Expert review written by the Kelley Blue Book vehicle review editorial team.
In an effort to make electric-vehicle technology available to the masses, the 2013 Nissan Leaf becomes the most affordable 5-passenger electric car on the market. While limited range makes it an impractical choice for some buyers, the Leaf is something of a revelation for thrifty commuters who wish to go green without breaking the bank.
You'll Like The 2013 Nissan LEAF If...
Whether you seek to reduce your carbon footprint, eliminate fuel costs, or simply despise gas stations, the all-electric 2013 Nissan Leaf won’t disappoint. In addition, the Leaf’s new pricing strategy proposes a strong affordability advantage over competitors like the Ford Focus EV, Honda Fit EV, and plug-in Chevrolet Volt.
You May Not Like The 2013 Nissan LEAF If...
If you have an unpredictable driving schedule, travel more than 100 miles per day, or live in a residence without 220-volt power support, we recommend setting your eco aspirations on a plug-in hybrid like the new Ford C-Max Energi, Prius Plug-in or the Chevrolet Volt.
Now in its third year of production, the Nissan Leaf undergoes a significant price reduction along with a number of enhancements for the 2013 model year. Key revisions to the lineup include a new entry-level "S" trim, a newly available onboard 220-volt charger that reduces charging time to roughly four hours, and improved energy efficiency thanks to refined aerodynamics, additional regenerative breaking capabilities, and better energy management.
The 2013 Nissan Leaf’s contemporary exterior is complemented by a futuristic yet user-friendly interior. The spacious greenhouse can accommodate four full-size adults and a small amount of cargo. Furthermore, the tall roofline and generous expanses of glass give the cabin an airy feel. The front seats are relatively comfortable, though they don’t provide much side support. In a nod to the Leaf’s eco-friendly mission, the seat upholstery is crafted from recycled materials. And since a bag of golf clubs nearly exceeds the physical limitations of the diminutive 11.7-cubic-foot cargo bay, the rear seat features a 60/40-split design for transporting larger items.
Although it might seem as if Nissan’s design team borrowed a few styling cues from a 1980s sci-fi film, the Leaf’s unconventional shape was developed to optimize aerodynamic efficiency. Additional streamlining elements include contoured taillights, ultra-lightweight alloy wheels wrapped in low-rolling-resistance tires, and headlight fins that direct air away from the side mirrors. These wind- cheating components yield a slippery 0.29 drag coefficient while helping to minimize wind noise. Recharging the Leaf is a relatively simple process, as the charge port resides conveniently within the front grille area.
Save for the absence of engine noise, the 2013 Nissan Leaf drives and handles like any mainstream vehicle. Whether in urban stop-and-go traffic or on a windy back road, we found the Leaf to be utterly unremarkable, and we mean that in a good way. The electric motor’s abundance of low-end torque provides brisk acceleration, particularly when pulling away from a stop. Although it restricts overall power output, activating the driver-selectable Eco mode can boost maximum range by nearly ten percent. The electric power steering is light and properly weighted for both highway and city driving. Press on the brakes and you’ll notice that the 2013 Leaf lacks the vague, unnatural brake feel associated with most regenerative braking systems. Even the low-rolling-resistance tires serve up more grip than expected, allowing, if not encouraging, a modicum of spirited motoring.
Starting just under $30,000, the 2013 Nissan Leaf undercuts the previous 2012 pricing structure by over $6,000. Thankfully, this price drop does not come at the expense of standard equipment. Best of all, the Leaf qualifies for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, plus an additional $2,500 in rebates from select states. Both the Ford Focus EV and plug-in Chevy Volt begin in the $40,000 range, while the lease-only Honda Fit EV comes out to right around $37,000 at the end of the 36-month term. Each of these competitors is eligible for the aforementioned rebates. To get a clearer idea of what people in your market area are paying for the 2013 Leaf, take a look at KBB.com’s Fair Purchase Price at the bottom of this page. Due to tepid demand and aggressive incentives, the 2013 Nissan Leaf, like all electric vehicles, is expected to retain below average residual values.
In base "S" form, the 2013 Nissan Leaf includes automatic climate control, keyless access with push-button start, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and a 4-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port for portable music players. Mid-tier SV models add navigation, Pandora Internet radio compatibility for iPhones, and aluminum-alloy wheels, while the range-topping SL trim includes a solar panel on the rear spoiler, low-draw LED headlights, and a quick-charge port capable of delivering an 80 percent recharge in 30 minutes with a public DC fast charger. In terms of safety, every 2013 Leaf comes equipped with six airbags, a full range of electronic stability aids, and three years of complimentary roadside assistance.
The Nissan Leaf sees a handful of enticing new features added to its options list for 2013. Chief among them is Nissan’s celebrated AroundView monitor, which provides a birds-eye view of the vehicle while parking, and a 7-speaker Bose premium audio system. Regardless of which model grade you choose, the 220-volt home charging station is a must-have for any electric car owner. This hardwired unit carries a rather lofty $2,200 price tag, though tax credits are available to help offset the cost.
CARWINGS TELEMATICSThis handy smartphone application allows Leaf owners to monitor their vehicle’s state of charge, begin or end a charging session, and adjust the climate controls from virtually anywhere.WHISPER-QUIET OPERATIONAlthough electric powertrains are inherently quiet, Nissan engineers worked to further reduce ambient noise levels by incorporating such sound-suppressing technologies as vortex-shedding body pieces, an acoustic front windshield, and an aerodynamic antenna. With the Nissan Leaf, tranquility comes standard.
Under the Hood
Energized by a 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the floor (warranted for eight years/100,000 miles), the Leaf’s 80kW/107-horsepower motor churns out 207 lb-ft of torque from zero rpm. Power is directed to the front wheels via a single-speed reduction gear, enabling a 0-to-60-mph sprint of about 10 seconds with a top speed of 90 mph. In the end, the Leaf’s forte is an ability to run on inexpensive energy, and Nissan claims a full recharge will cost approximately $3.00. For those who are unfamiliar with electric cars, cold temperatures and aggressive driving habits will have a significant impact on total range, so be sure to consider the facts before heading to the dealership.AC synchronous electric motor24kWh lithium-ion battery pack80kW/107 horsepower @ 2,730-9,800 rpm207 lb-ft of torque @ 0-2,730 rpmEPA-estimated range: N/AEPA city/highway fuel economy equivalent: N/A mpge
The 2013 Leaf is the epitome of Nissan’s determination for the continual advancement of electric cars. Case in point, the 2013 Nissan Leaf boasts an extended range, faster charge times, and a new entry-level "S" trim that holds the title as the most affordable 5-passenger electric car on the market. Although the notion of owning and operating an electric car might seem a bit daunting, the Nissan Leaf delivers the same basic driving experience as its conventional rivals. In the end, however, the pitfall of every modern electric vehicle is limited range, and the Leaf’s EPA-estimated sub-100 mile range disqualifies it as a feasible alternative for many car shoppers. While the 2013 Leaf is unable to evade its fundamental shortcomings, green-minded buyers who have been waiting to purchase a reasonably-priced electric car will take delight in Nissan’s zero-emission marvel.