by Martin Pretorius
There are more fashionable electric vehicles on the road these days, but that doesn't mean that the Nissan Leaf compact hatchback EV has lost too much of its luster. It's still one of the best-value EVs on sale today, and it is also one of the most reliable EVs. The new 2023 Nissan Leaf range has been greatly simplified, cutting the available derivatives from five to two. The lower trim level is called the Leaf S, and it combines a 40-kWh battery with a 147-hp electric motor and has a 149-mile range. The upper trim level is called the Leaf SV Plus, and it upgrades the battery to 60 kWh and the electric motor to 214 hp; it has a range of up to 219 miles on a charge.
While the second-generation Leaf was effectively the only truly affordable EV when it first appeared in 2018, the marketplace has become a lot more crowded since then. Current Nissan Leaf competitors include the excellent Hyundai Kona Electric and the Chevy Bolt, both of which enjoy the benefits of newer designs and battery technology. But, even in the face of such talented opponents, the Leaf still makes a compelling case for entry-level EV buyers.
The Leaf model lineup is simplified and in place of last year's five trims, the 2023 range comprises S and SV Plus trims only. Along with the simplified model range, the new 2023 Nissan Leaf receives mildly updated exterior styling, with a new front bumper and grille design. The headlights are also refreshed through black trim inserts in place of the old chromed inserts, and the fore and aft wind deflectors in front of the tires are reshaped and change in color from blue to black. The rear diffuser's surround is now silver instead of blue and the roof spoiler is replaced by a more stylish one with a flatter top and thicker C-pillar upright sections.
The badging has also been updated to reflect the current Nissan corporate identity and includes an illuminated Nissan badge, and the high-spec Leaf SV Plus gets restyled 17-inch alloy wheels. Interior changes for 2023 amount to nothing more than a new badge design on the steering wheel and new start-up graphics on the instrument panel screen. Nothing too radical, then, but it should be enough to keep the Leaf going until its successor arrives in a few years.
The cheapest model is the base S with the 40-kWh battery and an MSRP of $28,040. The only other 2023 trim is the SV Plus with the 160-kW motor, 60-kWh battery and 212-mile claimed range, costing $36,040. An additional $1,095 is charged for destination and delivery fees.
The 2022 Chevrolet Bolt has a starting price of $28,800, while the pricing for the spacious new Kia Niro EV starts at $39,450. The latter has a claimed range of 253 miles. The Leaf's biggest problem is Tesla, as mentioned earlier. The price of last year's top-spec Nissan Leaf put it directly against the base Tesla Model 3 but with the discontinuation of the top-spec Leafs this year, there is now a $10k gap between the most expensive Leaf and cheapest Model 3 again. That Model 3 gets to 60 mph in a scant 5.8 seconds though, and offers 60 miles more on a charge, along with fast-charging capability.
See trim levels and configurations:
The great thing about EVs is that they don't need huge outputs to feel brisk on the road, thanks to the instant torque available from a standstill. The Leaf is no exception, and even the low-powered S trim with 147 hp and 236 lb-ft is capable of hitting 60 mph in the low-7-second range. The more-powerful SV Plus has 214 hp and 250 lb-ft, which should cut that sprint time by about another second, making it almost as quick off the line as a proper hot hatch from about ten years ago. The torque allows for confident, if not stunning, overtaking performance.
In common with most EVs, the Leaf's batteries are located below the passenger compartment, giving it a low center of gravity and enhancing its cornering ability without having to resort to stiff springs. Consequently, the Leaf is sure-footed around corners, even if the eco-minded low-rolling-resistance tires don't offer a lot of grip. It's no sports car, with lifeless brakes and numb steering feedback, but the Leaf gets through the bends with surprising finesse and without exacting a penalty in ride comfort.
The downside to living with a Leaf is its comparatively short driving range. Maximum ranges of 149 miles for the S and 219 miles for the SV Plus are outclassed by its current competition, and the Nissan high-speed charge port design is not compatible with many public charging stations. This means that you'll need to charge a Leaf more frequently and that you may struggle to find a suitable charging station, once again putting a dent in the Leaf's repertoire when compared to newer affordable EVs.
Seen in isolation, as it was when this generation of Nissan Leaf first arrived, the Leaf is a good car and a very good EV. The problem is that some of its allure has disappeared through the introduction of similarly-priced EVs with better driving ranges, stronger performance, and more accessible charging infrastructure. However, this doesn't mean that the Nissan Leaf is a bad car, just that it's not the best choice for every buyer of an affordable EV anymore. If the correct charging infrastructure is in place and driving range isn't too much of a priority, the Nissan Leaf still offers a comfortable, practical, user-friendly, fun and affordable way into EV motoring. But it's no longer the trailblazer it once was.
The Leaf remains the budget alternative in the EV segment, with the entry-level S retailing for significantly less than the Tesla Model 3. That's why we'd recommend either the S if you want the most bang for your buck. It uses a 110 kW electric motor and 40-kWh battery so the range isn't spectacular, but it should suffice for most city dwellers. The fly in the ointment is the Chevy Bolt EV, which has a lot more performance and range for a mere $760 premium. Even the more expensive SV Plus with its more power and range can't beat the Chevy and is a hard sell by comparison. Faced with such stiff competition, it's hard to recommend the Nissan.
The most popular competitors of 2023 Nissan Leaf: