The Nissan Leaf is a front-wheel-drive hatchback electric car that seats five and comes very well equipped. It’s exceptional for its reasonable price, especially the version with 149 miles of range, although the costlier Leaf Plus, with its bigger battery pack, can go 226 miles.
That “reasonable” price is what’s new for 2022, as the cost of the entry-level S model drops more than $4,000, while other models are cut more; the SV Plus is more than $5,000 less than last year, and not only that, it gets a Technology Package with significant safety and convenience features. And for 2022 Nissan throws in even more: DC fast charging can do an 80% charge in 45 minutes.
The Leaf is no longer conspicuous as an electric car, as it was in the beginning. And the modern cabin boasts materials that are a cut above most economy cars. And there’s excellent cargo space, with 23.6 cubic feet behind the folding rear seat.
The electric motor in the base Leaf makes 147 horsepower, while the Leaf Plus makes 214 hp. But even that 147 hp provides quick acceleration in the city, while the light steering makes it fun. Out on the highway, the 214 hp of the Leaf Plus is appreciated.
The Leaf is aptly named, as it’s hard to find a car that’s any greener. The range of the base Leaf of 149 miles is shy of some rivals (all of them more costly), but the Leaf Plus can go 215 or 226 miles, depending on equipment, in particular the size of its wheels. On a Level 2 240-volt charger, the Leaf Plus can take as much as 12 hours to fully charge.
The NHTSA gives the Leaf five overall stars in safety, with four stars in the forward crash test. The IIHS hasn’t fully tested it yet, but notes that over the years, the Leaf has one of the lowest fatality rates among small cars.
Standard safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors and active lane control. The SV and SL get adaptive cruise control and Nissan’s ProPilot driver-assistance system that can steer, stop, and start the car in many circumstances.
Made in Japan, the base Leaf comes as S and SV, while the Leaf Plus comes as S, SV, and SL.
The Leaf S is $28,375. It’s equipped with DC fast-charging, cloth upholstery, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and 16-inch steel wheels.
The Leaf Plus S is $33,375, and for that extra $5,000 you get the 226-mile range, thanks to a larger 62-kwh battery pack. The SV is $36,375, adding navigation, a heated steering wheel, heated mirrors, adaptive cruise control, and Pro Pilot.
The $38,375 Leaf Plus SL adds leather upholstery and a Bose sound system.
The Leaf comes with a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty, but it’s the battery warranty that matters more: 8 years and 100,000 miles.
The Leaf has lost the bulbous shape of its first generation, looking now like a traditional hatchback, with no signs that it’s an electric car. The lines are tidy and plain, and the details are a tiny bit sporty.
Like many Nissans, the Leaf has a strong V-shaped grille, complemented by black trim from the front to the rear and even up on the roof.
Even in the cabin, you can barely tell from the instrument panel that this is an electric car. The cabin materials are simple, and the standard cloth seats are preferable to the available leather. Many electric cars don’t absorb the tire and road noise at highway speeds, but the Leaf does that job very well.
The front seats have good padding and bolstering, but not-so-good support at the shoulders. And the steering wheel isn’t telescopic, so long-armed or short-armed drivers might find it awkward to find a comfortable seating/driving position.
There’s adequate room in the rear, and rear seat comfort itself is acceptable, with decent head and leg room. A six-foot passenger can fit behind a six-foot driver.
Surely there will be enough cargo space, with 23.6 cubic feet behind the split rear seat, and 30 cubic feet with it folded.
Forget about the Leaf being electric; the acceleration is smart for a small car, period. That’s true even with the base Leaf. However, out on the highway, where acceleration is more of a challenge coming on from 50 mph or more, you’ll feel the need for the Leaf Plus and its 62-kwh battery pack.
Both have a mode that enables driving with just one pedal; this is, regenerative braking occurs when you lift off the accelerator pedal. Some people like that, and from an efficiency standpoint it extends range because it recharges the batteries.
The Leaf isn’t nimble on account of its batteries’ weight, but Nissan engineers have done a good job of mounting that weight low in the car, so the Leaf is well balanced, and stable, even with a ride height that’s above most small cars. The suspension tuning isn’t perfect, as rough spots on asphalt come through, but it’s acceptably composed at nearly any speed.
The 2022 Nissan Leaf puts economy-car goodness into its hatchback body, and powers it with electricity alone. That makes it one of the cleanest new cars you can buy—and with tax incentives and credits, it’s an affordable and pleasant way to make the switch from gas-powered cars.
—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection