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2015 Nissan Leaf SL: A Global EV For The Masses

The Infotainment System

Nissan taps Clarion for the Leaf's infotainment system. The system is engineered exclusively for the Leaf, and resembles an aftermarket double-DIN head unit with physical buttons to fill the center stack. It’s powered by Windows Embedded Automotive, but isn’t as refined as Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch or even the first-generation Kia UVO system. The UI is Spartan, focusing strictly on function. There aren’t any eye-catching menus or colors, just a boring blue screen with elementary-looking buttons. The UI's lack of detail can probably be traced back to the seven-inch display, which Nissan specifies as having an insanely low 320x240 QVGA resolution.

At the heart of the Leaf’s infotainment system is a Renesas SH-NaviJ2 SoC engineered solely for use in vehicle navigation systems. The 32-bit RISC SoC features a single SH-4A core, which is dated compared to platforms powered by Nvidia's Tegra or Intel's Atom. For those unfamiliar with the Renesas SH-4 architecture, it powered the Sega Dreamcast that debuted nearly 15 years ago. We were unable to confirm the exact clock rate Nissan enables, but Renesas offers the SoC in 336 or 400MHz variants. Although the processor is ancient by modern standards, the UI responds quickly enough to keep us satisfied.

In terms of music functionality, the Nissan Leaf infotainment system has an auxiliary input, USB connectivity, SiriusXM and standard AM/FM radio. The USB port enables support for flash drives, though it bears noting that folder and album navigation is unrefined. The system immediately starts playback of whichever folder you select, rather than letting you browse the directory and select a song first. The Infiniti JX35 we evaluated a couple of years did the same thing. The radio is fairly vanilla, supporting playback-only. There is no time-shifting SiriusXM or support for HD Radio, unfortunately.

Nothing about the standard navigation system stands out in terms of map quality or usability. However, certain tweaks added exclusively for the Leaf do improve the EV experience. Nissan includes plenty of charging stations as points of interest, along with a range map.

The most useful function is the ability to locate POIs along the way to your destination, should you specify one. This simple feature ensures you don’t have to backtrack to find a charging station. There are also different routing modes to help you maximize range. Typically, this means using side streets. Unfortunately, the charging station POIs are a little outdated. You’re better off using PlugShare on Android or iOS to locate them.

Smartphone connectivity is enabled through Bluetooth. We didn’t have any problems pairing the Leaf and a Nexus 5; the car was able to download the phonebook and read text messages, even. One small nitpick that could be embarrassing to anyone stuck in traffic: everyone can hear what plays through the car speakers from outside. I stumbled upon this one when my wife pulled into the driveway and finished a phone conversation; I heard the person on the other end of the line over 20 feet away.

CarWings

Nissan completes the Leaf infotainment system with a telematics system dubbed CarWings, which is complemented by an iOS or Android app that lets you view and control certain functions remotely, such as battery level, driving range and charge status. Additionally, you're able to turn on the climate control system to warm or cool the interior.

CarWings relies on data connectivity provided by AT&T. However, the telematics system operates on an ancient 2G network that AT&T plans to shutter by 2017. We reached out to Nissan for insight on its plans once AT&T's network is turned off, but the company isn't ready to say anything yet.

CarWings also delivers live updates to the navigation software. That subsystem is able to dial in and check the status of charging stations listed as POIs to inform the driver if they're available for charging. It can even download your favorite RSS feeds to the car and read them to you, which is pretty useless.

CarWings could be a fantastic feature. In practice, however, it's slow to respond. To be fair, you do receive text messages if someone unplugs your vehicle when it's charging or when the charging process finishes, and those go out fairly quickly.

Nissan gives all owners free access to CarWings, for now. The company originally promised three years of access before owners had to start paying, but has since extended the free subscription service and will provide a 90-day notice before switching to a paid model. CarWings is a nice value-added feature. However, it's not worth a subscription. 

Although we dig integrated features, charging station status is easier to access through your smartphone and the mobile EV apps from ChargePoint, Plugshare and Blink. Nissan's CarWings functions are just too clunky and slow compared to third-party apps that get updated a lot more often.

  • pyoverdin
    Despite deviating from the regular tech reviews I found this article surprisingly enjoyable.
    Reply
  • dstarr3
    So is Anh T. Huynh replacing Clarkson in the next series?
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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!
    Reply
  • 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!!
    Reply
  • apache_lives
    Benchmarks?
    Reply
  • turkey3_scratch
    Lol it does actually look like a Bulbasaur.
    Reply
  • kenjitamura
    The competition will really heat up when the Tesla Model 3 hits. A $35,000 electric car with >200 mile range.
    #2017...Hopefully
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply