It's All Electric
The Leaf's main selling point is its all-electric powertrain that drives the front wheels. Unlike the Tesla Model S, which efficiently packs a motor into the back of the car, Nissan employs a traditional layout with the electric motor up front and easily accessible. The AC motor is combined with a 24 kWh DC battery pack mounted nice and low below the seats. Since the motor runs on AC and the battery pack is DC, the Leaf employs an inverter. Nissan rates the powertrain at 107hp with 187 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers don't sound like much. However, the instant torque provides a nice performance kick in city driving.
Inside the battery pack, you'll find 192 cells spread across 48 modules. The air-cooled power source is built in Japan by Automotive Energy Supply Corporation, a Nissan and NEC joint venture.
The 2015 Nissan Leaf sports a new battery pack with updated chemistry. It's nicknamed the “lizard” battery and supposedly handles high-temperature climates a lot better without rapid degradation. Since we only had the press car for two weeks, this isn't something we could test. And unfortunately, Nissan won't disclose details of its more modern battery design.
Since the Leaf was the first electric vehicle available to the masses, Nissan backs its battery pack with a fairly comprehensive warranty that protects the entire powertrain and EV system for the first five years or 60,000 miles. There’s a standard powertrain warranty of eight years or 100,000 miles that covers the battery pack in case of flaws or defects, too.
Similar to hybrid vehicles, the Leaf’s electric motor employs regenerative braking, harnessing energy that's otherwise lost. During this process, the electric motor functions as a generator to recharge the battery. Regenerative braking in the regular D mode isn’t too noticeable; it makes the Leaf drive like a normal car. Those who want to maximize the feature can put the Leaf into B mode, which slow the car down more quickly. Driving around in the city, B mode is nice in stop-and-go traffic. With enough practice, patience and discipline, you can drive the Leaf in B mode using only the accelerator.
Nissan equips the Leaf with the same SAE J1772-2009 connector for level 1 (120V) and level 2 (240V) charging that every other EV has. The standard Leaf has a 3.3 kW on-board charger with a faster 6.6 kW charger available. To be frank, the 3.3 kW charger is awfully slow; it takes about eight hours to fully charge at 240V. The optional 6.6 kW charger (standard on the SV and SL) takes half the time, which makes a big difference if you exceed the driving range often.
Also standard on the SL trim (and optional on the S and SV) is a CHAdeMO DC connector that can take advantage of 500V chargers. Purportedly, they'll get a completely depleted Leaf battery to 80 percent in only 30 minutes. If your city infrastructure has CHAdeMO quick-charging stations, the option is a must-have for getting back on the road quickly.
Charging At Home
The 2015 Nissan Leaf isn't our first experience with an electric vehicle. We tried to test a 2014 model, but found the included level 1 charger dreadfully slow. It just wouldn't work for anyone with a sizable commute. But that's not what EV ownership is supposed to be, and the level 1 charger is really only good for dire situations.
Before we received the 2015 Nissan Leaf, we reached out to Bosch for a level two charger installation. The company sent over its 30A model, and I tackled the install myself. Before you do the same, make sure you get the proper permits and follow your local laws for performing electrical work. All-told, the job only took about 30 minutes, involving a new breaker and three wires.
This simple addition drastically changed how we test EVs and plug-in hybrids. Instead of taking a day to charge the Leaf from empty, it's a four- or five-hour affair. That's enough time to run errands in the morning, get back home for a charge and have a full battery around dinner time.
Range varies greatly depending on your driving style. The EPA rates the Leaf at 114 MPGe combined and 126/101 for city/highway. I tend to be aggressive, so I got about 60 miles from a charge. When I drove more conservatively, I was able to squeeze out 70+ miles. Most of my driving is on the highway, though. You can get a lot more range in stop-and-go traffic, since the car benefits from regenerative braking.