2012 Nissan Leaf Review

2012 Nissan Leaf - Leaf is a viable electric alternative for the urban market.


Vehicle Tested
2012 Nissan Leaf SL
Base Price: $37,250
At-Tested Price: $38,270
Built in Japan.

Floor Mats
Cargo Mat

Engine: 80 kW AC Motor
Transmission: Single-Speed Automatic

Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive

Last year, Nissan introduced the Leaf, a mass-market electric car. Unlike a hybrid or the extended-range Chevrolet Volt, the Leaf has no gasoline engine; it's purely an electric vehicle.

Leaf comes only as a five-passenger, four-door hatchback. It's driven by a 107-horsepower electric motor that's powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Nissan claims that under the right conditions maximum driving range is 100 miles on a single charge.

When fully discharged, the battery can be recharged in about 20 hours using a household 120-volt outlet. A full 240-volt charge can be accomplished in about eight hours. Also available is a 480-volt DC quick charge port that car restore 80 percent capacity in about 30 minutes.

Standard safety features include antilock four-wheel disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, tire-pressure monitor and dual-front, front-side, and curtain-side airbags. A rear-view camera is standard on the SL.

Two models are offered, SV and SL. The SV lists for $35,200 and includes air conditioning with automatic climate control, navigation system, heated tilt-telescope steering wheel with radio controls, cruise control, cloth upholstery, heated front and rear seats, heated power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, keyless access and starting, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with digital-media player connection and
USB port, satellite radio, Bluetooth cell-phone connection, trip computer, variable-intermittent wipers, automatic day/night rearview mirror, intermittent rear wiper/washer, rear defogger, theft-deterrent system, rear spoiler, LED headlights, 205/55R16 tires and alloy wheels.

The SL lists for $37,250 and adds to the SV quick-charge port, rear-view camera, universal garage door opener, cargo cover, automatic headlights, solar panel and fog lights.

Available options are minimal. They include Eco and Recycling packages, floor mats, safety kit, mug guards and bumper protectors. The Leaf is built in Japan and has a destination charge of $850.

Get Up and Go  Utilizing only electric power gives Leaf a slight advantage when compared to hybrids in around-town and stop-and-go driving. The engine provides direct and immediate power and good throttle response. Though more energetic around town than many economy-minded gas competitors, acceleration is less impressive on the highway where the single-speed transmission lacks the kick-down power boost of a traditional car.

The Leaf has an EPA equivalency rating of 106 mpg city and 92 mpg highway. It's also given a 34 kw-hrs rating for 100 miles. According to the EPA that adds up to about $1.02 for every 25 miles driven. For comparison, a 40 mpg fuel-sipping economy car might have a $2.00 equivalent.

In real-world driving, Leaf will return about 75 (comfortable) miles on each charge in ideal weather conditions. Distance to discharge is greatly affected by temperature and use of the climate-control system. The miles to empty dashboard indicator is fairly accurate and reduces range anxiety somewhat.

Charging is accomplished by simply plugging the charge cord into the wall and then into the front of the vehicle. It takes more time to wind and unwind the cord that it does to plug in.

On the Road  Due to the large battery pack, Leaf is heavier than a typical subcompact. That means the ride is better than expected. The suspension does a good job of smothering small impacts, but the occasional pot hole will pound through.

Thanks to ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires and a soft suspension, Leaf is a competent handling car and no more. There's little body lean, but the tires give up grip quickly. The electric steering feels quite natural most of the time, but isn't as responsive as it could be at parking-lot speeds. Brakes have adequate stopping power and they are easy to modulate--something that can't be said for all hybrid vehicles.

Thanks to having no gas engine, noise levels are low. Tire and wind noise are quite reasonable at highway speeds.

Behind the Wheel  Despite its electric-car underpinnings, Leaf sports a fairly conventional interior. The two-tier dashboard layout is similar to that found in the Honda Insight and works quite well. A large digital speedometer anchors the top tier. Charge indicator, efficiency gauge and battery temperature dominate the bottom display. Radio climate and navigation controls are conventionally placed in the center stack.

Materials are appropriate for the class and no more.

Front seats are comfortable and adequately supportive. Head room is great and leg room good. Getting in and out is easy and outward visibility is good. Rear-seat passengers are treated to better-than-expected head and leg room, but the seats are somewhat confining and the knees-up positioning will likely grow tiresome on long trips.

One downside is the climate control system. Heater output is meager and the AC doesn't cool as it would in a gas-powered car.

Cargo capacity is comparable to some other subcompacts, but limited overall because of the Leaf's battery pack. Rear seats fold, but create a step up in the load floor. Cabin storage is fine for the class and bolstered by a large glovebox and good-sized door pockets.

Bottom Line  For a first attempt at an all-electric vehicle Nissan did quite well with Leaf. It's best utilized as an urban vehicle because range decreases quickly on the highway. If you have the option of charging at home and work, Leaf can work with a daily commute of 50 miles or so. Anything beyond that, you might consider getting a hybrid or diesel.

Specifications 2012 Nissan Leaf SL
4-door hatchback
80 kW AC sync electric
Wheelbase, in.
Size, liters/cu. in.
Length, in.
Width, in.
Torque (lb.-ft.)
Height, in.
Single-Speed Automatic
Weight, lbs.
EPA MPG Equivalent
106 city / 92 highway
Cargo Capacity, cu. ft.
Fuel Capacity, kWh.
Manufacturer's Warranty
Seating Capacity
3 years / 36,000 miles
Front Head Room, in.
5 years / 60,000 miles
Front Leg Room, in.
5 years / Unlimited miles
Second-Row Head Room, in.
Free Roadside Assistance
3 years / 36,000 miles
Second-Row Leg Room, in.
Free Scheduled Maintenance

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.