2016 Nissan Leaf

Starting MSRP: $29,010 - $36,790

Estimated MPG: 126 city / 101 hwy

2016 Nissan Leaf Review

Now in its sixth year, the Nissan Leaf remains the champion among all-electric vehicles, and there’s no doubt this little foliage-inspired EV is fun to drive. Thanks to a well-placed lithium-ion battery, the 2016 Leaf feels solidly planted, taking turns like a low-slung coupe. But don’t accelerate too quickly after said turns because you’ll be wasting your precious electric charge.

By Melanie Batenchuk
Last Updated 05/12/2016

Nissan gives us three versions of its all-electric Leaf: the S, SV and SL. The S is the most affordable of the models. Even though it provides the fewest standard features of the three, it offers certain options customers may want, such as a quick-charge port that allows you to charge to 80 percent capacity in just 30 minutes. Nissan has upgraded the battery pack for higher trims, boosting electric mileage by 27 percent for the 2016 model year.

Design-wise, not much has changed on the Leaf. It has become more angular over the years, giving it a sleek but still aerodynamic appearance. This Nissan EV seats five and has a rear hatch, but storage isn't particularly generous. You will be hard-pressed to accommodate luggage for a party of five if you’re embarking upon a weekend trip with friends or family.

The Leaf’s ease of use and enjoyable driving experience make this EV an attractive buy for both urbanites and suburbanites living near the proper charging infrastructure, particularly if opting for the 30-kilowatt battery that provides 107 miles of range.

Exterior

Exterior
7

The Nissan Leaf is not the most beautiful of vehicles -- its aesthetic likely evokes mixed feelings among the general public -- but its shape and design have actually been carefully crafted for aerodynamics. And if you enjoy a design on the quirky side, the Leaf may be the right choice. Personally, we like that this Nissan stands out from the crowd.

The midrange SV model we tested came with upgraded split five-spoke 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, heated sideview mirrors and Nissan’s Intelligent Key with charge port door release. The S trim gets 16-inch steel wheels and wheel covers that reduce wind resistance.

Sadly, a sunroof is not an option on the Leaf as it adds weight, which would reduce range. But you won't miss it, since the height of the roofline, the rear hatch and the other windows provide substantial airiness.

Interior

Interior
9

Nissan keeps the Leaf's interior minimal yet functional, providing an ergonomic feel. The funky shift knob rests out of the way between driver and passenger. The center stack remains free from clutter, holding just the essential tactile buttons and a 7-inch color touch screen (the S gets a 5-inch screen) for NissanConnect with navigation and smartphone app integration (features on the higher SV and SL trims). Controls mounted to the left of the steering wheel allow you to access the charging port and heat the steering wheel.

While the interior is simple, it does not feel overly basic. The Leaf utilizes strategic materials placement, with soft-touch materials showing up in the places where it matters most. Keeping in mind that Nissan must employ lightweight materials to maximize its all-electric range, the materials found inside the Leaf are comparable to those seen in similarly priced vehicles on the market. Padded surfaces top the center armrest and the elbow rests for the driver and passenger, and the seats are nicely upholstered with supportive cushions. Doors give a solid sound when closed, and the Leaf’s interior parts feel sturdy and built to last.

We like the simplicity and openness of the Leaf’s cabin, which is free of distractions for the driver and passenger. Nissan has established the unique all-electric driving experience as the central focal point in this vehicle. Even with manual-only seat adjustment, drivers of varying heights and sizes should easily find a comfortable position inside the Leaf.

The seats are quite supportive and comfortable, and with front heated seats now standard on all 2016 models, drivers can stay cozy. With the NissanConnect telematics system, owners can precondition their vehicle to be warm or cool before getting in.

SV and SL models also get a standard heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Leather upholstery and heated rear seats are standard on the top SL model, but we found the eco-friendly cloth to be a perfectly good substitute.

The Leaf technically seats five, but we think you’d be more comfortable with four. The car feels spacious inside, but it is still a compact vehicle. Nissan has placed the battery pack in the least obtrusive place possible: beneath the rear passenger seats. While this does well for the seating position, it poses a challenge for cargo capacity. The Leaf offers just 24 cubic feet for cargo with rear seats upright and 30 cubic feet when these seats are folded down.

Also, the Leaf's cargo area isn't as usable as it could be. Even though the rear seats fold down and include a pass-through, they don't create a flat-load floor, and the uneven surface makes it awkward to transport something like a table or large portrait. Other electric vehicles, such as Volkswagen’s e-Golf, have achieved the desired fold-flat functionality, and we would like to see the same here with the Leaf.

