2013 Nissan Leaf: Driven Through Tennessee Countryside

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After our quick drive of a 2013 Nissan Leaf before the New York Auto Show in late March, we were finally able to spend some extended time with the updated electric car outside Nashville.

Our initial impressions remain the same: The Leaf is a perfectly normal, competent compact five-door hatchback that happens to run on a battery-electric powertrain.

Its limited range of 75 miles aside--that's 15 percent higher than comparable ratings from earlier years, but the calculations are complex--the Leaf will do anything that any other compact hatchback will.

75 miles (in nice weather)

We covered two different drive routes, of 23.0 and 22.1 miles respectively.

After starting with a full battery, the car told us at the end we had 43 percent remaining charge--for an imputed range of about 79 miles.

That's fairly close to the 84 miles the EPA says the Leaf should get when charged to 100 percent, as ours had been.

It's worth noting that the weather in Tennessee was pleasant--in the 60s and 70s--which is just about ideal for an electric car. Range would have been lower in a Northeastern winter.

Four-fifths U.S.-made

By this point, many readers will likely know that the Leaf is now built in Tennessee, as are the lithium-ion cells in its battery pack. By value, more than four-fifths of the Leaf electric car is now made in the U.S.

Nissan made a number of changes to the 2013 model, the most important being an available 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger. It also relocated the charger to under the hood, which expands the storage space available in the cargo area behind the fold-down rear seat.

2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

Enlarge Photo

Power electronics and control systems have also been updated, and maximum output torque from the electric traction motor has been reduced from 206 lb-ft (280 Nm) to 187 lb-ft (254 Nm)--although we didn't perceive any practical difference in the performance compared to the 2011 and 2012 models.

It's also an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

Competent and predictable

In fact, the Leaf is such a competent compact car that we find it difficult to say much definitive about it.

As always, the Leaf held the road competently and the simulated feedback from its electric power steering was adequate, if far from tactile.

A few additional thoughts after spending most of a day in a Leaf:

  • The brakes on our test car, which had just 239 miles, felt considerably grabbier than other Leafs we've driven--though we quickly got used to their aggressive action
  • The numeric battery-charge percentage gauge added to the middle of the instrument cluster eliminates the need to pay attention to the bar graph, which is a good thing
  • The hard-plastic dash and interior materials come off as a little more basic and downscale than they did three years ago when the Leaf was launched
  • While we're not fans of shiny piano-black trim, the Leaf's had little glittery flecks in it that added a nice touch

The challenge of character

The challenge in reviewing the Leaf is that it's hard to assign it a specific character.

2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

Enlarge Photo

The phrase "appliance-like" comes to mind, which is not a bad thing. The Leaf is a very, very competent transportation appliance that has no emissions and its running costs per mile are just a fraction of the average gasoline car's.

But with so many more pure electric cars on the market now--both volume entries and the compliance cars available only in California in small numbers--many of those cars have far more distinct personalities.

The Tesla Model S is the large, striking, high-performance halo car of the class. The Ford Focus Electric has perhaps the nicest interior and feeling of quality of any compact electric. The Fiat 500e is the most fun to drive. And so forth.

Highest global volume

Nonetheless, the Nissan Leaf remains by far the highest-volume battery electric car in the world. Nissan has now sold more than 60,000 globally since late 2010.

With plants in Japan, the U.S., and the U.K. cranking out Leafs, that number will likely cross 100,000 by the end of this year.

The Nissan Leaf is, in effect, the world's default electric car.

Nissan provided airfare, lodging, and meals to allow High Gear Media to bring you this first-hand drive report.

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