Review of: 2016 Nissan LEAF 4dr HB SL
2016 Nissan Leaf: Now with longer range
By Jil McIntosh
Nov. 4, 2016
So if Nissan improves its electric car, is that a re-Leaf?
Okay, sorry about that. But for 2016, Nissan has beefed up the Leaf, in a manner of speaking. While the base S trim line is unchanged with a 24 kWh battery, the SV and SL trims receive a new 30 kWh battery that Nissan says provides a 27 per cent increase in range.
Everything varies in real-world driving, but according to EPA estimates, the bigger battery provides a range of 172 kilometres, versus 133 km for the 24 kWh battery. The update is in the lithium-ion cells, so the battery itself doesn’t get any bigger or heavier, and the company says it’s more durable when quick-charged—if you can find such a rare unit to plug into, of course.
The 2016 Leaf also adds standard NissanConnect with mobile app integration, including a five-inch colour screen on the S, and 7-inch on SV and SL models. The system allows owners to connect remotely to the car, including initiating charging or turning on the climate control while the car’s plugged in.
How much it costs may depend on where you live. The S starts at $32,698, and the SV at $37,398. My SL tester rang in at $40,548, plus an additional $300 for its optional coat of Deep Blue Pearl paint, for $40,848. But because I live in Ontario, I’m eligible for a provincial rebate of $10,764, bringing my tester to $30,084 before freight and taxes. British Columbia and Quebec are currently the only other provinces offering such incentives. Ain’t it great when other people pay to fund your vehicle-buying decision?
Pros & Cons
- + surprisingly spacious interior
- + Comfortable front seats
- + Driveability
- - Wind noise
- - Styling
- - Turning circle
There’s no sugar-coating this: the Leaf isn’t winning any beauty contests. About the best you can say is that no one will mistake it for anything else on the road.
The base S comes with 16-inch steel wheels, but the SV and SL swap them out for 17-inch alloy wheels, clad in all-season tires. All models include a tire pressure monitoring system with Nissan’s Easy-Fill, which chirps the horn when you’re adding air to the tires to indicate you’ve reached the proper pressure. Unique to my top-line SL tester are automatic LED headlamps and fog lamps.
The SL also includes a standard solar panel on top of the spoiler. It doesn’t affect the main battery, but rather, helps to charge the 12-volt battery that runs the vehicle accessories. Nissan says it will help maintain the charge, but it cannot charge a battery that’s gone dead. (While the 30 kWh battery is warrantied for 8 years or 160,000 km, the 12-volt battery may require periodic replacement, just the same as on a conventional vehicle.)
The Leaf’s interior is fairly roomy for the car’s size, and the seats are supportive. They’re clad in leather on the SL, and they’re heated in all trim lines, along with a standard heated steering wheel.
That might seem odd, given that these features tend to be power hogs, but there’s a method to the madness. It takes much less energy to warm a seat than to warm the entire cabin, and a driver whose hands and butt are toasty tends to turn down the cabin heat. The Leaf can be programmed to pre-heat or pre-cool while it’s plugged in, drawing power from the grid rather than cutting into the battery’s driving range.
There are numerous little storage cubbies up front for small items, and the rear seats fold for extra cargo space. Because the battery’s under the floor, the cargo area has a low floor too, handy for stowing taller objects. However, the SL comes standard with a Bose premium audio system that commands a chunk of the space.
The centre stack controls are intuitive and their buttons are large, although I’d prefer a volume dial to the toggle provided. The switch for the driver’s auto up/down window and the power mirrors are backlit, but the lock buttons are not. Power draw or not, that’s a serious omission in a car that locks automatically, doesn’t pop them open again until the ignition is shut off, and won’t let you override the lock with the inside handle. Passengers should never be left struggling to figure out how to get out of a vehicle in the dark.
