It's hard to believe that the Nissan Leaf has been on sale for a decade now—the electric hatchback has come a long way from the early days of 2010 when it offered just 73 miles of range. Now, the Leaf gets more than 200 miles to a charge on certain trim levels, although nowadays that's not quite enough to keep up with rivals. Three years into its second generation, the Leaf receives no changes for the 2021 model year.
Buyers eyeing this electric hatchback should consider the Leaf Plus model. This version boasts more power and stronger range—up to 226 miles instead of 149 miles on the standard Leaf. With its upgraded motor, the Leaf Plus is surprisingly zippy getting onto the highway. Unfortunately, this experience is marred by vague steering. The brakes also lack the crisp feel drivers typically want, although stopping distances are impressively short. The Leaf benefits from a quiet ride with little road and wind noise entering the cabin.
Even on Plus versions, the Leaf lags slightly behind competitors when it comes to EPA-rated range. The Chevrolet Bolt gets 259 miles to a charge, for example, whereas the Hyundai Kona Electric boasts 258 miles of range. The fun-to-drive Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus gets 263 miles.
Perhaps the Leaf's biggest advantage over many competitors is its base price of under $33,000. If you're looking for more from your EV than just a great price, however, other options are worth considering.
The 2021 Nissan Leaf comes standard with a 40-kWh lithium-ion battery and an electric motor that makes 147 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. This setup is good for a range of 149 miles. Plus versions up the ante with a 62-kWh battery and a motor with 214 hp and 250 lb-ft. Range varies from 215 miles on the SV Plus and SL Plus to 226 miles on the S Plus.
On the standard Leaf, recharging takes 8 hours with a Level 2 charger (240V). At DC fast charging public stations, you can recoup 80 percent of the charge in 40 minutes. The Leaf Plus takes 11.5 hours to recharge with a Level 2 charger, and with DC fast charging, you can recover 80 percent of the charge in 45 minutes with a 50-kW charger or 60 minutes with a 100-kW unit.
The 2021 Nissan Leaf earned an overall five-star safety rating from NHTSA. This rating consists of four stars in the front crash test and rollover test, as well as five stars in the side crash test. IIHS has not published a complete set of ratings for the Leaf, but the 2020 model received Good scores in the moderate overlap front, side, and head restraint and seat tests.
Standard safety features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot intervention, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane keep assist.
With the rear seats up, the Nissan Leaf has 23.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That expands to 30 cubic feet with the seats down. Compare that to the Chevrolet Bolt, which has 16.9 cubic feet of space behind the seats and 56.6 cubic feet with the seats folded. Rear-seat passengers have 33.5 inches of legroom to the Bolt's 36.5 inches. The Nissan Leaf seats five people.
Although it's not as advanced as Tesla's system, Nissan offers semi-autonomous driving technology on the Leaf. Dubbed ProPilot Assist, this tech provides automatic steering, acceleration, and braking inputs to assist highway driving. It sometimes wants to veer toward the left side of a given lane, but overall, we found this feature eases the burden of driving in traffic.
The Leaf comes standard with an 8.0-inch touchscreen.
Five trim levels are offered on the Leaf with the following standard content:
2021 Nissan Leaf S: 40-kWh battery, keyless entry, push-button start, Bluetooth, four-speaker sound system, and 60/40 split folding rear seats
2021 Nissan Leaf SV: 40-kWh battery, adaptive cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, voice recognition, and a six-speaker sound system
2021 Nissan Leaf S Plus: 62-kWh battery, 100-kW quick charge port, portable charge cable (240V), and similar feature content to the S trim
2021 Nissan Leaf SV Plus: 62-kWh battery, 100-kW quick charge port, portable charge cable (240V), and similar feature content to the SV trim
2021 Nissan Leaf SL Plus: 62-kWh battery, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, 360-degree camera system, Bose premium audio system, leather-appointed seats, and heating for front seats and steering wheel