The car itself is a snappy subcompact that is fun to drive. With electric motor torque highest at low speeds, acceleration is quick, but I suspect that Nissan programmed the control electronics not to put out as much torque as possible to cut battery draw rate and increase battery life. That conclusion is based on independent tests that come up with a 0-60 mph time of 7 seconds (The company doesn't quote acceleration times for its cars).
The Leaf is very quiet without an internal combustion engine, and produces its own unique electrical motor whirring. Because of the low sound level, below 19 mph (30 kph) a Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians system sounds a high-pitched tone as a warning. This is not noticeable in the cabin with the windows up (at least with my ears), and the system can be turned off if desired.
On the interior, the seats are manually adjusted to avoid power draw and there are no seat heaters. (The Chevy Volt uses seat heaters in an economy mode to heat the driver before heating the entire cabin.) The heater or air conditioning can be programmed to heat or cool the car at a specific time before driving, so as to use battery charger power to pre-heat or cool the car rather than tapping the battery.
Under the hood, the transverse-mounted electric motor and low-voltage systems' 12V battery look like an ordinary gasoline powered subcompact. High-voltage orange cables are at a minimum to the eye.
Outside, it is evident that the Leaf has been fine tuned aerodynamically. Overall drag coefficient is 0.29, according to Nissan. At the front, the headlight housings stand proud of the hood and are pointed to the center, which directs airflow around the side mirrors, cutting wind noise due to the mirrors as well. The driver can also adjust the up/down angle of the headlight beam with a small wheel on the dash if needed under certain loading situations.
The car's underside is flat to further lower drag, and diffuser elements direct the high-pressure air below the Leaf rearward as opposed to curving out and up the side, which increases induced drag.
The Leaf SV model I drove is priced at $32,780 MSRP. A U.S. federal tax credit of $7,500 cuts the cost penalty for new technology, and some states may even have further incentives (such as California's CARB rebate up to $5,000 [Ed. Note: No wonder the state is almost bankrupt!]
. An SL model for $940 more has a solar panel on the rear spoiler to charge the 12V battery for the audio, wipers, and lights. Also in the SL package are a rearview monitoring camera, fog lights, and automatic headlights. The Li-ion battery is warranted for eight years or 100,000 miles.
All in all, the Leaf is a credible first attempt at a modern production electric car, ideal for commuting—as long as one has 220V overnight charging capacity.