In the world of affordable electric vehicles, the Nissan Leaf
is a successful pioneer, with more than 500,000 sales world-wide since its launch a decade ago. Now in its second generation, the Leaf has progressed with an available, longer-range battery, plus more safety and convenience features.
But the 2021 Leaf is no longer alone in the entry-level EV segment, with the arrival of newer and highly competitive rivals, such as the Hyundai
Kona Electric, Kia
Niro EV, and Chevrolet Bolt.
In its favor, the base Leaf is still significantly cheaper than the competition, at $32,545 (including a $925 destination charge). Unfortunately, the 2021 Leaf S and SV trims equipped with a 40-kWh battery pack have a range of only 149 miles, well short of EV rivals that boast a range in excess of 250 miles.
To step up to a longer-range battery with the Leaf, buyers have to opt for the Leaf Plus trim levels, which sport a 62-kWh battery and a potential range of 226 miles, according to testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The least expensive Leaf Plus model starts at $39,170.
We remain fans of the Leaf’s extensive suite of safety features and the ability to manage battery charging remotely. As for practicality, the Leaf is a roomy vehicle, with seating for five and the cargo-carrying flexibility of its hatchback design.
As we enter 2021, the Leaf holds its place as an attractive offering among lower-priced EVs, but it faces serious and compelling competition.
What’s new for 2021?
There are no changes for 2021. The Leaf continues to offer two electric, front-wheel-drive powertrains. The Leaf S and SV trims come with a 110-kW motor and a 40-kWh battery, delivering an EPA range of 149 miles. Powering the S Plus, SV Plus, and SL Plus trims is a 160-kW motor and 62-kWh battery powertrain, which can travel up to 226 miles on a charge.
Inside, the Leaf’s comfortable five-passenger cabin has a 60/40-split rear seat, which makes up to 30 cubic feet of storage available with the seat folded.
The Plus models come as standard with Nissan’s ProPilot Assist system, which brings semi-autonomous driving features, including steering and braking assistance.
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A Nissan app allows Leaf owners to control and monitor vehicle charging remotely and precondition the car with cool or warm air while it is still connected to a charger.
As for battery charging, the Leaf can be charged up to 80% in 40-45 minutes at a public charging network station and the vehicle’s quick charge port. Otherwise, it’s a matter of using the vehicle’s portable charging cable to charge from a 120-volt or preferably a 240-volt outlet. The latter will take around seven hours, while a 120-volt connection will take much longer.
What we like
- Sprightly performance from Plus models
- Impressive safety equipment
- Practical, roomy cabin
What we don’t
- Poor range on the base model
$32,545 to $44,845 (includes $925 destination charge)
The EPA uses a different formula, MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) for calculating fuel economy with EVs. As such, the Leaf records a rating of 123 MPGe in the city, 99 MPGe on the highway, and 111 MPGe combined. The Leaf Plus comes in at 118 MPGe city/97 MPGe highway/108 MPGe combined.
Standard features and options
The 2021 Leaf comes with a choice of two powertrains and five trim levels. Starting with the base 40 kWh battery Leaf, there are two trims, S and SV. The 62 kWh Leaf Plus has three trim levels, S Plus, SV Plus and SL Plus.
The Leaf S ($32,545) has an impressive standard equipment list that includes front and rear disc brakes, e-pedal mode, hill start assist, power mirrors, cruise control, push-button start, six airbags, an 8-inch screen display, automatic climate control, and emergency braking system. The safety features also include lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist.
There is an optional charge package with a 50 kW quick charge port and a 240 Volt charge cable.
To the S content, the SV ($35,835) adds standard 17-in alloy wheels, a quick charge port, heated front seats, heated mirrors, and an improved sound system. A number of options on the SV include Nissan ProPilot Assist, which adds semi-autonomous driver aids, an 8-way power driver seat, LED headlights, and an electronic parking brake.
Stepping up to the Leaf Plus, the S trim ($39,145) includes the 62 kWh battery with 226 miles range, together with a 100 kW quick charge port. The SV Plus ($41,395) adopts the content of the regular SV, with the addition of the larger, 62 kWh battery.
At the top of the hill is the SL Plus ($44,845), which adds standard LED headlights, intelligent around-view monitor, leather seats and ProPilot assist driver aid system.
The Leaf has scored well in crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The vehicle also comes with a comprehensive suite of safety systems and driver assistance technologies. Some of the more advanced semi-autonomous driving aids are available on upper trim levels.
Behind the wheel
For their size, EVs are heavy because of their batteries and like some of its EV rivals, the Leaf feels a tad cumbersome to drive. Compared with similar-size conventionally powered vehicles, the Leaf’s handling is less responsive on winding roads. On the other hand, the Leaf, especially in the Plus version, does provide the snappy acceleration quality that most EVs are known for.
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Another special aspect of the Leaf driving experience is its e-Pedal feature, which makes it possible to control the car’s progress by just using the throttle pedal. The driver can select different regenerative braking modes so that when lifting off the throttle, the car will either coast or slow down as braking energy is used to recharge the battery.
As an early player in the EV market, Nissan has built considerable credibility with the Leaf. It may not be the best in terms of battery range, but in most other respects it deserves serious consideration.
Other cars to consider
2021 Hyundai Kona Electric—We like the Kona Electric for its distinctive looks, good range, driving qualities, and excellent warranty.
2021 Chevrolet Bolt—The Bolt is quick off the mark, good fun to drive, and goes further than the Leaf Plus on a charge, making it a worthy EV candidate.
2021 Kia Niro EV—A little less impressive than its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Kona Electric, the Kia EV has lots of safety features and a long warranty.
Used Tesla Model 3—Excellent performance, handling, and long battery range make a used version of this Tesla a standout among EVs. But Tesla’s
quality reputation is questionable compared with mainstream automakers.
We would definitely opt for the Leaf Plus over the standard version for the extra battery range. That said, the Leaf S Plus trim level makes the most sense for buyers looking for a balance of range and cost.
This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.