The Leaf is a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and even some things ugly

Nissan Leaf has been on the block for a decade now. It was one of the earliest entrants in the market and continues to live on. While it can be considered as the veteran in this segment if you go by its age, the Leaf didn’t make a mark like, say, any of the Tesla models did in their respective segment.

The electric hatch comes with acceptable aesthetics and decent tech features, but not the best powertrain or battery specs. But, there’s certainly more to this than meets the eye, and we’re here to uncover it. The Nissan Leaf arrived at TopSpeed’s headquarters recently, and here are our impressions about this urban electric commuter.

What Powers The Nissan Leaf?

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Drivetrain
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The Nissan Leaf features a permanent magnet electric motor that makes a meager 147 horses and 236 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent only to the front wheels. Thanks to the instantaneous torque, the Leaf seems quick off the line and takes 8.3 seconds to hit the 60 mph mark from a standstill. However, if you compare it to EV standards, it is pretty slow; even slower than the Chevy Bolt. The top speed is rated at just 89.5 mph. This seems disappointing on paper, but being an urban commuter, this EV is meant to be quick, not fast. So, no complaints in the top speed aspect.

Nissan also has the Leaf Plus model with more power, a bigger battery pack, and a higher sticker price.

The Leaf Plus makes around 215 ponies, 251 pound-feet of torque. The speed is rated at 98.5 mph.
2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Drivetrain
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It is powered by the same single motor setup that sends power to the front wheels only. The Plus model takes around seven seconds to sprint to 60 mph, but it is still slower than its competitors.

Nissan Leaf specifications
Electric Motor Output 110 kW
Horsepower 147 Horsepower
Torque 236 LB-FT
Driveline FWD
Range 149 Miles
Battery Capacity 40 kWh
Charging Time (110 Volt) 35 Hours
Charging Time (220 Volt) 8 Hours
Charging Time (440 Volt) 0.75 Hours

2020 Nissan Leaf Driving Impressions

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Exterior
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As is with any EV in the segment, the ride quality is sorted and the short dimensions make it a good urban commuter. In its first-generation, the Leaf was quick off the line but that didn’t last long. You’d feel a loss of power above 30 mph. Things have gotten better in the second generation, but it isn’t going to plaster a grin on your face every time you press that A-pedal.

It is good enough to potter around towns and you’ll find it fast if you’re switching from an internal combustion engine car. But, if you’re coming from any other EV, you will find it lackluster.
2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Interior
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On the highways, it might disappoint you and leave you wanting for more.

That said, it is smooth, quiet, and stable around the corners as well. The car makes use of front independent suspension. The ride quality is neither too spongy, not too firm. Nissan offers an E-pedal feature on all the trims that offers more aggressive regenerative braking. It not only helps increase the efficiency, but once you get a hang of it, you could drive around with just a single pedal. This E-pedal can be activated using a switch near the central shift knob.

Nissan Battery, Range, and Charging

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Drivetrain
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The Nissan Leaf draws power from a 40-kWh battery pack. It comes with an EPA-rated range of just 149 miles.

This is the least range amongst the competition and is good enough only for city drives. The minute you take it on the highway, you will feel range anxiety. Mind you, 149 miles is achieved when driven sedately. When driven hard, this number drops lower.

If you want a better range, it would be ideal to opt for the Leaf Plus trims that come with a 62-kWh battery pack. This Plus model is available on three different trim levels – S Plus, SV Plus, and SL Plus. The higher Plus models offer a range of up to 215 miles on a full charge, but the base S Plus trim manages to deliver 226 miles - an extra 11 miles to the battery’s range. Despite this, it falls short behind the Chevy Bolt’s EPA-estimated range of 259 miles drawn from a 66-kWh battery pack. The Bolt, by the way, offers the best non-Tesla range today.

