2021 Nissan Leaf

2021 Nissan Leaf Review: Honest EV For The Masses

by Gerhard Horn

The Nissan Leaf was one of the first EVs to be launched to the US market, and as far as 'first times' go, this first experience with EVs was a very clear turning point. When it arrived in 2010, EVs were only for the wealthy, but suddenly a larger group of people had access to this new market. This tactic worked beautifully for Nissan, as the Leaf was the top-selling EV in the world - until Tesla launched the Model 3. That's really the main problem with EVs; the technology advances at such a rapid rate that the best EV is usually the latest one. It's like buying a smartphone, but only a lot more expensive. Nissan was smart to keep the Leaf as affordable as possible, choosing not to compete with the likes of the BMW i3 and Jaguar I-Pace. The only EV that's cheaper is Mini's SE, but it's not as practical, and it's still some way off the Leaf's range.

The Leaf is honest, affordable motoring at its best. It makes it possible for Joe Average to go electric. For proof, you need only look at the base price of a Leaf when it was launched in 2010, compared to the base price of the 2021 Leaf. Even though nearly 11 years have passed, the 2021 base Leaf retails for $31,620 and offers a 110-kW AC synchronous electric motor developing 147 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. More expensive models are equipped with a 160-kW unit that offers 214 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. At this level, pricing starts at $40,520 before you deduct the tax incentive. In 2010, the base Nissan Leaf had a cost of $32,780, before tax incentives. This is proof that as mass production steadily brings down the cost of EVs, Nissan is doing its best to transfer that saving on to its customers. Kudos for that, Nissan.

2021 Nissan Leaf Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Leaf?

Last year the Leaf had its tenth anniversary, so Nissan celebrated by giving it a few feature upgrades. The infotainment screen was upgraded to an eight-inch unit, and a few advanced driver assistance features that were optional were made standard. As for 2021, nothing is changing apart from some minor model-specific changes, such as paint options. It's a bit of a disappointment, considering that the Leaf had a particularly rough sales year in 2020. Nissan only sold 9,564 units, the lowest ever since its launch. It could be blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic, but during the same time, Tesla managed to move 206,500 Model 3s. With the Volkswagen ID4 also joining the EV segment this year, Nissan had better do something special soon to make the Leaf more attractive to customers.

Pros and Cons

  • Driving range is good on extended range models
  • Spacious interior
  • Acceleration is good
  • Advanced semi-autonomous driving mode
  • It's one of the most affordable EVs
  • It's not an entertaining car to drive
  • Low-spec models don't have the best range
  • Back seats don't fold down

Best Deals on Leaf

2021 Nissan Leaf Trims

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
S
Electric
Single Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$31,670
SV
Electric
Single Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$34,960
S PLUS
Electric
Single Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$38,270
SV PLUS
Electric
Single Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$40,520
SL PLUS
Electric
Single Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$43,970

Leaf Exterior

Two generations in and the Nissan Leaf is a car that has gone from one extreme to another. The first-generation car was an absolute abomination. We thought it would look better in the flesh, but then we saw it for the first time. Perhaps it would eventually grow on you? Nope. It was just a frog-eyed lump of a car. The second-generation car is much better, but also a bit dull. With its sharp edges and aggressive front grille, it does look contemporary, but we wonder whether that's what people are looking for? The skateboard underpinnings allow you to do virtually anything you want, so why do something normal? All of its main rivals, like the Kia Niro, Kia Soul, Chevrolet Bolt, and Tesla Model 3 are vastly superior when it comes to exterior design.

All models in the new Nissan Leaf lineup have automatic halogen lights, except for the SL Plus, which has a full LED setup with LED daytime running lights as standard. Power mirrors are standard across the range, while the SL Plus adds heating. All Leaf models boast a charge port with lights and a locking feature, and UV-reducing solar glass. 16-inch alloy wheels are standard on entry-level models, upgrading to 17-inch alloys on top-end models.

2021 Nissan Leaf Front Angle View Nissan
2021 Nissan Leaf Rear Angle View Nissan
2021 Nissan Leaf Front Angle View 1 Nissan
See All 2021 Nissan Leaf Exterior Photos

Dimensions

Compared to other EV models on sale, the Leaf sits comfortably somewhere in the middle in terms of dimensions. Its total length of 176.4 inches means it has more than a ten-inch advantage over the Bolt, but the Tesla Model 3 is roughly eight inches longer. The Leaf has a width of 70.5 inches, and it sits 61.4 inches tall. The SV model is 0.2 inches taller, while the SL Plus is 62 inches in height. All of this is stretched over a 106.3-inch wheelbase. Base models have a curb weight of 3,501 pounds, increasing as you move up the trim levels and topping out at 3,930 lbs for the top-spec SL Plus.

