Well, the price is less.
Nissan’s Leaf electric car is now the least expensive electric car available in the United States – and the only EV that starts under $30k. Everything else that’s electrified has a base price well over $30k.
As the Leaf did, too – last year.
This year, it costs $4,200 less to start vs. last year’s Leaf (which stickered for $31,600 to start vs. $27,400 to start, this year).
This is not a small thing.
Unfortunately, Nissan’s little EV doesn’t go any farther this year – just 149 miles, like last year . . . unless you pay well over $30k for one with a stronger battery.
What It Is
The Leaf is the one new electric car you can buy that doesn’t cost over $30,000 to start.
That makes it the only EV that isn’t cost-competitive with entry-luxury cars, the cost of which renders their argument as economic alternatives to gasoline-powered cars more than a little silly.
Dimensionally, it can be compared with Nissan’s Versa sedan as both are about the same length overall and similarly shaped – though the Leaf has more cargo-carrying capacity because it’s a hatchback while the Versa is a sedan with a smaller trunk.
Well, there are some other differences to consider, too – both of them a function of their differing means of propulsion.
The 2022 Leaf’s base price is $27,400 – vs. $14,980 for the Versa. At these prices, the Leaf can travel about half as far as the Versa – 149 miles vs. about 300 miles for its non-electric sibling. The Leaf can be “fueled” at home – by plugging it into a household 120 volt or 240 volt (doubled up) outlet, but the Versa can be back on the road after less than five minutes – as opposed to the several hours it takes to instill significant recharge into any EV’s battery pack at home.
If you want to go farther than 149 miles on a charge, Nissan offers a “Plus” version of the Leaf, which can get you 226 miles down the road.
That’ll cost you $32,400 to start.
A top-of-the-line Leaf SL Plus stickers for $35,400. This one comes with the stronger battery and more range, plus leather trim as well as a home-type heat pump for the cabin that warms the car more efficiently than a resistance heater (similar to baseboard heating in a home) and a premium seven speaker Bose audio system.
In addition to a lower base price, all versions of the ’22 Leaf come standard with Level 3 charging capability – meaning you can plug them into commercial high-voltage (400-900 volt) “fast” chargers available outside the home – in addition to the 120V and 240 V outlets available in private homes.
This reduces the time to recover 80 percent charge from several hours or more to 30-45 minutes or so.
But keep in mind that you cannot “fast” charge any EV at home – because private homes aren’t wired for it. That means driving to the “fast” charger – and waiting there, for the car to recharge.
It’s a few thousand less than it was – to start.
About twice as much available cargo space vs. Chevy Bolt.
Newly standard “fast” charge capability gets you going again, sooner.
What’s Not So Good
Lower price doesn’t come with increased range.
“Fast” charging is still glacially slow relative to fueling up a non-EV.
Don’t forget to factor in the cost of updating your house’s wiring, if you’re not wired for 240 volt charging – as well as the cost of replacing the Leaf’s battery, eventually.
One thing about electric cars vs. non-electric cars that will make shopping for an EV easier is there’s less to consider. All EVs have battery packs and electric motors – and there’s not much difference between them.
One may be larger – or smaller – than another. Or more – or less – powerful. But it’s nothing like the difference between a turbocharged in-line four cylinder engine and a V8. Also, most EVs don’t have transmissions – the electric motor directly drives the wheels – so no need to ponder the pros and cons of a manual vs. and automatic or a dual-clutch automatic vs. a continuously variable (CVT) automatic).
With the Leaf, you have two choices to ponder regarding the first.
The base trim that costs $4,200 less this year than last year comes with a 40 kilowatt-hour battery pack and a 147 horsepower electric motor, driving the front wheels. This combo has a maximum range of about 149 miles – making this version of the Leaf the electric car with the shortest leash of any new EV.
That’s the price you pay for not spending more than $30k.
Plus versions of the Leaf get a stronger, 60 kilowatt-hour battery pack and a more powerful 214 horsepower electric motor, also driving the front wheels. Equipped with this combo, the Leaf can go about 226 miles.
The cost of that additional 77 miles of range is $5,000 – the difference in price between the base Leaf and the Plus Leaf.
To put that in some cost-benefit perspective, a non-electric Versa can travel 152 miles farther than the Plus version of the Leaf – approximately 378 highway miles on 10.8 gallons of gas – for $17,420 less.
Or put another way, one could buy two Versas (at $14,980 each) for less than the cost of one Leaf Plus.
On The Road
Leaving that aside, there’s no denying EVs are quieter than non-electric cars – in fact, EVs are silent when not moving, even though they are running.
Nor that their throttle response is more immediate, notwithstanding they haven’t got throttles.
Combustion engines have to run – must rev – to make power. That means it takes a moment or so to make power. Which means even if they make a lot of power, it’s not as right now power as you get in an EV, because electric motors make their maximum torque immediately.
