Nissan LEAF All-Electric Vehicle (2015 Model Review)

Written By: Brittney B.

Edited By: Assen Gueorguiev

                                                       2015 Nissan LEAF all-electric

Affordable, aerodynamic, roomy, and 100 percent electric-powered and emission-free: the 2015 Nissan LEAF is the automotive industry's most successful example to date of a mass-produced electric car. The five-seat, four-door LEAF proves that a combustion engine — even one that belongs to a hybrid drivetrain — isn't necessary to produce a profitable and popular sedan. And even as Nissan continues to face heat from ambitious and increasingly cost-effective competitors like Tesla, its own family favorite still keeps it in the lead for everything from price to overall environmental impact.


Faster, cleaner power than ever before

The Nissan LEAF S starts as low as $29,860 (or $21,510 if you subtract the the value of federal tax credits and other environmental incentives). Thanks to a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery and 80 kW electric motor, you can fully charge the LEAF in as few as five hours, and drive an average of 84 miles before the battery needs to be charged again. The car's fully electric drivetrain achieves a combined EPA-estimated 114 MPGe (126 city, 101 highway), which is more than adequate for city commuters. However, the LEAF's limited range may not be adequate for drivers who travel long distances. This is why the 2015 model does offer additional quick-charging options that make on-the-go sustainability easier than ever.

The base S model includes a 3.6 kW onboard charger and regenerative braking mode. However, you can pay a little less than $3,000 to upgrade to the Nissan LEAF SV. This mid-range model includes a 240-volt charging dock and 6.6 kWh onboard charger, which can charge 80 percent of the battery in just half an hour. Finally, for slightly more than $6,100, you can enjoy the fully optimized Nissan LEAF SL. This top-of-the line model comes standard with quick-charging technology, as well as leather seats, fog lights and bigger wheels.


Protecting your wallet and our planet at the same time

Other sustainable available features include low-beam LED headlights that cut lighting-related energy use in half, partially recycled cloth trim for the front and rear seats, and a 2G remote connection that makes it possible to charge, cool, heat and monitor the LEAF via smartphone. An optional photovoltaic spoiler even converts natural sunlight into additional energy, which in turn charges a 12V battery to help power the lights, speakers and automatic climate controls.

The 107-horsepower LEAF isn't as robust or speedy as its pricier and less sustainable counterparts, but it doesn't have to be. The ride is smooth, the styling is distinctive, and the battery keeps getting better with each new update. Once you factor in the value of tax credits and money saved on gasoline, it's easy to see why so many drivers consider the LEAF to be a smart investment, even those who aren't as concerned about protecting the planet along the way.

2015 Nissan LEAF All-Electric Vehicle (Click on Images to Enlarge)


Environmental Footprint

Every year, the Automotive Science Group (ASG) ranks the most recent consumer vehicles according to an intensive series of environmental, social, economic and operational performance standards. The 2014 Nissan LEAF was the runaway winner for its overall environmental footprint, besting every other four-person vehicle that was available in North America that year. In fact, it was the only vehicle to earn a perfect score of 100 percent. Only two other cars received scores that exceeded 79 percent: the Ford Focus Electric with 94 percent, and the Chevrolet Volt with 88 percent.

Nissan's thoughtful production standards and sustainable investments don't just lower the LEAF's carbon footprint, though. Each LEAF is carefully designed, manufactured and assembled in order to minimize its initial impact and make its efficiency easier to maintain over time, so it's no surprise that it was also the only 2014 vehicle to crack the top 25 in all three performance categories: environmental, social and economic. As a result, it also earned Best All-Around Performance among all mid-size cars.

ASG's performance index for 2015 model years has yet to be determined or released, but Nissan's manufacturing and engineering methods haven't changed very much, so it's safe to say that the Nissan LEAF will continue to rank among the most eco-friendly vehicles in the years to come. In fact, the group predicts that as energy grids throughout the United States begin to rely more on renewable energy, sustainable vehicles like the LEAF will be capable of even greater environmental benefits —even if their individual technologies remain exactly the same.


