Nissan took a big step in lowering the “range anxiety” fears of potential Leaf buyers. They extended the driving ranges by 27 percent. Now, you can get a Leaf that can go up to 107 miles without a recharge. That’s up from 84 miles, which was the limit previously. Most people should find that this increased distance sufficient for their everyday driving needs.

Nissan gained the improved driving range by installing a new larger-capacity, 30kWh, lithium-ion battery pack. It provides the juice for the 80-kW electric motor, which generates the equivalent of 107 horsepower. However, the base “S” model Leaf still runs with the old 24kWh battery pack that delivers only 84 miles.

Charging a fully depleted 30kWh battery pack with a 6.6 kW charger takes about five hours. Using plain old household current, the time stretches out to at least18 hours. However, if you can access a quick-charge site, you hit 80-percent of capacity in just 30 minutes.

The leaf is now in its sixth model year, and its styling, which looked so radical when it was introduced, now appears to be almost mainstream. The huge bug eye headlights and the slender vertical taillights set it apart from other compact hatchbacks roaming the roads. Although it has been around for a while in its original guise, it still looks fresh.

IMG_1458The same can be said for the interior. A two-tier digital instrument panel provides a speed display right in your line of sight. Another graphic keeps you advised of your driving range. A control panel for audio, air conditioning and navigation that’s grafted on to the center dash, features a touchscreen display with multiple buttons. These require you to take your eyes off the road to operate them. I wish there were even just a couple of knobs for the radio. The most unusual interior feature is a mushroom-shaped gear selector on the console that’s different for sure, but kind of cool.

The Leaf accommodates four adults, five in a pinch, in upright, chair-like seats. Passengers up front get four-way manual adjusters, with a height lever added for the driver. The view of the road is excellent. Folks in the back have decent legroom, but really tall passengers might find their heads scraping the headliner. A large 24-cu.-ft. storage compartment in the back has plenty of room for transporting gear.

Nissan offers the Leaf in three levels of trim, S, SV and SL. While the base S still has the lower capacity battery pack, it comes equipped with desirable features like, pushbutton entry/start, a rearview camera, heated front seats and Nissan Connect, which enables you to do things, like check your battery charge remotely from your smartphone.

The SV trim adds a 6.6 kW charger, a quick-charge port, a larger touchscreen and a navigation system. The SL gives you all that plus leather upholstery, automatic LED headlights and a solar panel on the rear spoiler, which runs fans inside the car.

IMG_1460Out on the road, the Leaf accelerates quickly away from traffic lights, but takes about 10 seconds to get 60. Yet, it feels faster than that. The handling is very stable, with minimum body-lean. This is due to the low center of gravity created by the battery pack under the floor. Additionally, you can enhance control coming down hills by engaging the regenerative braking feature on the gear selector. This slows the Leaf down, while putting charge back into the battery.

The Leaf’s ride quality is just average for a compact car, but where it really shines is in its quietness on the road. The only thing you hear at freeway speeds is the muted sound of the wind going by you.

You may get sticker shock when you see the price of the Leaf, but keep in mind that there is a $7,500 federal tax credit for the purchase of a Leaf, and up to $2,500 available from state governments. The base S model starts at $29,850. The SV goes for $35,050, and the SL comes in at $37,640. My test car, an SL with the optional Premium package (Bose audio and Around View Monitor) and floor mats had a bottom line of $39,390.



Increased Driving Range

Roomy Cabin

Good Road Manners

Still Stylish

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