2013 Nissan Leaf Review

Quicker to charge, cheaper to buy

2013 Nissan Leaf Review
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Many said it would never happen. The electric car would never work, people would not buy them and vehicles like the Nissan Leaf were doomed from the start. Someone should have told Nissan.

FAST FACTS

1. An 80 kW AC motor generates 107 horsepower and 187 lb-ft of torque.

2. The Leaf is rated at 129 MPGe city and 102 MPGe highway with a range around 75 miles.

3. The base price of the Leaf SL is $34,840 with our test vehicle coming in at $36,740 after destination charges.

4. Despite being an electric vehicle, there is still 24 cu-ft of rear cargo space.

Now entering its third year of production, the Leaf isn’t just surviving but actually gaining momentum. For each of the past two years, roughly 9,500 Leafs were sold. This year through September, over 16,000 Leafs have already left showroom floors and it’s on pace to outsell the past two years combined.

The reason for this sales surge is two-part. First, for 2013 prices were slashed and a new more basic Leaf was introduced. The S trim starts at $28,800 before incentives, which is over $6,000 cheaper than the base 2012 Nissan Leaf. The SV and SL trims have also received price reductions this year, dropping by $3,380 and $2,410 respectively.

FASTER CHARGING

The second big change for 2013 is the addition of a 6.6 kW onboard charger for SV and SL trimmed Leafs. Compared to the 3.6 kW unit found in previous models (and still in the base S), the new charger reduces full charging time on a 220V power source from seven hours to just four.

SEE ALSO: What is MPGe?

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As a bonus, all 2013 models also feature improved aerodynamics, better regenerative braking and improved energy management. This all adds up to extra range, now totaling 75 miles.

To see if the cheaper, more efficient Leaf was an improvement over the 2012 model, we rang up Nissan and asked if we could borrow one. Since none of the AutoGuide staff owns a stage two charger at home, we would be relying on public fast chargers and the electric car equivalent to a dial-up modem: 110V power. My commute is roughly 49 miles round trip which is well within the Leaf’s range, even when driving it like Stuntman Mike.

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The problem I faced was charge time. With my piddly 110V home outlet, I need 21 hours to recharge this car if I let it get drained. Since work doesn’t allow me to put in three-hour days, I was going to need to rely on public stations to get a quicker charge. 

LOW POWER, LOW POWER USAGE

As a quick recap, the Leaf uses a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack paired to an 80 kW AC motor that generates 107 horsepower and 187 lb-ft of torque. A single speed reducer sends power to the front wheels and allows the Leaf to achieve 129 MPGe city and 102 MPGe highway fuel economy equivalency rating. These are high enough numbers to trump both the Ford Focus EV and Mitsubishi i-MiEV all-around, as well as the Chevrolet Spark EV in city, but not on the highway.

Now 107 hp may not sound like much for a 3,340 lb car, but the instantaneous, seamless torque more than makes up for it. The Leaf accelerates swiftly around town, but does lack enough grunt for untimed highway passes.

In “B” mode, the regenerative brakes become more aggressive and work to maximize range. After a small adjustment, I was able to fully exploit them to perform the majority of my braking while also extending my range. When driven mildly, I was achieving 75-78 miles, which is right on the official estimates. Driven like a lunatic escaping imaginary enemies, my range dropped to about 60 miles.

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LET THE LEAF EASE YOUR MIND

If range anxiety is an issue for you, the Leaf does try to ease your mind as much as a lifeless object can. The GPS system showcases two circles spread-out from the car’s current location. The darker circle shows the range the car should have no issue obtaining and the larger, lighter circle shows how far the vehicle could go under optimal conditions. If still worried, the Leaf has the ability to find the closest charging station.
 
Other than the electric whirring under the hood, the Leaf drives similarly to an internal combustion vehicle. The 215/50R17 low-rolling resistance tires squeal under moderate cornering, but this isn’t meant to be a sports car. The suspension is very compliant and the car tracks straight, even at highway speeds.

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CONVENTIONAL INSIDE

Our test vehicle arrived as the Leaf SL with the premium package that added Nissan’s great “Around View” Monitor and a seven-speaker Bose audio system. This bumps the $34,840 base price up to an as-tested figure of $36,740 after destination charges. For 2013, the SL also receives leather seats and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels to go with the usual upgrades of LED headlights, fog lights, cargo cover and quick charge port spoiler mounted solar panel.

See Also: 2012 Nissan LEAF Review – Video

The Leaf is officially rated as a mid-size car thanks to generous interior room even if an overall length of 175-inches makes it shorter than the Nissan Versa sedan. Unlike other electric vehicles that have been converted from a regular car, the Leaf was designed as an electric car from the ground up. This means there is a decent 33.3-inches of rear legroom and a deep, 24 cubic-foot cargo hatch.  The rear seats also fold flat allowing the storage of a lot of gear when needed.

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Even if the Leaf may pass off as a regular on the inside, it doesn’t on the outside. Looking a bit like a frog thanks to the upward protruding headlights, there is no mistaking the it on the road for anything else and no missing that it’s an EV. It’s not as extreme as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, but those looking for a subtler electric car will want to look somewhere else.

THE VERDICT

The Leaf is a solid vehicle. Period. Not just a solid electric vehicle, this car can do anything any other car its size can, with the exception of long distance road trips. And that has always been the point of an electric car: to perform the tasks of conventional cars without tailpipe emissions. We are still not quite there, but the Leaf is one of the closest solutions.