Rumor Has It

Nissan and French partner Renault both get their competitive electric battery technology from two Japanese companies: battery supplier NEC Corp. and energy innovator Automotive Energy Supply Corp. However, rumors about a midstream change began to pick up speed in September 2014. That's when Renault executives reportedly expressed interest in sourcing future battery models from LG Chem, a Korean technology company.

Some critics were quick to speculate that if a change happened, Nissan would have to phase out its new battery factory — which was built in partnership with NEC Corp. — and eat the cost of its $1.6 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy. However, that would violate the automaker's 2009 promise to manufacture and assemble each battery in the same location, which makes it easier for them to maximize quality control, environmental sustainability, financial savings and logistical ease throughout the LEAF production process.

Currently, Nissan is expected to release a next-generation LEAF as a 2017 or 2018 model year, and it's wildly assumed that this upgraded version's range will reach as much as 150 miles per charge. There's no telling whether that will be the result of a new battery supplier, new in-house developments or production methods, or even an oft-predicted switch to the more cost-effective hybrid powertrain.

It's more likely that Nissan will keep the LEAF's all-electric design, but end their Japanese contracts in favor of LG Chem's smaller and cheaper cell technology. One thing is clear, though: the future of the LEAF depends on its electric battery, especially as Tesla builds its own American "Gigafactory" in an effort to finally create a mass-produced consumer-class electric vehicle of their own.


Manufacturing/Assembly

In early 2013, Nissan began manufacturing its own lithium-ion cells in a brand new battery factory in Smyrna, Tennessee. Giant rolls of crucial electrode materials are shipped from a fabrication plant in Zama, Japan, and the LEAF's electric motor is produced in Decherd, Tennessee. Finally, the vehicles themselves are put together in a vehicle assembly plant next door to the Smyrna battery plant, along with five other current Nissan models. This sprawling but sustainable assembly site has issued more than 10 million vehicles since opening in 1983, making it the continent's highest-producing automotive plant and allowing Nissan to employ more than 8,000 people.

These employees' combined annual salaries exceed $290 million, but in the interest of protecting everything from vehicle quality to workplace safety, Nissan continues to invest even more money in an ongoing effort to properly recruit, train and oversee a highly skilled workforce. In fact, in December 2014, the automaker partnered with the State of Tennessee to build a training center in nearby Murfreesboro. The center will open in 2016 and teach manufacturing skills that range from engineering and robotics to plant maintenance and energy efficiency.


10 things Nissan LEAF owners LOVE about their cars
 

  • Zero emissions and low cost to operate

  • You eventually forget what gas stations are for!

  • Futuristic interior

  • A lot of accessories available

  • Very quiet and accelerates fast when needed

  • The ability to charge 80% of the battery in 30 minutes at public charging stations (if you have the Quick Charge Port)

  • Mobile app make it easy to find charging stations, some of which are free

  • Very easy to monitor car performance, which can help you change driving habits and get the most out of your car

  • The feeling of being a part of a "green" community

  • Remote climate control (from phone or PC)


10 things Nissan LEAF owners DISLIKE about their cars
 

  • The battery range can significantly decrease during very cold or hot weather

  • The car's fast acceleration is not very suitable for icy conditions

  • Planning longer trips can be hard if there are not enough public charging stations along the way, OR if you don't want to make many stops

  • If you decide to purchase the car instead of leasing it, the resale value of the car may drop significantly once it is out of warranty, or if there are any significant technology breakthroughs in the next few years

  • The battery range leaves more to be desired and has not improved much over the last few years

  • Charging takes a while unless you have the additional $$ to purchase a higher end model or a Quick Charge package

  • No engine roar (for those that like it)

  • If you drive over 50 mph on the freeway, the car's efficiency will drop

  • If you own the car for a couple of years and the range starts dropping, the warranty may not cover some scenarios (please read the fine print)

  • No spare tire included (it's easy to get flat tires with the LEAF)