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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Comments (33)
  1. So basically a bland appliance, ouch! Guess the Leaf just doesn't have what it takes to meet Nissan's sales expectations. This isn't over though. I think 2015 will see the introduction of a remarkable mk2 Leaf with better looks and new battery technology giving it the sort of range that will really set it apart from the compliance cars.

    After all, there must be a reason Nissan went ahead with investing in capacity for 150K EVs and 200K batterypacks in Smyrna, even after it became clear that the current gen Leaf really doesn't need anywhere near that sort of production capacity.

  2. They had a cash flow problem in 2009 and needed the 1.4 Billion Dept. of Energy dollars. I heard a LOT of taxpayer money is in Aruba.... Isn't that where Natalie Holloway is? NISSAN used technology from the 90's the C.A.R.B. days... some call it a scam but people that like EV's are in love with NISSAN. Personally I want a Tesla but I'm middle class so I'll just enjoy my Honda Hybrid. i got 47.7 mpg on a trip to Atlanta recently...not bad:):)

  3. I don't know where Natalie Holloway is Sharyn, you tell me. After all you are the "relocation consultant".

  4. What are your objections to the Nissan Leaf?

  5. I'd say this was a 'fair assessment' of the 2013 LEAF. I've driven my 2012 SL for 9,000 miles and during my test drive of the 2013 m.y. the torque reduction was noticeable. I would have preferred a 10% increase in torque rather than the decrease. I also noticed the slightly higher ride due to the 17" wheels which is an improvement. My lease expires in 2015 and I hope the LEAF 2.0 will be available. Overall Nissan has made an effort to incorporate suggestions from their customers into several enhancements of this year's car.

  6. I love my 2013 Leaf. Sure it's plain, but it has a lower price tag and more cargo space than anyone else. With so many low-production models and defunct start-ups, I take comfort in knowing mine has a large manufacturer committed to the platform.

    Also, it's one of relatively few EVs that actually has a high-power DC-DC converter powering the 12-volt circuit, allowing you to use the traction battery as a backup power source (with a 2kW inverter). I skipped the Focus EV specifically because it doesn't have one.

    I too am looking forward to when my lease expires, and will be looking at other makes when that happens, but for now I'm not complaining.

  7. Fantastic car. Can't believe it. I drive 20, 30 even up to 50 miles a day, come home..plug it into the 110 and in the morning I'm ready to go again. Recharging in the off hours, (way better for the environment and a million times better than the costs and consequences of oil,) and what did it cost..maybe a dollar or two at the most!!

    What's a gas station? Look like pieces in a museum, these gas stations.

  8. Nissan has stated that the LEAF will not be their flagship EV. They are looking at a 5 passenger, mid-sized Sedan as the more desirable vehicle type so expect that to be a better effort. I have been predicting the Altima EV with a 100 freeway mile range to be in works. Sooner or later, I expect to right!

  9. John,

    Did you get a tour of NISSAN battery plant in operation while in Smyrna? If so call me and answer some questions. I've heard some things that don't make sense. It seems like your one of the few that say most of the NISSAN Leaf is actually manufactured in the USA and like you I want to have the facts Thanks for the article..... Sharyn 615-944-7599

  10. OMG!!! Green Car Reports is Giving me Flashbacks to Communist propaganda.
    I thought John YOU cared about quality EV's... & society. I was wrong.

    Did you get bought out by Gannett?

    If so hold out for the "really good" kickbacks... that's what people that pimp for NISSAN do.

    Enjoy your day!

  11. Chris O he never said bland so don't put words in the writers mouth. As an aside I took the train (electric) the odd 100 miles to London Friday to collect my new Leaf and drove back 91 miles with 4 miles left showing as I pulled in the drive.
    Part motorway and A roads at normal speeds. Having owned a second gen Prius for five years my first observations are it rides better, seems equally balanced, and is eerily quiet. On the down side there is a feeling corners have been cut and its not as roomy, time will reveal how I feel about the car side as opposed to the change to electric living.
    Don't forget another Leaf factory just opened in the UK supposedly to supply Europe.

  12. "many of those cars have far more distinct personalities"...and being at the other end of the scale of "distinct personalities" is to be....

  13. Define distinct personality is it the way it looks, behaves dynamically, or is it the particular observers perception of such?
    The Leaf is no track machine, raving beauty etc but its certainly not bland, the styling is weird unconventional and being a very well equipped electric also takes it out of the bland category. Im not defending it because I just bought one because I find my previous Prius a better car in many respects. Check out the definition of bland and see if it still applies.

  14. I was interpreting the author's opinion. You're free to feel about it however you want.

  15. Let's see, they cut the price by 6K, increased range while making other improvements - especially, the charging cycle. Ford Focus a better interior? If you're nostalgic for your ICE vehicles, and miss your transmission shifter - the good news is that Ford, in an effort to save money, didn't redesign a thing from their gas car, so you'll feel right at home. The Fiat is fun, and very light - take it up to 70mph and report the difference. Btw, don't ever drive an EV without reporting on range again. Charge to 100 percent and give us real information. In case you don't know -- real journalist don't accept free flights, food and hotels from companies they review. I'm tempted to call your story, "bland" "Appliance-like" but it wasn't that good.

