Introduced to the market for the 2011 model year, the 2013 Nissan Leaf remains the highest-volume battery-electric car on sale in the United States. Though the Leaf has the distinction of being the first modern battery-electric vehicle produced by a major automaker, neither it nor its primary rival, the extended-range electric Chevrolet Volt, have managed to sell in the quantities originally predicted by their respective companies.
Nissan is mixing things up to boost sales in 2013, and that’s a good thing for consumers. Production has now moved to Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, which ultimately translates into a lower production cost for the Leaf. As a result, Nissan has added a new, less-expensive base Leaf model, while updating equipment throughout much of the model range.
Those driving the Leaf for the first time are often impressed by how little difference there is between the electric car and a comparable internal-combustion hatchback. The Leaf is no golf cart, and it accelerates as well as most gasoline-powered cars of its size. It can haul four adults in comfort (or five for short distances), and even gives a decent amount of cargo room. In short, the Leaf is a very capable daily driver with an operating cost that’s a fraction of gasoline-engined cars, as long as you pay careful attention to the state of battery charge.
The 2013 Leaf carries on with the same styling introduced in 2011, but that’s a good thing. Its look is both contemporary and conventional, and even its concessions to aerodynamics (the protruding headlights, for example) don’t look out of place on the car. Base models make do with 16-inch steel wheels (with wheel covers, of course), while the rest of the model range wears alloy wheels. Range-topping SL models can be distinguished by the small solar panel embedded in the roof spoiler, used to provide supplemental charging for the Leaf’s 12-volt accessory battery.
Power comes from a 80-kilowatt (roughly 107-horsepower) electric motor, fed by a 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. The car is single-speed, yet thanks to the motor’s instantly available 207 pound-feet of torque, the run from 0-60 takes less than 10 seconds, and the car is capable of a 90-mph top speed. For its intended purpose, both figures are perfectly acceptable.
While the 2013 Nissan Leaf handles in a competent and predictable manner, those seeking entertainment value behind the wheel are likely to be put off by the car’s numb steering and somewhat detached road feel. Given the car’s primary mission of getting from point A to B, sans gasoline, in relative comfort, we hardly see that as an obstacle to sales.
As we mentioned earlier, Leaf ownership requires paying careful attention to your battery pack’s state of charge. When depleted, its 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack can take up to 20 hours to fully charge on standard household current (110 Volts). Installing a 240-Volt Level 2 home charging station (available through Nissan dealers) will cut that time significantly, and a new-for-2013 6.6-kilowatt charger (included on all but base model Leafs) can fully charge the battery in as little as four hours. That’s quite an improvement over the previous 3.3-kW charger, which would take as much as 10 hours for a full recharge from a Level 2 charging station.
The Leaf is a connected car in more ways than one. A smartphone app lets owners set charging times (to benefit from off-peak rates), cool the cabin or heat the cabin for winter comfort. The app also allows owners to monitor the charging process, and an alert is sent if charging is interrupted. Owners without smartphones (unlikely, though possible), can also control many of these functions via the car’s display screen.
For 2013, the Leaf reportedly gets a bit more range, too, though the EPA has yet to publish new numbers for the car. Expect a modest gain over last year’s projected 73-mile range, but be aware that cold weather or high speeds can reduce that number by as much as 33 percent. While the Leaf makes an ideal commuter car (assuming you have the ability to plug in at work, or don’t exceed its condition-dependent range), it’s still not quite functional enough for most families to choose as an only car.
While the 2013 Nissan Leaf now starts at an attractive $29,650 (including destination charge but excluding the $7,500 federal income tax credit), perhaps the most interesting deal is the car’s $199 per month lease. Those concerned with long-term battery capacity or even electric car functionality can test the waters with an affordable three-year lease, without making the commitment to purchase. If you’re on the fence about going electric, it may be just the incentive you need.
For more details, see the full review of the 2013 Nissan Leaf
on our sister site, TheCarConnection.