Later today, we'll find out how many 2013 Nissan Leafs the company delivered last month.

March was the first month that Nissan's electric car reached dealerships in volume from the Tennessee production line where all U.S. Leafs are now assembled, using lithium-ion cells from a plant right next door.

While the 2013 Leaf had been shown before, including at January's Detroit Auto Show, it appeared at last week's New York Auto Show as part of an expanded Nissan lineup that also included the new 2014 Pathfinder Hybrid seven-seat crossover.

We had a chance to spend an hour driving a new 2013 Leaf around New York City in the company of Nissan product planner Mike Higginbotham, a font of knowledge about the many subtle changes to the electric car he's spent two years working to domesticate.

Higginbotham also has the GT-R supercar and the 370Z sports coupe in his portfolio, so as he said, he's responsible for the "low-volume high-profile products in the lineup."

In modifying the Leaf for U.S. assembly, Nissan not only made it subtly more aerodynamic and cut more than 150 pounds from the weight, it also listened to feedback from the 20,000 buyers of 2011 and 2012 models.

It's added some very practical features requested by large numbers of Leaf drivers:

  • A pair of LED lights that illuminate the charging ports, so drivers can see where they're plugging in at night
  • A charging-port lock for the 240-Volt Level 2 charging cord, to prevent it being unlocked by someone else
  • A battery state-of-charge numeric percentage to supplement the bar graph in the instrument cluster
  • A "B" (for braking) driving mode that increases regenerative braking somewhat (though nowhere near Tesla Roadster levels)
  • Stylish new 17-inch 18-inch alloy wheels and black leather upholstery on the highest trim level, the Leaf SL
  • New 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger that all but halves charging time via Level 2 charging station

We also observed, to our shock, that the U.S.-built Leaf dispenses with the button-operated electric parking brake and reverts to a Seventies-style pendant pedal brake.

Asking Higginbotham about this seeming step backward, he noted that the change was made to simplify parts supply and reduce costs: All vehicles built at the Smyra, Tennessee, plant use pedal-operated parking brakes.

We drove our Leaf around Manhattan and took a number of photos of the car at Grant's Tomb in Riverside Park.

[BONUS NEW YORK CITY TRIVIA QUESTION: Who's buried in Grant's Tomb? Leave your answer in the Comments below.]

Since it had been more than two years since we'd spent extensive time in a Leaf--at the October 2010 first-drive event in Tennessee--we didn't notice any earth-shattering differences in the driving experience.

The 2013 Nissan Leaf remains a practical, comfortable, quiet all-electric compact hatchback car with a full suite of modern conveniences.

With a rated 2013 range of 75 miles--up about 15 percent over comparable ratings from earlier years, but the calculations are complex--the Leaf isn't the car you want to drive from New York to San Francisco.

2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

At a starting price of $28,800 for the new base Leaf S trim level, though, it's priced more reasonably this year.

And we suspect Nissan will use incentives if needed to get their sales volumes up to levels well above 2,000 cars a month--which means you could be seeing some good deals on domestically-built Leafs in the year to come.

We gave the 2011 Leaf our very first Best Green Car To Buy Award two years ago, and it remains today what it was then: a viable, practical vehicle that's the most serious attempt to sell battery-electric cars in volume by any automaker in the world.

As well as your answer to the trivia question, let us know what you think of our video in the Comments below.


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