  16. Leaf cut the price b/c they also removed many features of the car. So, in some people's eyes, those features aren't needed. But for a similar equipped Leaf, the price drop is only about $2k.

  17. @John: Thanks for weighing in on "real journalists" & what we do.

    You may be unaware that the vast majority of print & digital media routinely go on these trips. They are the simplest, quickest way for an automaker to get new cars in front of many reporters at once.

    All four automotive "buff books" take them; so does the biggest trade paper, Automotive News; and MANY others. A handful of the largest newspapers and many broadcast networks don't accept trips; I believe a couple of the news services don't either. Nor does Consumer Reports.

    Most don't disclose such trips; High Gear Media does.

    You may choose to refine your notion of automotive journalism based on these facts. Or not.

  18. I, for one, am happy that John Voelcker got a chance to drive the LEAF again and report on it, despite Nissan making it financially possible. The reason for this is a matter of "trust". After reading John for years now, I trust him to report honestly on his experience (even if I don't always agree with his perspective).

    That trust is important and the GCR disclosure is part of keeping that trust.

  19. "By value, more than four-fifths of the Leaf electric car is now made in the U.S."

    But by "part count", I am willing to bet that is still a mostly a foreign car.

    The domestic content is sometimes misleading due to the % of calculation. By $$$ is how they do it. So, many imports can claim US made by assembling and assembling engine/transmission in the US.

  20. I thought the point of buying American was so the money stays in America. From that point of view, calculating it by dollar value of components/labor makes sense. Who cares if 50% of the parts come from overseas when they're only 20% of the production cost?

  21. Well, dollars can be deceiving. If some of the part is "assembled" here in the US with majority of the parts imported, the final value of the part will be counted as domestic. Also, some the parts require more labor cost instead of material cost. So, for those parts, it doesn't really create much jobs.

    Also, a lot of the "high paying" jobs are engineering jobs which are NOT part of the consideration in terms of production.

  22. @Xiaolong: The car's steel structure is stamped in the U.S. Its lithium-ion cells are fabricated here, as is its battery pack. The electric traction motor is made here as well. And one of the ways Nissan cut its costs is by sourcing as much as possible in the U.S. to avoid currency swings.

    I scanned a 2013 Nissan Leaf window sticker and it doesn't have a domestic parts percentage. But that data comes out every so often. Cars.com did an "American-Made Index" but it hasn't been updated since 2010, for instance.

  23. John,

    Can we put the MYTH that Leaf will do 0-60mph in 7 sec to rest by posting your sister site car connection's testing result?

  24. I tested my LEAF 0-60 on level ground...10 seconds. I suppose 7 seconds would be possible going downhill.

  25. It must be a really steep downhill in order for that to happen...

  26. Appliance like?, you mean economically and efficiently. They do the job they were designed to do so well that you don't give its operation a second thought, just hit the start button and forget it. "Appliance like," I'll gladly take it!

  27. Did they drive the car, the article is not clear.

  28. @Andre: Yes. I drove the car.

  29. Well that explains the huge price drop from the 2012 to 2013, now if only it was still affordable in Canada (38000$ for the basic model is more of the middle-rich class affordable) so far I have only seen 1 LEAF here in Quebec, he comes to my job once a week to get some snacks and stuff (College Student, working at a gas station if you're wondering) he says he likes it a lot but thinks it's not worth the 40 000$ (we do have an incentive of 8 000$ but still). Some people would say we (Canada) are stealing your cars (USA) when crossing borders. Perhaps don't rip us off and we won't be, there's no tariff when importing cars in Canada, just a slightly higher transport cost. So why charge almost double?

  30. However, for all practical purposes it has a 40 mile radius, at best. Is that a car or a local bus?
    The Fluence i drive is probably everything the Leaf is, except it has no limiting radius. i drive it as far as i want, as far as i wish, and it still cost half to run as a gas car, at the same retail price.
    So why dont you ask Nissan to build some Renault Fluence, or even the same Leaf, with a switchable battery?

  31. 40-mile what? http://www.plugincars.com/my-280-mile-single-day-nissan-leaf-roadtrip-127060.html

    While the situation in Israel is certainly different, in the US there are:
    Battery swapping stations: 0 in operation, 0 foreseen.
    Quick-chargers: 200~250 in operation + 400~800 more announced; most are free, with no monthly fee.

  32. cant wait to test drive this 2013 release. albeit what does worry me is the apparent reduced torque on 2013 version. not that it would really matter in London, UK, traffic jams, - and - it still does fare better 0-60 in the 2013 model... but... i have my reservations.

    That and more @evMeerkat (twitter) - my personal electric car real life experience blog c-zero.info

  33. My Nissan Leaf (2012) lease will be completed by 2016. If Nissan can come up with a second generation EV that will extend the range to 200-300 miles and charging time cut further, then I will stay with Nissan. It would be even better if there was a range extended feature although I am not sure that Nissan would go against its pure electric philosophy. I test drove a Volt but found it built too low to comfortably enter IMHO.

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