2015 Nissan Leaf SL: A Global EV For The Masses

The First Global EV

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.


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.

  • 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
  • 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.