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Exterior
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When connected to a 240-volt charging unit, the Leaf with the 40-kWh battery takes eight hours to charge, whereas the Leaf Plus takes 11.5 hours. You can also plug it into a regular 120-volt charging unit as well, but it takes significantly longer to replenish. Expect for the base S trim on the Leaf, all the other Leaf and Leaf Plus models come with 480-volt DC fast-charging connection as standard. With this, 80-percent of the 40-kWh battery is replenished in 40 minutes and the 62 kWh battery pack of the Leaf Plus replenishes in an hour.

Nissan Leaf Exterior Design

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Exterior
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Nissan offers the Leaf in five different trims – S, SV, S Plus, SV Plus, and the SL Plus. The model we received was a black Leaf SV Plus. Up front, the car is flanked by the V-Motion grille that’s now a familiar sight on most of the Nissan models. The upward-sloping headlights feature Daytime Running Lights that look classy. Fortunately, the usage of chrome is minimal. The little bits you see on the door handles and grille help break the monotony, especially on dark colors.

There are blue touches at the front and back that look swell and signify the car’s “zero-emission” philosophy. The side profile is as generic as it can get, except for the rear end where the taillight extends sharply. This trim rides on 17-inch machine-finished aluminum-alloy wheels. The floating roof effect is evident at the back and gives the Murano vibes. The rear looks the most stylish, with the integrated spoiler, the sharp, pointed taillights, and the faux skidplate. Overall, the Nissan Leaf looks quite smart and will age well.

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Exterior
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The car is offered in eight different colors:

  • Super Black
  • Deep Blue Pearl
  • Gun Metallic
  • Brilliant Silver Metallic
  • Scarlet Ember Tintcoat ($395)
  • Sunset Drift ChromaFlair ($395)
  • Pear White TriCoat ($395)
  • Two-Tone Pearl White TriCoat/Super Black ($695)

How Big Is The Nissan Leaf?

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Exterior
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In terms of dimensions, the Nissan Leaf slots in between the Chevy Bolt and the Tesla Model 3. It is 176.4 inches long, 70.5 inches wide, and 61.4 inches tall. The Chevy Bolt measures 164 inches in length, 69.5 inches in width, and 62.8 inches in height. The Tesla Model 3 is the longest and widest of the lot, and measures 184.8 inches in length, 72.8 inches in width, and 56.8 inches in height.

Nissan Leaf exterior dimensions
Length 176.4 Inches
Width 70.5 Inches
Height 61.4 Inches
Wheelbase 106.3 Inches
Ground Clearance 5.9 Inches
Front Track 60.6 Inches
Rear Track 61.2 Inches
2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Exterior
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The same continues with the wheelbase. The Leaf’s wheelbase measures 106.3 inches, the Bolt’s measures 102.4 inches, and the Model 3 with the longest wheelbase measures 113.2 inches. But, in terms of ground clearance, the Leaf takes the cake. It sits 5.9 inches off the ground, 0.4 inches higher than the Bolt as well as the Model 3.

Speaking of the track width, the Leaf is wider at the rear. It measures 60.6 inches at the front and 61.2 inches at the rear. The Bolt and Model 3 have the same front and rear track width, measuring 59.1 inches 62.2 inches, respectively.

How Much Does The Nissan Leaf Weigh?

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Exterior
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All three competitors weigh almost the same, but Nissan Leaf is the lightest of them all. It weighs 3,538 pounds.

The Model 3 comes next, weighing 3,554 pounds, and the Bolt weighing nine pounds more than the Tesla. But, if you consider the Leaf Plus, it’s the heaviest of the lot – courtesy of its 62-kWh battery – weighing in at 3,781 pounds. So, if you take the best battery pack-to-curb weight ratio, the Tesla Model 3 wins the contest.

Nissan Leaf Interior Design

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Interior
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The Leaf’s cabin is one of its strongest suits. Despite following an all-black theme – which can be a hit or a miss in most cases – this EV doesn’t miss the mark.

