look absolutely horrible is the tesla. And one of the few that doesnt suck performance wise is the tesla. And i cant afford that. Its not that the tesla is overpriced, i think its a great value for its price. So....oh welll.... What i see as minimum necessary for an electric car. ~200 hp of electric motors. Ideally 4x50 hp one in each wheel. Second to that 2x100hp, one front, 1 rear. Last choice would be 1 motor in the rear. If its pure electric id want at least 200 miles range, 300 would be a lot better. I am also willing to accept only 50 miles of range with a range extension method. Be this a fuel generator, or a primary battery(non rechargable, ie 'air battery'), or something else. As long as its strictly for power and does not touch the drive train. The drive train needs to be 100% electric. I do not want a fuel engine connected to the drive train mechanically; it needs to be strictly a power generator. For instace, a non rechargeable battery that gives me another 500 miles of range and costs say $30 to replace, is completely acceptable. Thats about 50 miles/gallon(@$3/gal) equivilent. Or a gas generator that could do 500 miles on 10 gallons, would also be acceptable. And it needs to not look like utter crap, ie it needs to look like a normal car. Not some different fufu piece of crap. And stay under $35k(possibly higher before tax breaks)


    They're slow from a 0-60MPH standpoint. But once you get going and you need to pass, there's plenty of passing power as it doesn't need to kickdown and rev up, the power is instant. There's more usable power.

    For normal looking EVs, there's the Kia Soul EV and VW Golf EV, which we will have reviews of in the future.
  • tuanies
    Quote:
    I've got no problem with these cars, but why do they have to look so bloody awful? Looks like a catfish with buck teeth. And since when is a Nissan GTR considered a 'gas guzzler'? It's as economical as a jeep wrangler, and while they don't sell it for super car prices, it certainly has super car performance.


    IMO they try to make it look different so it stands out so people know you're driving an EV.

    I'd say 16/23MPG city/highway makes it a gas guzzler. I saw more 16MPG than anything when I drove it. It's a fantastic car though.
  • leeb2013
    Australia doesn't give any EV or small car incentives, that's why most people still drive 5-6l V8s and 4l I6's. You'd pay the same road tax for the leaf as for a 6l V8 Holden. The government only pays lip-service to the environment and only uses it as a way to generate revenue.

    Double glazing and loft insulation are new technology here!
  • mrmez
    I don't know what a mile or a gallon is. We use L/100km ;)
    My previous 5.7L v8 averaged ~12/100 which is about what a GTR will do. That's about all they'd have in common though.
    Current 2L turbo diesel averages ~8/100 with 1-2 hours off road a week.

    I'd seriously consider a Tesla if they made a 4wd I could take off road. Stunning looking cars, that are even better inside. Different I understand, but there are plenty of 'different' looking small cheap cars that look fantastic.