The Nissan LEAF: Is “Pretty Good” Good Enough?

Business Insider Has a new report that focuses on the 2022 Nissan LEAF, the least expensive electric car you can buy in America today. Thanks to a recent $6,500 price cut that applies to most trim levels, the base LEAF is now $28,425, including a delivery charge of $1,025. The LEAF is still eligible for the federal tax credit of up to $7,500, so in theory, you park a brand new base model in your driveway for $20,925. That’s one third of the price of an average EV in America today, which is $60,000 according to Edmunds.

The Pros of the Nissan LEAF

For that price, you get a brand new electric car that is roomy, comfortable, peppy, and quiet, with no tailpipe emissions. In addition, it comes with such driver assistance features as blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assistance, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and reverse automatic braking. It also makes one pedal driving possible and supports both Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

BI says, “The LEAF’s cabin feels nice and spacious, and there’s plenty of headroom for rear passengers thanks to the hatchback’s tall, horizontal roofline. The Leaf affords 23.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seats, more than the Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt, or Hyundai Kona Electric. But the Leaf’s rear seats don’t fold completely flat.”

The Nissan LEAF’s Cons

The base LEAF comes with a 40 kWh battery and has an EPA rating of 149 miles. Those of us who drive electric cars know that a number of factors affect how far we can travel on a single battery charge. Things like low temperature, hilly terrain, and speed can shorten those EPA estimates significantly. So it’s fair to say the base LEAF is a poor choice if you’re planning to strap your long boards to the roof and go shoot the curl off the beach at La Jolla.

There is one other factor that is a pretty strong negative for the LEAF. DC fast charging requires a CHAdeMo charger — if you can find one. An early leader in EV charging technology, the Japanese standard is now passé in the US, having been supplanted by CCS. You can argue till the cows come home about which standard is better, but that discussion is irrelevant. Like the great VHS vs BetaMax and 8-track vs cassette debates of the past, CCS won and CHAdeMO lost. Get used to it, get over it, and move on. The LEAF also has a J1772 port, but if you are relying on that for road trips, plan on stopping for several hours each time you need to plug in.

The Nissan LEAF Experience

I owned a 2015 Nissan LEAF base model for 4 years and it was a fine car. It didn’t do anything spectacularly well, but it was reliable and comfortable to drive. For over a year, it was my only vehicle and it was fine for 99% of my driving needs, provided I managed its limited range (about 80 miles) carefully. Twice during that year I needed to rent a car for longer trips, but spending $15 a month for electricity and just $18 once for a pair of new wiper blades during that 4 years made the tradeoffs more than tolerable.

The Business Insider Report is flawed because it is supposed to be about America’s cheapest electric car but instead, the author drove a Plus model, which comes with the larger 62 kWh battery and costs about $5,000 more. That car has a range of 226 miles — better, but still not great. [If you’re writing about the cheapest electric car, that’s the car you should drive. Just my two cents.] Even the Plus is saddled with obsolete charging technology and Nissan has the audacity to charge over $1,600 for a portable 110/220 volt charging cable — about 4 times what you can buy one for online.

While writing this article, I spent some time on the Nissan website. Navigating the site to gather information about different trim levels for the LEAF is clunky and frustrating. It seems Nissan hasn’t devoted much thought to that part of its online sales strategy. To make matters worse, the official web page has inaccurate EPA range information that shows the car has far less range than it does. Unforgivable.

My local Nissan dealer makes no mention of the LEAF whatsoever. It is not listed as an available offering from Nissan and its website shows none in inventory. Inexcusable.

The Takeaway

The Business Insider Report focuses primarily on the limited range of the base LEAF. But the truth is, it has more than enough range for most people most of the time. The typical owner will be able to drive it and only plug in at home once or twice a week.

Not everyone can afford a $60,000 Tesla Model Y or a $112,000 Hummer EV. And not everyone needs 400 miles of range. I think of the LEAF as a gateway to the EV revolution. It gets people used to one pedal driving and the satisfying urge of a electric motor when you press on the exhilarator. And you won’t feel like you are driving a cheap car in one.

One of the cars I rented last year was a Chevy Spark, a car that screams,”I know I’m driving a crappy car but it’s all I can afford.” It was distinctly uncomfortable and a little scary to drive on the highway. People will never need to apologize for driving a LEAF. It’s a real car. If you can live with the limited range, it’s a great car for the money. What’s wrong with that?


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