It isn’t a high-tech, sophisticated cabin like the Tesla’s, but it is spacious and ergonomically sorted. This is where it beats the Chevy Bolt by a significant margin.
2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Interior
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Starting from the cockpit, you receive a chunky, leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s a delight to hold. It features many buttons on it, but doesn’t feel too cluttered. The instrument cluster features a speedometer and a seven-inch MID that throws up all the relevant data related to the drive, like the maximum, average, and minimum range, and warning lights amongst the other standard stuff.

The bottom half of the center console features the HVAC controls in the form of buttons. The engine start/stop switch is also present here, along with USB drives. The joystick-type gear lever looks funky and quite unorthodox. Speaking of the seats, they are wide and comfortable, but are thin and don’t have enough bolstering. Despite being sufficiently wide and spacious, the rear seats cannot accommodate three adults comfortably. It’ll be a squeeze and the passengers will hate you for it. But, in terms of legroom, there’s ample space here.

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Interior
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As for the infotainment system, every trim comes with the same eight-inch touchscreen. So, whether you’re spending $32,000 for the base or $44,000 for the top-end, you get the same screen. This is outrageous considering that EV automakers, in general, pay a lot of attention to technology. Offering the same system across the lineup is just lazy and a person spending $12,000 extra deserves a better system. It runs on Nissan’s Connect software and supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation, however, is optional. The SL and SL plus feature a seven-speaker Bose audio system and the other trims are sold with a six-speaker setup. Neither of them was impressive at this price point.

How Spacious Is The Nissan Leaf On The Inside?

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Interior
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Although it isn’t the tallest amongst its competitors, the Leaf offers the best headroom at the front – 41.2 inches.

The Bolt and the Model 3 offer 37.7- and 40.3 inches respectively. The 54.3-inch front shoulder room is adequate when you sit in the car, but is just about on par with its rivals. It’s the same story with the hip room and legroom as well. The Nissan measures 51.7 inches and 42.1 inches respectively, both almost as much as the Bolt. The Tesla Model 3 offers the maximum space in both these departments.

Nissan Leaf interior dimensions
Front Headroom 41.2 Inches
Front Shoulder Room 54.3 Inches
Front Hip Room 51.7 Inches
Front Leg Room 42.1 Inches
Rear Head Room 37.3 Inches
Rear Shoulder Room 52.5 Inches
Rear Hip Room 50.0 Inches
Rear Leg Room 33.5 Inches
2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Interior
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Despite a longer wheelbase and a wider body, the Nissan Leaf is not as spacious as the Bolt at the back. The headroom measures 37.3 inches, the shoulder room 52.5 inches, and the hip room 50 inches. All these numbers are slightly lower than the Chevy Bolt and much lower than the Tesla Model 3. The rear legroom takes the biggest hit. It measures 33.5 inches, whereas the Model offers 35.2 inches and Bolt offers 36.5 inches of legroom at the rear. This, despite a 3.9-inch longer wheelbase than the Bolt. The Leaf feels spacious, but it could be even better if designed and engineered in a slightly better manner.

With all seats in place, the Leaf has the best cargo space to offer in the segment.
2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Interior
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A 23.6 cubic-feet cargo area is significantly higher than the Bolt’s 16.9 cubic-feet cargo and Tesla’s 15 cubic-feet. But, things aren’t the same when the rear seats are flipped down. Since the seats don’t fold flat, the area maximizes only up to 30 cubic-feet. The Chevy Bolt wins here, offering a maximum cargo space of 56.6 cubic-feet – almost double! The Tesla Model 3’s cargo area doesn’t increase since it has a dedicated boot area.

Nissan Leaf Price and Warranty

2020 Nissan Leaf - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Leaf is offered in five different trims in total; two of which are the standard models that come with the 40-kWh battery pack, and three Leaf Plus models that are packed with the 62-kWh battery pack. This is how they’re priced:

S $31,600
SV $34,190
S Plus $38,200
SV Plus $39,750
SL Plus $43,900

Nissan offers a basic warranty package that covers 3 years/36,000 miles, the Powertrain warranty covers 5 years/60,000 miles, and the battery warranty covers 8 years/100,000 miles.

