2018 Nissan Leaf SL Group Review: Another Argument for the Inevitable Rise of the Electric Car

Nissan's second-generation Leaf is a delight of a commuter car. It just needs a little more range. 

Two of The Drive’s staffers—Cait Knoll and Will Sabel Courtneyrecently spent time with the 2018 Nissan Leaf SL. They discussed the finer merits and detractors of this affordable electric car via Slack, an instant message program with a fun ability to summon random gifs based on what users type. The following is a partial transcript of that conversation.

willscourtney
So, Cait. How about that new Nissan Leaf?

I ask because you spent a ton of time with it not long ago.

caitknoll
I sure did.

willscourtney
Whereas I drove it to the airport.

caitknoll
Airport drives are important too, Will.

But with the 3-4 days I spent with it, I came to the conclusion that I would absolutely buy that car...if the range was extended.

[After-the-Fact Check: The 2018 Nissan Leaf has an EPA-rated range of 151 miles, but like gas-powered cars, your mileage may vary depending on driving type and style.]

willscourtney
Ah. The classic Achilles Heel of electric cars. It's not too bad on range, though. (For an EV.) Your commute's what, 50 miles a day round trip?

caitknoll
Closer to 60, actually.

willscourtney
Zoinks.

Cait Knoll

caitknoll
I got the car at about a 90 percent charge, so the range was projecting a tad under 150.

I was able to successfully complete four trips (from office to home, home-office, office-home, home-office) on that charge. But range anxiety is REAL. That was a brand new feeling for me, and I can see why it would be daunting to people not familiar with electric cars.

willscourtney
Yeah. Only going 150 miles before refueling wouldn't be so bad...if you could fill up in five minutes, the way you do with gas.

[After-the-Fact Check: Nissan says the Leaf can add 90 miles of range in 30 minutes on a 480-volt DC quick charging station. Via 240-volt charging, it will add 22 miles of range in an hour.]

willscourtney
Did you charge it at all at home? Seeing as how you're one of those suburbanites with a garage now.

caitknoll
I did not—I wanted to test whether that 150 really could carry me for two round trips. And it did, but it was tight. I think someone who is willing to throw it on a charger overnight is going to be just fine, as long as the distances they're driving aren't insane.

But I did wonder how someone road-tripping would feel about this thing. That's when that 150 becomes a huge limiter, in my opinion.

willscourtney
Completely. That's always been my hangup about EVs. I live and work in NYC, but when I need a car, it's usually to drive a sizable distance—to my mom's house in Vermont, for example. I've gotten used to doing it in one quick go. Having to stop for several hours to recharge halfway through would irritate the hell out of me.

It's a problem that's definitely getting better as batteries pack on storage and EV makers install beefier chargers—hi, Tesla!—but there's definitely still a sense that electric cars are Not Ready for Prime Time when it comes to being somebody's primary all-around do-everything car.

/giphy not ready for prime time players

giphy

caitknoll
So, we're in agreement that that's the biggest hang-up. And it is a BIG one. But other than that, I honestly loved it.

I was completely sketched out by the regen braking via the E-Pedal to start (hello, retraining your brain to not expect your car to coast when you let off the gas), but by my final commute, I think I maybe touched the actual brakes once.

And I thought the interior was incredibly well done. It felt higher end, more so than some other new Nissans I've driven recently, and that little space-age shifter feels right for an EV.

Cait Knoll

willscourtney
I LOVED that E-pedal. Regen braking is one of the really cool features of electric cars. Like you said, it takes some time to retrain your brain, but once you get it, it just feels so...logical.

[After-the-Fact Check: The Nissan Leaf's E-Pedal system, when activated, allows for one-pedal driving in many circumstances, providing up to 0.2 g of braking force when the driver's foot is removed from the accelerator and even bringing the vehicle to a complete stop.]

willscourtney
/giphy spock

giphy

We did have the Leaf in the SL trim level, which comes with the nicer interior. I'd be curious to see how the interior materials were on the lesser ones.

caitknoll
Right—why NOT harness some of that energy and funnel it back into the car?!

I was going to say... we didn't have a cheapy Leaf, that's for sure.

willscourtney
Nope. The SL starts at $36,200, and then you can lob options on it from there. 

HOWEVER...you then can deduct the $7,500 federal tax rebate, as well as any state and local tax breaks. Of which there are many.

caitknoll
Si. The incentives are not in short supply.

willscourtney
For example, in your home state of New Jersey

/giphy ha ha

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caitknoll
*not my home state

/giphy shut your mouth

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willscourtney
EVs are exempt from sales tax. So that Leaf SL would start around $30,000, and then be exempt from the 6.625 percent sales tax.

caitknoll
Excuse me while I go sell my Grand Cherokee.

willscourtney
I sense sarcasm.

caitknoll
Just kidding.

willscourtney
But for a second car...it's a pretty sweet deal.

caitknoll
Right, it would completely fit in as a "commuter only" vehicle in my family. As I think it would in many others.

Cait Knoll

willscourtney
Fo'sho. It's super-zippy around town, which is great for that.

caitknoll
I do take issue with the weird egg-shaped exteriors so many EVs have.

willscourtney
Hey, it's aerodynamic

/giphy because aero

giphy

caitknoll
/giphy built for speed

giphy

Hey, that's not a Leaf!

willscourtney
/giphy that's not a knife

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caitknoll
But to circle back, I really dug the zippy-ness. I was completely surprised.

willscourtney
Yeah, it's refreshing.

