Nissan’s 2nd-generation Leaf
Fully electric cars are fun to drive, and make a lot of sense if you have a regular route that fits within the car’s battery range. Of course, Tesla gets a ton of publicity for their electrics, but the top ones are awfully expensive. The Nissan LEAF, currently in its second generation, is far more affordable, making it a better choice for a daily commuter. It may not have the exotic styling – and intangible panache – of a Tesla, but it’s still kinda cool looking.
I test drove a two-tone white/black 2020 Nissan LEAF SL Plus that came with a $46,045 window sticker, considerably more than the base LEAF model that is offered for $31,600. What you get for the extra cost is battery range and power, since the body style stays the same. Before looking at an all-electric car, that battery range is probably the most important factor in determining whether it will work for you and just how much daily driving you expect to do. If you commute back and forth from Houston to Dallas every weekend, you may want to stick to a gas or diesel-powered vehicle. Until recharging an all-electric vehicle becomes almost as fast as gassing up, taking a long-range drive just isn’t much of an option. Even Tesla’s supercharging electric stations take much longer than filling a car with gas.
The four-door hatchback 2020 LEAF drives beautifully. With no engine noise it’s super quiet, almost eerily so if you’re not used to it. But since the LEAF has no engine noise to alert pedestrians, it does project its own sounds to project its presence. When moving forward under 18.6 mph, the LEAF puts out a tone that Nissan calls ‘canto’, and when reversing there’s a pulsing chime. I got some curious stares from both pedestrians and drivers at stoplights. And no, you can’t turn the sounds off.
The car is powered by a 62 kWh battery, which gives the car a range of up to 226 miles. If you are even thinking of buying an all-electric vehicle, then factoring the cost of installing a 220v charging station in your home garage is a must. Acceleration was fine with all the low-end torque from the electric motor. It’s a fun little car to drive.
The new LEAF also has some technological features that move it closer to an autonomous vehicle, although don’t even think of falling asleep at the wheel and expect to arrive safely at your destination. Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist with Intelligent Cruise Control is a neat feature that combines adaptive cruise control along with lane assist technology. This feature keeps you in your lane while keeping the car a safe distance from the vehicle in front. If necessary, ProPILOT Assist can automatically apply the brakes and bring the vehicle to a full stop. I used it in rush hour stop-and-go traffic and it worked nicely. Just another tool to make commuting easier.
The LEAF also has something Nissan calls ePedal, which allows the driver to start, accelerate, decelerate and stop using only the accelerator pedal. Once you release your foot from the pedal, the car slows and will come to a complete stop if you take your foot off the pedal. I found it disconcerting, and although I tried it several times I never got used to it.
The Nissan LEAF is – at present – a niche car for folks who want to be very green and may also have a regular daily commute. Driving the distances we do in Texas, it probably works best as a second car.