Mountain Wheels: Best-selling Nissan Leaf offers affordable EV adventures

With more than a half-million sold across the world, the Nissan Leaf continues to offer practical all-electric motoring.
Courtesy photo

Things in the electric vehicle world have definitely changed in the past two years, as nearly every automobile company has finally entered the market.

That includes some very expensive models (the Mercedes EQS, plus Rivian and Lucid — vehicles I hope to drive soon), but hasn’t produced a lot of affordable entry points, so far.

As a result, the Nissan Leaf — which has been slightly refreshed for the new 2023 model year — remains a practical starting point for people interested in getting involved in EV culture, but not quite ready for the bigger prices (or total lack of availability) of many of the newcomers.

You can get a basic Leaf for $27,800, before any EV credits, and you’ll have a perfectly decent, front-wheel-drive machine with an EPA-estimated 149-mile range from its 40 kilowatt-hour battery.

I spent some time this spring in the 2022 Leaf SL Plus, which started at $37,400 and gains a 62 kWh battery that pushed its range to 215 miles.

Those numbers have been slightly recomputed for 2023, with a 60 kWh battery now rated at 212 miles of range — not a huge difference, but the base price for the SV Plus is also down to $35,800. It is officially rated at 104 electric mpg, city and highway mileage combined.

My experiences in the Leaf were much as they were when the second-generation model came out a few years back, which is to say, not bad. Globally, Leaf has sold nearly 600,000 cars since it debuted in 2011, and the small EV continues to offer a comfortable and accomplished package that adventurous types could probably also run in the winter, with the right tires and a warm garage to keep it charged.

Real-world mileage is often far higher than those EPA figures, and power is certainly enough to help you keep up with non-EVs, especially when you put the Leaf’s 214 hp into play while taking off from a stop sign.

The 2023 refresh will bring a new front fascia and headlamps, as well as optional 17-inch wheels; the interior apparently won’t change that much, meaning it’s still an attractive and no longer painfully-futuristic automobile, minus maybe its crazy gearshifter control.

Even I can’t quite explain why many companies are pushing their debut EVs as six-figure automobiles, though it does portend well for Nissan as Leaf’s technology is pretty well-established. The range remains competitive (for drivers who can live with restrictions).

You’re probably well aware of the limitations of the high-speed public charging network in Summit County, but local officials say they are working to expand those offerings, and Leaf’s range is at least enough to comfortably reach a broader range of multi-branded charging stations in metro Denver. You’ll also have to factor in the minor range discrepancy caused by actually using the car’s heating or cooling systems.

As mentioned in my previous drives, a cool feature is the e-Pedal, which imbues the accelerator pedal with the full go-brake-stop feel you might find in an electric bus (or, golf cart). Ease off on the pedal and it will electrically slow itself even from highway speed — with brake lights to indicate to drivers behind you that it is doing so.

Leaf’s two models include Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 driver assistance system as standard offerings, with the ProPilot Assist and around-view monitor from larger Nissan products also included on the SV Plus models.

Conversely, if you’re on an even tighter budget and not quite as interested in the complexities of EV charging and range, you can also consider the Nissan Kicks — a subcompact crossover SUV that’s actually a little shorter than the Leaf, but starts at just $19,900.

I had a moderately upscale SR edition for $21,940, but you’ve got to pay about $5,000 extra to get some of the add-ons you might find necessary: 17-inch wheels, heated front seats, a Bose audio system and a roof-rack package.

I did not know (but do now) that Kicks originally debuted in Brazil, hence the name, and has served as the replacement to the odd Juke since 2018. Kicks received a significant redesign in 2021, and boasts 36 highway mpg — but that’s largely due to its relatively austere 122-horsepower 1.6-liter engine, shared with the Versa.

Andy Stonehouse, Summit Daily News
Andy Stonehouse

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