September 26, 2016

By Mike Kluk

I recently test drove the all-electric Nissan Leaf at our local Nissan Dealer, Hanlees. This car runs entirely on the electric power stored in a lithium ion battery with no gas engine at all.

My wife and I were shown around the vehicle by Josh Herron, a personable young man who is working his way through UC Davis by selling cars. As the certified Leaf Specialist at Hanlees, Josh has received special training and did a good job answering all of our questions.

Sales are booming

Nissan has sold approximately 350,000 Leafs since it was introduced in model year 2011. That makes it the best selling all-electric vehicle ever. The Hanlees Davis dealership sells about 40 per year. So, the car is developing a local track record. (See links below about industry sales.)

Cost and credits

Our test vehicle was a top-of-the-line SL with all of the bells and whistles – including heated seats. (Obviously, not a vital option in Davis.) The MSRP for the vehicle was $39,580. There are two lesser trim styles, the S at the base and the SV in between. As with any car, standard features increase with the price. The S starts at $29,010 and the SV at $34,200.

If you lease a Leaf, the State of California will send you a check for $2500, thank-you very much.  Lease rates range from approximately $199 per month for the S model to $330 for the SL with a down payment of about $2,400.

If you purchase one, you still get the State incentive plus the federal government offers a $7500 tax credit. Both go a long way towards making the Leaf an affordable option.


One significant difference as you increase in price is additional battery capacity. The base model is advertised to go 84 miles on a charge. The higher trim levels can go up to 107 miles, illustrating one of the factors in considering purchase of a Leaf — limited range. This may not be the car for people who typically take long road trips. But for those who want a car to use primarily around town or commute to and from Sacramento, it could be a viable choice.

For those Davis and Sacramento residents who want to use the car to commute to and from the Bay Area every day, a Leaf would not to make it on a single charge. Those who are lucky enough to have a charging station at their destination should be in good shape. For others, there is the quick charge option.


A direct current fast charge station can deliver a full charge in 30 minutes. There are devoted Leaf owners who simply take a good book along and add a half hour to their commute in each direction. Home charging is not that quick. Using regular house current, a full charge will take 12 hours at 110 volts and 6 at 220 volts. The higher two trim levels come standard with the capacity for 110, 220, and quick charge.

2016 Nissan Leaf Home Charging Station
2016 Nissan Leaf Home Charging Station

To make life easier, the navigation system on the Leaf comes loaded with the location of charging stations across the country.

According to Nissan, there are 988 charging stations within a 100 mile radius of Davis.

Nissan provides a 7-year 100,000 mile warranty on the battery, not prorated. If the battery fails during that period, Nissan will replace it. Otherwise, battery life is expected to be in the 150,000 mile range. Replacing a battery will cost about $5,000.  The car does include an indicator showing the projected remaining life of the battery. The other warranties on the car are a standard 3-year 36,000 miles bumper to bumper and 5-year, 60,000 miles on the power train.

The electronics and dashboard display on the Leaf are impressive. You can see moment-to-moment how your driving is influencing the remaining power capacity of the battery. The on-board computer also analyzes your normal trips and driving styles over time and modifies the estimate of how many miles you can go on an existing charge accordingly. So, the remaining charge estimate should continually become more accurate.

Given that the Leaf has a finite battery capacity, it’s important to know how using the air conditioning and lights impacts range. Lights, being LED, will have very little effect. Even air conditioning seems surprisingly modest. The estimate of miles remaining on a charge automatically adjusts based on accessory use in the car. When we climbed in, the gauge said we had battery capacity for 88 miles. When we turned on the air conditioning, it dropped down only slightly to 84 miles.

2016 Leaf Driving Range Options.
2016 Leaf Driving Range Options.

Finally, getting down to the important part – the driving experience. The truth is the driving experience is not dramatic because the car feels like a “normal” compact car with a few exceptions. For one, there is no engine noise. In fact, Nissan, as have other makers, added a back-up beeper to give people a bit of warning. The “gear shift” has only two positions – forward and reverse. Some smart engineer at Nissan decided to design it so that you push the lever forward to put the car in reverse and pull it backwards to go forward. But once you get used to that, it’s extremely simple. Moving forward, there is of course no engine noise and road noise seemed modest.

The most noticeable difference with the Leaf is acceleration. The car accelerates very smartly from a standing stop up to about 40 miles per hour. After that it tails off a little but is still respectable at highway speeds. (The top speed is limited to 90 mph.)

2016 Nissan Leaf on the road.
2016 Nissan Leaf on the road.

The car is designed for 5 passengers. The front seats are very comfortable with surprising head room for a modern small car. Head room in the back is also quite good. Rear leg room is not exceptional but adequate. The side-to-side dimension in the rear seat is probably the most limiting factor. Three adults in the rear seat are going to be very cozy. This is not a road trip car when you have four friends. All Leaf models are hatch backs. The rear storage capacity seems quite reasonable.

Nissan has an excellent web site dedicated to the Leaf.  It will tell you how much you are likely to save in fuel costs given your current car and  driving habits and how many pounds of greenhouse gases you can expect to keep out of the atmosphere. The Leaf has some obvious limitations but a lot to offer as well. If you think an electric car may be in your future, the Leaf is well worth a look.

To check out the charging station situation, go to PlugShare and ChargePoint websites.

Check out this article (from last May) on the best selling electric cars.

More recent statistics show the Tesla S in the sales lead in 2015 with the Leaf a near second.

Check out the Clean Fleet Report for an updated report and a bit of spice into the information stew.