That’s why the Leaf – even the one without the Plus upgrade – is quicker-feeling as well as actually quicker than most non-electric economy cars like its sibling, the Versa. The latter needs almost ten second to get to 60 MPH – vs. in the sevens for the Leaf.
The electrically-motivated Leaf also has more immediate power for bobbing and weaving in traffic. Which is also a function of the immediacy of the power delivery from the motor to the wheels, directly – without any intermediary (i.e, a transmission). Eliminating the middle man – so to speak – also eliminates the shifts. So there’s no delay in between gear swaps.
Instead, it just goes.
But it doesn’t go very far. 149 miles is less than half as far as almost any non-electric car can go and much less far than other electric cars can go, too.
It’s no big risk to run a non-electric car to near-empty because it’s so easy and so fast to refuel to full, practically anywhere. But you run the risk of a long wait – at least 30-45 minutes, at a “fast” charger – if you run out of range in an EV.
The wait will be much longer if you run out of range before you make it to a “fast” charger.
Range also varies greatly in an EV depending on usage – and more so than in a non-electric car. The touted maximum range depends for its realization on a light right foot – and moderate temperatures, outside. The updated Plus model has a new heat pump system that draws less electricity than a resistance-type heater (like the space heaters you plug into a wall outlet) but you’re still drawing electricity to make heat, which saps range – as is the case when you turn on any electrically-powered accessory in the Leaf or any other electric car.
Temperature matters more, too – and not only because if it’s cold out (as it was during this test drive) you will be more likely to turn on the heat – as well as the lights, probably, because when it’s cold it gets darker, sooner. Colder outside temps also reduce range because cold impinges upon battery performance (it is also necessary to keep the battery heated when it’s cold outside, which uses electricity, too).
The tested Leaf S had a real-world leash of about 100 miles – leaving a 20-something mile safety margin on the range indicator – to avoid the very real risk of rolling to a stop several miles shy of a place to plug in and thus have to wait . . . by the side of the road, for a tow truck or a charge truck.
The car’s modest range can be ok – if you generally don’t need to travel farther than 100 miles per trip and can plug in – conveniently – at home and be sleeping or doing some other needful thing while the Leaf (or any EV, for that matter) recovers its lungs.
Or rather, its volts.
But it still seems silly – if not bizarre – to even entertain such a thing when a non-electric car that costs about half as much – such as the Versa – can go more than twice as far and takes a fraction as long to get going again, practically anywhere.
At The Curb
The Leaf looks like what it isn’t – which is to say, like an inexpensive, compact-sized economy hatchback.
That would be the Versa.
However, the Leaf is more practical in some ways than the Versa – which works well as a commuter car but not as well as a family car, on account of its small (14.7 cubic foot) trunk and its tight (31 inches of legroom) back seats.
On these two counts the Leaf excels, with 23.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind its second row and 30 cubic feet if you fold them down. There’s also 33.5 inches of backseat legroom, which – combined with the cargo room – makes the Leaf viable as a primary or even only car for a small family.
Provided you don’t take long family trips.
On that count, electric models with more standard range like the Bolt and Kona work better – but it’ll cost you as much to drive them as it costs to buy an entry-luxury non-electric car .
And you’ll still have to wait for those “fast” chargers.
At least the base Leaf can be “fast” charged now.
This reduces the wait – but keep in mind where you’ll be waiting. It won’t be at home while you’re sleeping or getting something else done because your home is not likely capable of “fast” charging an EV, which requires capacity very few private homes are wired to handle.
Keep in mind, as well, the near-necessity of a garage or at least a private driveway near enough to an outlet, if you want to be able to recharge at home. EVs are much less practical in this respect for people who live in the city, in apartments. How do you run an extension cord down from the fifth floor to your EV parked curbside?
Like all new cars, the Leaf comes standard with every amenity that is considered a necessity, such as AC, a decent stereo and power windows, locks, cruise control – etc. It’s not necessary, in other words, to spend more to get a car equipped with the necessities.
Well, except for the range.
The Leaf’s charge port is smartly located under a panel in the center-front of the car, which echoes the practice in the distant past of installing the gas door behind the license plate in the center of the rear bumper of cars – which made it a snap to fuel at either the right or the left pump.
It also had four plugs inside – for your USB-powered devices – which is similarly convenient.
Another thing to keep in mind – and it applies to any EV – is that if you regularly use up all or most of the battery pack’s range, you will likely have to replace the battery pack sooner. Heavy discharge/recharge cycles (especially at “fast” chargers) will inevitably reduce the battery’s useful service life by reducing its capacity to take and retain a full charge.
What’s implicit in that is another, subtle EV problem. If you regularly use the advertised range, you are likely to get less life – out of the battery. The way to reduce the wear and tear on the battery (so as to lengthen its life) is to not discharge the battery heavily – by reducing the range you actually drive the EV.
The Bottom Line
The Leaf is now more affordable – but it’s still a very expensive way to not go very far.
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