LOVE IT
  • Refinement
  • Lower price
  • Practical
  • New quick charger
LEAVE IT
  • Range limited
  • Interesting exterior
  • Still pricey

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  • Robby G

    Electric car fanboys never change…

  • Matthew11

    Odd, if you are only using 2/3rd of it’s range it would not take 21 hours to charge it would take closer the 12 hours since when the battery is very low or high it takes longer than in the middle (simple chemistry of how a battery works) and if you are not worried about filling to full every day then you would have no need for the public charge stations as you would get between 85 to 95% easy each night at home if not more. The 21 hour argument makes as little sense as saying how much it would cost to fill a gas tank every day if I drained it, you simply don’t. That being said, the vehicle still isn’t for everyone and without a proper battery cooling system like almost every competitor has, the battery longevity on the Leaf is far behind it’s competitors.

  • Aaron

    Robby G…if Electric car fanboy means….cheap lease payment, no gas …..cheap electric power (about 40-50 extra a month), quick go cart like power and up to 80 mph, 80-100 mile range …..then sign me up.

  • Aaron

    I agree with Matthew 11…..saying your range to work is 49 miles and then stating you need to drain the battery and then charge it makes no sense. As a leaf owner this is the kind of imforation that makes people scared to buy the car. In this instance going that range would only take around 12 hours to charge the car on 110v. The 220v charger would never be needed…..let me say that again….would never be needed to accomplish this commute. I say this because I use about half the battery daily and I only use the 110v provided. I don’t sit there and watch the car charge….and I’m not concerned if it takes all night….I sleep then. Simply put the 110v charger is perfect for most people and as I stated you will not need a 220v. If you get a leaf you’ll never go back……I promise.

  • Robby G

    Sign you up to a business model that’s supported by my tax dollars? Maybe you should pay for my car?

  • GoFastOrGoHome

    Do you have another vehicle you can use for long-distance trips? Or when you get home from work but realize you left something important there and have to go back for it or forgot to go to the grocery store that’s 10 miles away or have to pick up mom after work from the hospital that’s 15 miles out of the way?

    Electric vehicles will only ever be a niche or a second vehicle as long as the range is under 150-200 miles, it takes longer than 2 hours for a full charge, and while topping out around 80 MPH.

    Personally I’d have constant anxiety if i knew there was a range on my vehicle that couldn’t be increased by a 5 minute stop to a gas station that is found every 2 miles. It’s bad enough that many people cater their lives to ensuring their smartphone maintains it’s charge all day. Smartphones won’t prevent you from driving to the ER when an accident occurs and your EV’s charge is almost depleted. That makes me anxious and would force me to change my life to ensure the car is constantly plugged in or close to full charge.

  • Aaron

    The answer to your first question is yes we do have another car for long trips….but most long trips involve flying because I’m usually working or relaxing at home….when I can. As far as range anxiety I have none. I use about 45% of the battery round trip to work so that leaves me with around 40+ miles left without plugging in. Ask yourself how often you go more than 80-100 miles a day. If the answer is almost never then the Nissan Leaf is for you. I really think that most people could use a Leaf but they have as you call Range Anxiety. I have never, ever come close to running out of battery power (10 miles left was the most) because I always figure the distance in advance….and as a worst case scenario I have the app on my phone that tells me where public charging stations are. By the way I have used a public charging station twice in 7 months of owning the car….and I drive it everywhere. Also a little known fact is that you can manipulate the distance the car goes by changing your driving style. Simply put if the range I mentioned works for you…..you have a garage…..and you can adjust your driving when needed….the Leaf is perfect for you, and it will save you a ton of dough. If you have any other questions just let me know……

  • Aaron

    Robby….welcome to the world where tax dollars support everything you do in your life. I have no problem buying into an idea that gets us far away from foreign oil…..and in the future pollution. Even if I didn’t own a LEAF I would have no problem with the government supplementing money to garner interest from the public for it.

  • PT

    The government isn’t giving Nissan leaf owners $7,500 for buying an electric car. Tax credit means the government reduces your total tax bill. In a perverted sense I guess you could technically make that argument, realistically the government is just taking less.

    If you want to be very technical and split hairs, only very technically
    does a tax credit to someone else involve your tax dollars. Since the government is getting less tax dollars from person a, they will have to make it up somewhere.

    If dependency on radical Islamist nations for oil is no problem to you, write your representatives in government and discuss changing tax code with them. Just know you may not be in the minority. A lot of Americans care more about not sending money to the Middle East and beginning to somewhat secure our energy future than giving a pittance of a tax credit to the small amount of Americans actually buying electric cars.

  • rick

    I bought a Nissan leaf about a month ago and am very disappointed with it. it never seems to be off charge and I never get it to its maximum level od 124 miles . It has only ever shown a maximum of 90 miles on the clock and it sticks religiously to that. Dont get me wrong . The car is nice to drive and very comfortable but I get sick and tired of having to constantly charge it. To think I traded in my 5series against this car !! My wife has a large car so we are fine in that respect. Has anyone tried to get a valuation since driving it from the garage?? How about £14k after three weeks, a loss of £9k . Give me back my 5 series.

  • Pete

    I have a nissan leaf and travel without range anxiety
    Why
    I have an oil banger back up and sub consciously plan my driving day
    Guess what
    No gas station visits
    I have solar panels in my roof 28 of them
    No charge on electic fuel
    electric cars are miles ahead of all vintage conventional engines excluding the vintage electric teams in Melbourne and electric trolleys in Athens
    Difference
    Electric cars are simply wireless