In its third year on the market, the updated 2013 Nissan Leaf will have a slightly longer range, a new and lower-priced base model, faster charging, and a more efficient cabin heater.

The battery electric car goes into production at Nissan's assembly plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, this week.

While the 2013 Leaf is still being tested to determine its EPA range rating, Nissan says that range higher than the 2012 model's 73 miles is "expected."

The higher range comes not from a larger battery --the lithium-ion pack remains at 24 kilowatt-hours--but from improvements to aerodynamics, regenerative braking, and energy management. Nissan says the drag coefficient has been cut from 0.29 to 0.28.

Optional 6.6-kW charger

The much-rumored 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger will be an extra-cost option on the base model, but standard equipment on the two upper trim levels--as it is on the 2013 Ford Focus Electric. It reduces the charging time for a fully depleted battery from seven hours to about four, using a Level 2 charging station.

The onboard charger in all 2013 Leafs has also been reduced in size and relocated to a new position under the hood, which increases cargo volume by removing the "charger hump" found on the load-bay floor on earlier cars.

Nissan is offering a new and optional hybrid heater that cuts energy consumption compared to the electric resistance heater used on 2011 and 2012 Leaf models.

Three trim levels

The new base trim level is called the Leaf S model. It replaces the LED headlights with less expensive projector beams, and uses 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers rather than alloy wheels.

It also loses both the navigation system and the remote connectivity that allows drivers to turn on the climate control and monitor battery charging remotely using a smartphone.

The Leaf S offers an optional rear-view camera that displays on the smaller display screen in the center stack. The 6.6-kW charger is optional as well.

The middle trim level, the 2013 Leaf SV, rides on 16-inch alloy wheels and offers the LED headlamps and running lamps as an option.

The top-range trim level, the Leaf SL, adds a number of new standard features, including leather seats and a new design for its 17-inch alloy wheels. It features the LED headlamps as standard equipment.

2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

A Premium Package for the SV and SL trim levels includes the AroundView monitor system, which shows images of the car's surroundings on the center display, and a seven-speaker energy-efficient audio system from Bose.

The 6.6-kW charger is standard on both SV and SL models.

Changes and upgrades

Other interior changes include the availability of black upholstery, longer sun visors, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Bluetooth connectivity is standard on all 2013 Leafs.

The trip computer now displays a battery state-of-charge percentage, as well as a bar graph, to give drivers more information on energy use.

The charging port door on the nose of the 2013 Leaf now has a light inside, to illuminate the ports, and can be locked. The intelligent key can be used to unlock the charge-port door.

Nissan has also added a driver-selectable "B" drive mode that increases brake regeneration.

2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

Electric motor, battery unchanged

The 2013 Nissan Leaf otherwise uses the same powertrain as the 2011 and 2012 models: an 80-kilowatt (107 horsepower) electric motor, producing 187 lb-ft of torque, driving the front wheels.

The CHAdeMO DC quick-charging port continues as an option, offering the ability to charge the battery pack to 80 percent in roughly half an hour.

Seven colors are offered on the 2013 Nissan Leaf: Brilliant Silver, Super Black, Cayenne Red, Pearl White, Blue Ocean, Metallic Slate, and Glacier White. The last two are new additions this model year.

Pricing for the 2013 Nissan Leaf will be revealed closer to the car's on-sale date in early February.


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