Performance

Performance
9

All Leaf models come with an electric-only engine. The S gets a 24-kilowatt battery while SV and SL trims get the new 30-kilowatt battery, which adds less than 50 pounds to the car’s total weight. Off the line, this EV feels sprightly thanks to 107 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of instant torque. The car's all-electric driving experience is both unique and enjoyable.

As is the case with every electric vehicle, range is limited to some degree. Nissan’s Leaf S with the smaller battery goes an EPA-estimated 84 miles on a fully charged battery, while the SV and SL models achieve closer to 107 miles on a full charge. Our test Leaf displayed 121 miles when juiced up. However, variables such as driving style, drive mode and environmental conditions can easily impact the Leaf’s total estimated range.

The Leaf S garners an EPA-estimated 126/101 mpg-equivalent city/highway. The SV and SL trims manage 124/101 mpg-equivalent. As far as total range goes, the Leaf is right on par with other similarly sized (and priced) electric-only cars.

Thanks to the low placement of the battery pack, the Leaf exhibits punchy handling. It takes off easily, because unlike an internal combustion engine, this EV has direct access to its torque. Regenerative braking means the brake pedal will be a little softer than a conventional vehicle's, but we think the ability to regain range by taking advantage of the energy wasted when coasting is well worth it.

Technology

Technology
9

Technology is the heart and soul of the 2016 Nissan Leaf, but it’s present beneath the surface, rather than in gadgets at the driver’s fingertips.

The driver gets an eyebrow-shaped display visible above the steering wheel that shows Nissan’s Eco indicator and speedometer. Behind the steering wheel, drivers can monitor the Leaf’s state-of-charge, battery temperature, remaining energy and distance-to-empty, among other information.

Inside the center stack, S trims get a 5.0-inch color display with NissanConnect, which provides access to smartphone apps like Pandora, Facebook and Google search. SV and SL cars come with an upgraded 7.0-inch touch screen, a rearview camera, navigation with NavTraffic (part of SiriusXM subscription) and a NissanConnect EV telematics system allowing owners to remotely connect to the vehicle. Nissan’s Around View Monitor is optional, providing a 360-degree view around the Leaf to ease parking maneuvers.

When paired with Bluetooth, NissanConnect allows for hands-free texting through voice commands, including stock responses that are automatically generated, such as “driving, can’t text” and “on my way.”

Base models receive four speakers, and the top two trims get six. For an additional $1,570, buyers of the SV and SL can opt for a Bose audio system with seven speakers as part of the Premium package.

Safety

Safety
8

Each Leaf comes standard with dual-stage front air bags, seat belt sensors and occupant classification sensors. Other air bags are mounted in the front seat, roof and rear seats to provide additional protection.

The 2016 Leaf received a Good rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the moderate overlap front, side and roof strength tests. It received a "Poor" score for the small overlap front test, which targets an increasingly common crash area on vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Leaf four out of five stars for its overall performance in front crash, side crash and rollover tests.

Cost-Effectiveness

Cost-Effectiveness
9

For those itching to get into an electric vehicle, the Leaf is one of the most affordable options on the market when considering the federal tax credit of $7,500 in addition to state-specific incentives.

The Leaf S starts at $29,010, while the top SL model starts at $36,790. Our test car -- the Leaf SV -- rang in at $36,800, including upgraded floor mats for $180, the Premium package at $1,570 and the $850 destination fee.

The price is competitive to what you’ll find with other EVs, but when comparing it with non-electric cars, one may find better bang for the buck with a small compact car such as a Hyundai Elantra or the Honda Civic. However, buyers of EVs are not necessarily looking to drive the same vehicles purchased by the general population. They want something unique, and they typically value eco-consciousness over other factors.

Overall

Overall
9

Nissan’s innovative approach to all-electric driving initially made the Leaf desirable mainly to early adopters of new technologies. Today, the Leaf’s appeal has grown to include mainstream shoppers looking to save on fuel costs. The car is quirky and has a design that befits its personality. We like that the Leaf looks different from other vehicles on the road, and its blue chrome accents help differentiate it from gas-powered cars.

We prefer the upgraded battery to the smaller one found only on the S trim. The improvements in initial power and acceleration smoothness are noticeable relative to the 2015 model we tested. Standard features, technology and electric range are comparable to other EVs. What makes the Leaf stand out from the competition is its lack of fussiness. It's simple to operate, without feeling too generic or basic. With this Nissan, it's easy to get comfortable driving an electric vehicle.

If cargo-hauling capability is your primary concern, we’d strongly consider Volkswagen’s e-Golf over the Leaf due to that vehicle’s superior practicality. Its 60/40 split rear seats fold completely flat, making the cargo space more usable. However, keep in mind that the e-Golf has limited availability and isn't offered in all markets.