[After-the-Fact Check: The Leaf's electric motor makes 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.]

caitknoll
It was pretty good on the highway. It didn't feel powerful by any means (not that you think it would be), but I had no trouble keeping up and/or leading the left lane. But it was way more fun in small-town settings. Fiancée and I took it down to our little village (adorable, I know) for ice cream, and I think she loved it just as much as I did. And that's coming from someone super judgy of the cars I bring home. 

We did chuckle at the barely-there chiming that starts when you're in reverse...

Nissan



willscourtney
Haha, yeah, the little sounds it makes are adorable. It thinks it's a real car.

But it does also serve the important purpose of letting people know you're creeping around them at low speeds, because this puppy is a ninja.

/giphy puppy ninja

giphy

caitknoll
It really is. You can actually sneak up on dogs. I went from driving the Hot Wheels Camaro and the Ford Mustang GT convertible home, embarrassing my familial unit with the absurdity of those exhaust notes, to driving the Leaf. Which whispers.

I like both of those ends of the spectrum, for very different reasons, but I kept thinking that the Leaf would be a great everyday car. It was just so damn pleasant.

willscourtney
Which I think goes to something that our EIC Mike Guy has been saying ever since he drove the Jag I-Pace a month or two ago: Why would you buy a gas car instead of an EV? Once they clear up the whole range anxiety thing—which is a WHEN, not an IF—there are so many advantages.

caitknoll
I completely agree. That will be an incredible game changer. Because for me, that's the one thing that is holding me back. I can't see using it for ALL my driving, and that makes it questionably worth it right now. At least in my family.

willscourtney
Ditto.

caitknoll
/giphy worth it

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willscourtney
Though I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that the prices on used first-gen Leafs (Leaves?) make me consider buying one just because. They're SO cheap. Like, low-mileage off-lease ones for $9,000.

Granted, that's the old one with the smaller battery that only goes maybe 100 miles, but hey. NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS.

[After-the-Fact Check: As of August 1st, a quick check of Cars.com revealed 229 first-gen Nissan Leafs with less than 50K miles for sale across America for less than $10,000.]

caitknoll
That's kind of unreal...

willscourtney
BTW, did you have a chance to use the ProPilot fancy-pants semi-autonomous driving system?

caitknoll
Honestly, I was having trouble finding a good stretch of road that would allow for ProPilot to activate. I had a similar issue with Cadillac's Super Cruise system, based on the fact that my commute includes lots of crazy humans and lots of merges off and onto different roadways. I know Nissan is fairly upfront about limitations of the system, but in my "real world testing" that does cover 30 miles of highway and city driving, I found few instances that would merit using it.

Cait Knoll

willscourtney
Yeah. Most of those systems aren't really geared for Tri-State traffic conditions, in my experience. The roads are too crummy, the drivers too nutty.

caitknoll
Especially because it is so limited. As most "semi-autonomous" systems are.

willscourtney
Which is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish that's best left to Alex Roy.

caitknoll
Right. Those systems demand perfect conditions, which is a hilariously high bar for the NYC area's roadways...

/giphy so demanding

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willscourtney
But otherwise, I was generally impressed with the tech in the Leaf. The infotainment, often a Nissan low point, worked well. And I liked the reconfigurable digital gauge cluster. Although, c'mon, why bother having an analog speedo if the screen in the dash already takes up more than half the space?

Cait Knoll

caitknoll
I didn't have any issues with the infotainment system either. It was clean and clear. I think my phone connected within 10 seconds, which I thought was perfectly appropriate for a future-focused EV.

willscourtney
All right, let's wrap things up. Final thoughts?

caitknoll
/giphy in conclusion

giphy

caitknoll
If the Leaf is a microcosm, I am wholly impressed with where affordable EVs are going. They are getting more efficient, more user-friendly, and better looking. As we discussed, the financial incentives (if not the environmental/moral ones) are there, and the battery technology is only getting better. And hell, manufacturers are going to keep making them more fun to drive, which is still important—it's way more appealing to decrease your carbon footprint in something you enjoy driving. I think there are still very real restrictions on how you could use the new Leaf based on its range, but there are definitely customers out there for this. And if anyone in the cheap seats out there thinks they fit into that category, I wouldn't hesitate to back your decision to buy this car.

willscourtney
Totally with you there. Once the automotive industry cracks the whole charging problem—and that's what range anxiety is, a charging problem, not a battery problem—EVs are going to make car ownership better for a lot of people. (Not to mention the benefits for the environment.)

Nissan makes a big deal about the Leaf being the best-selling EV ever, with something like 300,000 sold so far over the last eight years. A lot of that's definitely due to the fact that it's really cheap for an electric car, but it also has to do with the fact that it's a pretty engaging little electric nugget. It looks unique, is easy to drive, and strikes a really nice balance between being futuristic and accessible. And the new second-gen version just builds on all those traits.

That said, I do hope they make good on the rumors and bring out a Leaf with a 60-kWh battery that goes 220 miles or so.

caitknoll
/giphy yes please

giphy

Also, stealing "engaging electric nugget" for a band name. Thanks.

willscourtney
Haha, you're welcome. On that note:

/giphy nissan leaf

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caitknoll
Dear god, it's gotten so much better looking.

willscourtney
Truth.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf SL, By the Numbers

Base Price (Price as Tested): $37,085 ($38,130)

Powertrain: 40-kWh lithium-ion battery; electric motor, 147 horsepower, 236 pound-feet of torque; direct drive; front-wheel-drive

Efficiency: 125 mpg-e city, 100 mpg-e highway (EPA estimate)

0-60 MPH: 7.4 seconds (Car and Driver testing)