  • Length 176.4 in
  • Wheelbase 106.3 in
  • Height 61.4 in
  • Max Width 70.5 in
  • Front Width 60.6 in
  • Rear Width 61.2 in

Exterior Colors

The entry-level S was previously only available in three demure color options. Glacier White, Brilliant Silver Metallic, and Gun Metallic. Deep Blue Pearl and Super Black have now been made available to S trims, too.

The SV and SL trims drop the Glacier White hue but retain the rest of the color options at no additional cost. Upgrading to the SV specification does open up more extroverted exterior options such as Sunset Drift ChromaFlair, Scarlet Ember Tintcoat, and Pearl White Tricoat, although these optional colors all add $395 to the price. The SL Plus grade adds one more color option, retailing for $695. It's a two-tone paint job that consists of Super Black and Pearl White Tricoat. It's the coolest color option on offer, but it's a pity that it's only available on the most expensive model.

  • Brilliant Silver Metallic
  • Glacier White
  • Gun Metallic
  • Super Black
  • Deep Blue Pearl
  • Scarlet Ember
  • Pearl White
  • Sunset Drift Chromaflair
  • 2-Tone White/Black
  • Super Black, No longer available with K interior as of 08/18/2020.
  • Deep Blue Pearl, No longer available with K interior as of 08/18/2020.
  • Scarlet Ember, No longer available with K interior as of 08/18/2020.
  • 2-Tone White/Black, No longer available with K interior as of 08/18/2020.

Leaf Performance

Current EV owners will already know about the addictive performance characteristics of an electric vehicle. An EV delivers all of its power instantaneously, which makes for spirited acceleration. Independent testing has shown that it is possible to get a Leaf from 0 to 60 mph in less than eight seconds. That's not that brisk, but the way the power is delivered messes with your mind and tricks you into believing that it's faster. The great thing about the immediate acceleration is that you never have to wonder whether you have enough power to exploit a gap in the traffic. No need to wait for a turbo to spool, or to gear down. Just press on the throttle and presto - gap exploited. An impressive top speed is definitely not the aim here, but at least when the Leaf is hustling along on the highway, there's still enough power in reserve to pass slower-moving traffic. Keep in mind that regular exploitation of all the power will drain the batteries faster.

2021 Nissan Leaf Front View Driving Nissan
2021 Nissan Leaf Side View Nissan
2021 Nissan Leaf Engine Bay Nissan

Engine and Transmission

Base and SV models are powered by a 110 kW AC synchronous electric motor developing 147 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to a 40 kWh lithium-ion battery. The Leaf is front-wheel-drive only, and the power is sent to the front axle via a single-speed transmission. Another brilliant feature is the e-Pedal, which has two regenerative braking modes. The first allows for coasting without any interference, while the second uses the motor's resistance to slow the car down. Once you're familiar with the second, you can easily drive about without touching the brakes.

Plus models are equipped with a 160 kW unit that offers 214 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. It also comes with a bigger 62 kWh battery. Both range and acceleration are improved. These models feel properly hot hatch fast. Nissan includes a 120-volt portable trickle charger on the S and SV, but a 120/240-volt charger is standard on the SV Plus. Plus cars also get a charge port with a higher output that charges faster.

  • Engine
    Electric
  • Transmission
    Single Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrain
    FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

As is expected from an electric car, the Leaf offers a tranquil driving experience. There's no engine noise from the front, no gears interrupting the flow of power, and no soundtrack coming from the exhaust, mostly because it doesn't have one. The problem with the lack of vibration and noise is that there's nothing to drown out the road and wind noise. Luckily, the Leaf is adequately insulated, which means only a little bit of tire roar finds its way into the cabin.

While the Plus models might feel fast in a straight line, Nissan hasn't bothered giving the Leaf a sporty feel. It's tuned to be comfortable, especially once you engage comfort mode. It's far from feeling like an elephant through the corners, but it will quickly remind you that it was not designed for anything other than spirited driving in a straight line. Steering is extremely light and perfectly suited for city driving, which is just another reminder that it's not a sporty car. If sporty is what you seek, we'd suggest the Tesla Model 3.

Leaf Gas Mileage

Although some electric vehicles are managing to inch their way closer to the range offered by traditional internal combustion cars, the Leaf is not one of them. In standard guise, it has EPA-estimated mileage figures of 123/99/111 mpg for city/highway/combined cycles. The mid-spec model does 118/97/108 mpg, while the 62 kWh-battery-equipped top-end Plus trims are the least frugal at 114/94/104 mpg. The Plus model does have a longer range thanks to its larger battery, though, and Nissan claims it will go up to 226 miles on a single charge. Models with the 40 kWh battery will do 151 miles. Real-world driving usually leads to a drop in these figures, and there are several things that you have no control over that can drop the range even further, such as cold weather.

