Upon its arrival in 2011, the Nissan Leaf was praised for its environmental prowess, forward-thinking design and the longest range of any pure electric. There’s plenty more of the same in the 2016 Leaf, which Nissan says is the last version of the original Leaf before the redesigned Next Generation Leaf arrives in late 2017 or early 2018. Affordability, comfortable seating, eco-friendliness and more range is what consumers want in a pure electric and Nissan delivers on all four. Its five-door hatchback with room for 5 passengers is the most popular auto body globally.
“LEAF” is a backronym for Leading Environmentally-friendly Affordible Family car. The EV’s slanting light-emitting diode (LED) headlights split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, reducing noise and aerodynamic drag and providing Leaf with the front end of its unique, distinctive design.
Which electric vehicle has the lowest overall carbon footprint over its lifetime? According to Automotive Science Group (via InsideEVs) it’s the Nissan Leaf. Based on the car’s environmental impact and its maker’s record of social responsibility, Leaf wins hands down. The study found that among 2014 advanced automotive technologies, the Nissan Leaf held the smallest life-cycle environmental footprint of any automobile available in the North American market with a minimum four-person occupancy. Since 2014, Leaf’s technology has continued to improve, decreasing its carbon footprint ever further. Rumors that Nissan has cracked the code and overcome the #1 shortcoming of current electrics – range – have been validated by the new 60-kWh battery pack it showed off at the Tokyo Auto Show in 2015. This advanced battery pack offering more than 200 miles will be part of the Next Generation Leaf due out at the end of 2017 or early 2018.
Leaf is one of just a handful of pure electrics that routinely sell more than 1,000 units a month in the USA. Other electrics achieving 1,000-per-month sales include the Chevrolet Volt, the Tesla Model S and the BMW i3, but only Leaf has managed to sell more than 3,000 units a month. It did so four times in 2014. With 200,000 units sold globally as of December 2015, the Nissan Leaf is the world’s all-time, best-selling, highway-capable pure electric.
Leaf’s 2016 SV and SL trims include a new 30-kwh battery, extending the driving range to 107 miles. Its highly durable 80-kW AC synchronous motor remains unchanged, delivering the same 107 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of torque as previous Leafs. The S model retains the smaller battery and lesser 84-mile range, but gains a new 5-inch color audio display and NissanConnect apps. SV and SL trims gain NissanConnect with navigation plus some improvements to the mobile apps and interface display.
Part of Leaf’s charm and popularity comes from its highly comfortable cabin: there’s enough space for five people with adequate legroom in the front and back seats. Leaf’s competitors, the Chevrolet Volt and the BMW i3, comfortably seat only four people. Edmunds says: “The Nissan Leaf’s battery pack is located beneath the seats, a design that contributes to the car’s airy cabin and rear seats roomy enough even for tall passengers.” The Leaf has 23.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind its rear seat, considered excellent for a compact car. That number increases to a generous 30 cubic feet when the 60/40 rear seats are folded down.
Additional driver accolades are generated by Leaf’s cutting-edge, easy to understand and operate technology. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to operate all the high tech. Standard features for the base S model include a 3.6 kW onboard charger, 16-inch steel wheels, automatic climate control, a trip computer, heated front and rear seats, heated mirrors, keyless ignition and entry, a six-way manually adjustable driver seat (four-way passenger seat), 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a tilt-only heated steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a 5.0-inch color touchscreen, a rearview camera and a four-speaker CD player with iPod/USB input and satellite radio. The SV and SL models come with a Premium package that includes a 7-speaker Bose stereo system and a 360-degree parking camera system. SL trim includes LED headlights, fog lights, a quick-charger port, leather upholstery, and one of the Leaf’s coolest signature perks: a solar panel mounted on the rear roof spoiler which helps to power the accessories.
Nissan's CARWINGS system allows drivers to use a smartphone to check their battery charge remotely and activate the Leaf's climate-control system. The SV model adds audio controls and cruise control to the steering wheel. All 2016 Leaf models include dual front airbags, front-side airbags and side-curtain airbags, plus standard anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control and a tire-pressure monitor. The upgraded entertainment system is more user-friendly than previous versions. Bluetooth connectivity on the 5.0-inch touchscreen allows audio-streaming, hands-free text messaging and NissanConnect, which includes mobile apps for Facebook, Pandora and iHeart Radio.
All Leaf models offer Normal, Eco-Mode and B-Mode transmission settings. The B-mode delivers more aggressive regenerative braking, using the car’s forward momentum to create battery energy when the driver lifts off the accelerator. The SV and SL trims come with everything found in the S but have a larger 7.0 inch display which supports multi-touch, voice recognition, navigation, Sirius XM satellite radio.
Nissan says it expects electric vehicles to account for as much as 10% of the global automotive industry by 2020. With EV sales doubling or tripling every year, this is entirely possible. Even if this estimate is half of what analysts are estimating, Nissan plans to take, at a minimum, one quarter of it. More than any other two cars, the Tesla S and Nissan Leaf have pushed the EV Evolution/Revolution into overdrive, providing massive credibility for pure electrics with their innovative, efficient, highly desirable designs. The big difference between the two cars is price. Leaf appeals to a much wider consumer base: it’s range, reliability, styling and affordability make it the top-selling EV in the world, year after year.