2012 Nissan Leaf

  • 2012 Nissan Leaf SL Hatchback

    SL Hatchback

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  • 2012 Nissan Leaf SV Hatchback

    SV Hatchback

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2012 Nissan Leaf Review

Great second car, but rent something else for road trips

Reviewed by Automotive on

Creating a class all its own, the Nissan Leaf is the first all-electric mainstream vehicle to go on sale in the U.S. While small in size, the Leaf ushers in a new era of electric cars in that it will not only be available nationwide, but also be available for sale to the public, unlike the defunct GM EV1 and Honda EV Plus that were available only for leases in California a decade ago. Designed to run up to 100 miles on a single charge, the Leaf is also one of the more practical electric cars to come along. Powered by 48 laminated lithium-ion compact batteries filling to 24 kW/hour, the Leaf sends electricity to a motor that generates 107 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. Additionally, all of that torque is available from startup all the way to redline. It helps move the Leaf and its up-to-five passengers through traffic with no compromise necessary. Further complementing the theme of no compromises, the Leaf can be recharged in a number of ways. Standard charging is done from an in-home 240-volt charge port that can be plugged into the front of the body. The Leaf also comes with a 120-volt portable charger for emergency situations, and it can be charged to 80 percent of the batteries' capacity within 30 minutes at a public charge port. Uplevel SL models come with a photovoltaic spoiler that can charge a 12-volt battery that runs the Leaf's accessories.

The Range

Body style: Five-door hatchback
Motor: Permanent magnet AC electric motor with 24 kW/hr. battery
Transmission: 1-speed automatic
Models: Nissan Leaf SV, Nissan Leaf SL

What's New

Introduced in 2011, there's not much new to the Leaf in its second model year. That said, it's a whole new sort of car, so there's still plenty worth mentioning. Rolling on standard 16-inch aluminum wheels shod with Bridgestone Ecopia tires and featuring a standard in-dash navigation system, Bluetooth connectivity, and cruise control, the Leaf comes with plenty of standard equipment in its package that starts at $32,780 before a $7500 federal tax credit and not including the one-time 240-volt charger installation cost of $2200. In California, though, a further rebate brings that figure down an additional $5000. Unfortunately for those looking to save a grand on the lower trim model, Nissan says that most Leafs will come to dealers as SL models.


Nissan calls the design language for the Leaf "Smart Fluidity." Mixing simple lines and clean curves in the sheet metal, the Leaf is a decidedly unique-looking vehicle among the Nissan stable, providing the car with its own identity as well as an incredibly aerodynamic shape. With long, low headlights and a large spoiler sitting atop its hatchback, the Leaf is designed to be able to maximize interior space while providing a small footprint outside. Available colors for the Leaf include Glacier Pearl, Blue Ocean, Brilliant Silver, Super Black, and Cayenne Red.


Futuristic and yet simple to use, the Leaf's interior features high-quality recycled materials to form a simple yet space pod-like setting. Situated in the middle of the center stack is a seven-inch floating LCD monitor that serves as the radio, infotainment, and climate control hub for the car. Above the steering wheel, there is a display for the digital speedometer while below it is the information for the car's diagnostics and driving range. With a contrasting off white and piano black trim, the Leaf has a color pattern that looks more "Lost in Space" than lost in traffic. Carrying the theme, the shift lever is actually a ball modeled after a computer mouse.

Performance & Handling

The Leaf's greatest asset behind the wheel is that it's instantly recognizable as a car. There's no fumbling with new tech; just get in and drive. Acceleration to 60 mph takes about 10 seconds, the same as a Toyota Prius, and with all of the torque on tap from the get-go, the car never feels like it's hunting for power. Still, in heavy traffic in the most extreme conditions range can be down into the 60s, but expect 80 to 100 miles per charge in normal driving.


The Leaf features dual-stage front airbags for the driver and front passenger as well as side airbags, roof-mounted curtain airbags for front and rear outboard passengers, Vehicle Dynamic Control, and traction control. It also features brake assist and electronic brake force distribution.

EPA Fuel Economy

Leaf: 106 mpg city/92 mpg highway (LA4 EPA testing standard)

You'll Like

  • Early adopter coolness factor
  • Drives like a normal car
  • Unique looks
  • Technology
  • Never need gas again for commutes

You Won't Like

  • Whining motor on acceleration
  • Long home charging times
  • "Honey, I forgot to charge the Leaf last night"
  • Rear seat doesn't fold flat

Sum Up

Great second car, but rent something else for road trips

If You Like This Vehicle

  • Chevrolet Volt
  • Toyota Prius
  • Honda Insight
  • Mitsubishi i
  • Ford Focus Electric
  • Smart Electric

See the New 2016 Leaf.

Front & Driver Side View

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