Nissan Leaf Competition

Chevy Bolt

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The Bolt is a jack of all trades and master of none. As a whole package, there’s nothing in here to disappoint you, but nothing will make you seal the deal at the first glance either. It features a single-motor setup that makes 200 horses and 266 pound-feet of torque. It’s much quicker than the Nissan Leaf off the line, but not as fast as the Model 3. It boasts of the best non-Tesla range of 259 miles, courtesy of the 66 kWh battery pack.

The car is sold in just two trims and you don’t widespread buffet to choose from. If you’re looking at its purely for daily urban commutes, the compact dimensions will appeal to you. It is quite spacious on the inside as well, so hauling a bunch of people won’t be a task either. Technology-wise, there’s a lot left to desire, considering that the Model 3 is priced in the ballpark. But, it certainly is better than the Leaf in this aspect. It starts at $37,500 and the tops out at $41,900.

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Nissan leaf vs Chevrolet Bolt EV
Nissan Leaf SV Chevy Bolt EV
Electric Motor Output 110 kW 150 kW
Horsepower 147 Horsepower 200 Horsepower
Torque 236 LB-FT 266 LB-FT
Driveline FWD FWD
Range 149 Miles 259 Miles
Battery Capacity 40 kWh 66 kWh
Charging Time (110 Volt) 35 Hours 12 Hours
Charging Time (220 Volt) 8 Hours 2.3 Hours
Charging Time (440 Volt) 0.75 Hours TBA
Suspension Front Independent Front Independent
Turning Circle 34.8 Feet 35.4 Feet
Tire Size P205/55R16 P215/50R17

Read our full driven review on the Chevy Bolt

Tesla Model 3

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The Model 3 is arguably the best buy at this price point. Tesla’s best-selling model starts at $37,990 for the Standard Range Plus model that offers an EPA-estimated range of 250 miles. 283 horses and 317 pound-feet of torque is generated from a rear-axle mounted motor. The Model 3 takes merely 5.3 seconds to hit the 60-mph mark in its ‘slowest form’ and tops out at 140 mph. It is powered by a 75-kWh battery pack and takes about 8.5 hours to recuperate when connected to a 240-Volt charging point.

The cabin is very simple and almost everything is controlled by the huge touchscreen slapped on to the center console. There aren’t any federal tax credits to avail on the Model 3, so it kind of puts it at a price disadvantage. The Nissan Leaf, on the other hand, is eligible for tax credits. This will make a significant difference, especially if you compare the top-trim on the Leaf costing $43,900 (without tax credits) and Model 3’s Performance trim that starts from $55,000.

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Nissan Leaf vs Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model 3 Nissan Leaf
Electric Motor Permanent Magnet Permanent Magnet
Transmission 1-Speed Direct Drive 1-Speed Direct Drive
Horsepower 283 HP 147 HP
Torque 307 LB-FT 236 LB-FT
Driveline RWD FWD
Battery Size 75 kWh 40 kWh
Electric Range 250 Miles 99-123 Miles
Charging Time @240 Volt 8.5 Hours 7.5 Hours
Suspension Four-Wheel Independent Front Independent
Turning Circle 19.4 Feet 34.8 Feet
Front Tire Size P235/45R18 P205/55R16
Rear Tire Size P235/45R18 P205/55R16
0-60 MPH 5.6 Seconds 9.0 Seconds (est)
Top Speed 130 MPH 89.5 MPH

Read our full review on the Tesla Model 3.

Sidd Dhimaan
Associate Editor and Truck Expert - sidd@topspeed.com
Sidd joined the Topspeed.com team in 2017 as an intern and in less than a year he earned a full-time position as an associate editor and junior automotive expert. He is currently our pickup truck expert and focuses his attention on heavy-duty and off-road vehicles.  Read More
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