All trims include a rearview camera, USB connection port and satellite radio, while the SV and SL trims add navigation and remote vehicle connection so you can monitor the battery level and start the charging if the Leaf is plugged in. The SL also includes a 360-degree camera and Bose premium audio system.
The navigation system includes a range feature that shows approximately how far you can travel from your current position on the amount of battery power you have left. If you need to charge, you can use it to find the closest charging station and then have the system route you to it.
The larger battery gives you more range, but of course there’s more to it than that. How far you can go depends on numerous factors, including your driving habits, ambient temperature, the type of terrain, and how much you use the heater or air conditioning.
I showed a range of as high as 205 kilometres when the battery was fully charged, but the car keeps a “running tally” of what you’re doing and changes that number when appropriate. The range doesn’t necessarily drop by one kilometre after you’ve driven one kilometre. For example, on the highway and with my lights, defroster and wipers working, I travelled only three kilometres but my remaining range dropped by ten. While the range shown on the dash can be very optimistic when you first unplug the car after charging it, the published estimated range of 172 km takes actual driving into account.
Once I got off the highway and back to city speeds, my range came up by a few kilometres to reflect my new driving habits. Putting the car into “Eco” mode ups the range number considerably, but it then slogs along and stiffens the throttle so it’s much harder to push.
The larger battery takes a little longer to charge: 5.5 to 9 hours on a 240-volt charger, versus 4 to 7 hours for the smaller battery in the S.
Once you’ve figured out the wonky little saucer that serves as the shift lever, the Leaf struts its stuff. Unlike a gasoline engine that has to rev up before it makes its power, an electric motor provides its full torque immediately. The Leaf accelerates smartly when required, such as when you’re merging into a highway, and it has no problem at all maintaining that higher speed once you’re on. It’s rated at 107 horsepower and 187 lb.-ft. of torque.
The steering is dialled in well, and the Leaf drives and handles similarly to conventional gasoline vehicles in the segment, although the turning circle is fairly wide. It slinks along silently at low speeds, but as with all electrics or hybrids, there’s enough tire noise at higher speeds (and in the Leaf’s case, a lot of wind noise) that it sounds more like a conventional car as well.
Of course there may still be issues with “range anxiety,” the fear that one will run out of power before getting to a plug, but as with any vehicle, whether the Leaf is the right choice for you depends on numerous factors. Just as a Smart may be the best car for a downtown-based couple, but useless for someone with three children, the Leaf could well be a consideration for those who don’t regularly take long-distance drives—it’s estimated the average Canadian drives 42 km per day—and can install a charging station at home.
Value is always a tough call when you’re wondering if you’ll save money buying an alternative-fuel vehicle over a conventional one. According to Natural Resources Canada, charging up the Leaf for a year should average about $446. By comparison, it’s $1,657 to gas up the Nissan Versa Note hatchback for a year. But the Leaf runs from $32,698 to $40,548 (before any provincial rebates), while a Versa is $14,498 to $19,748. What you make up in propulsion, you lose on the window sheet.
But it’s likely that most people considering an electric car are putting much of the emphasis on factors such as no emissions, or the unique experience of driving entirely electric, rather than primarily for saving on gas. So when comparing the Leaf to other electrics or extended-range, it’s about mid-pack.
The Mitsubishi i-MiEV starts at $27,998, while the Ford Focus Electric begins at $31,999 (all prices before any rebates). Other choices include the Kia Soul EV at $35,195; the BMW i3 starting at $45,300; and the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt, which GM says will have a range of 383 kilometres and start at $42,795.
For those who like electric but prefer an extended-range vehicle, there’s also the Chevrolet Volt starting at $38,390, and the BMW i3 with optional range extended engine for $49,300.
Despite more automakers coming out with electric cars, and tightening federal standards that favour them, they’re still not hot commodities. Nissan introduced the Leaf six years ago and has only just recently sold its 350,000th one globally. It’s not the car for everyone, but on the other hand, it may work for many people who haven’t yet considered it. And with the longer range, there’s even more of a chance it might.