While this range is useful and should suit most city-bound folk, it's disappointing when measured against the Tesla 3 Long Range, which offers 322 miles between recharges.

Charging at a Quick Charge station will see the battery back at 80% within an hour, but filling it back up at home with a standard charger is an overnight affair. It's worth keeping in mind that an electric automobile like the Leaf is not meant to be driven in the same way as fossil-fueled cars. You don't drive an EV until it's drained and then charge it back up. It's more like a smartphone. You use it for a day and plug it back in when you get home. In a perfect world, it means you always start the day with a fully charged car.

  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 124/99 mpg
* 2021 Nissan Leaf S Hatchback

Leaf Interior

The interior offers more of the exterior's under-the-radar design. It's logical, utilitarian, spacious, well-equipped, well-built - and underwhelming. It's perfectly fine until you start comparing it to the elegant, minimalist interior of the Model 3. Once again we ask the question, if you have a flat skateboard floor to work with, why build something traditional?

The standard specification is, however, very generous. As standard across the whole range, you get automatic climate control and keyless entry with a push-button start. The driver's seat is six-way manually adjustable on all trims up to SV Plus. The SL Plus has an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat. All trim levels get a four-way manually adjustable front passenger seat, and an impressive collection of advanced safety features.

2021 Nissan Leaf Dashboard Nissan
2021 Nissan Leaf Infotainment System Nissan
2021 Nissan Leaf Central Console Nissan
See All 2021 Nissan Leaf Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

The Leaf is perfectly suitable for five people. The driver and front passenger have loads of space, with legroom measuring in at 42.1 inches and headroom at 41.2 inches. Things are a bit tighter in the back, with only 33.5 inches of legroom. Headroom for those in the rear is 37.3 inches. Adults wouldn't want to sit in the back for too long without taking a break, but luckily the Leaf can't do more than 226 miles without also taking an hour-long break. Both the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Tesla Model 3 offer more legroom for the rear passengers.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 42.1 in
  • Front Head Room 41.2 in
  • Rear Leg Room 33.5 in
  • Rear Head Room 37.3 in

Interior Colors and Materials

To offer the Leaf at a reasonable price, Nissan had to cut costs somewhere. This is where it's most noticeable. It's plastic as far as the eye can see, but it's worth pointing out that it is solidly bolted together. Nothing reveals a squeak quicker than an EV, and the Leaf has none.

All trim levels up to the SV Plus are adorned with quality black cloth upholstery. The SL Plus comes standard with a leather interior which you can have in light gray, or black. SV models and upwards all get a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Leaf Trunk and Cargo Space

The Nissan Leaf is one of the most practical EV offerings out there. While the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt may offer more room for rear passengers, the Leaf has both of them beat when it comes to cargo space. With the rear seats in place, the Leaf offers 23.6 cubic feet of space. The Tesla only had 15 cubic feet, while the Bolt has a slightly roomier 16.9 cubic feet. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split, offering up to 30 cubic feet of space if you need it.

In terms of interior storage spaces, the front passengers can store smaller items in front of the shift knob, the glove box, and center console storage bin. There are two cupholders for the front passengers, and four bottle holders throughout the cabin.

2021 Nissan Leaf Rear Passenger Seats Nissan
2021 Nissan Leaf Trunk Space Nissan
2021 Nissan Leaf Charger Nissan
  • Maximum Cargo Space
    30 ft³

Leaf Infotainment and Features

Features

Nissan must have been in an extremely generous mood when deciding the various spec-levels for the Leaf, because it is considerably packed from the base model upward. The base model comes with active ride control, halogen headlights, and 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers. It's on the inside where you really get bang for your buck, though. The base model has cruise control, automatic climate control, keyless entry with push-button start, and driver assistance features like auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Move up to the SV and you get alloy wheels, navigation, fog lights, and a 50 kW quick charge port. S Plus models come with the larger 62 kWh battery, a more powerful motor, and a 100 kW quick charger. SV Plus cars also add adaptive cruise control, while the top-spec SL Plus comes with a surround-view parking system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather seats, and intelligent driver awareness assistance.

Infotainment

In cars with no engine noise or vibration to hum along to, an infotainment system becomes all the more important. Sadly, the base sound system comprises only four speakers, with two added in the mid-spec versions, with neither option offering anything to write home about. The Bose Energy-Efficient premium sound system has seven speakers, but is only available on the SL Plus; it does a much better job of playing tunes loud enough to drown out any awkward silences. SV, SV Plus, and SL Plus models do have standard HD Radio, at least.

Infotainment is managed from an eight-inch color touchscreen across the range. It runs an operating system called NissanConnect, which is very user-friendly, intuitive, and comes with all the modern connectivity necessities. It has Bluetooth streaming, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Sirius XM.

New Nissan Leaf Problems and Reliability

The last review for the Nissan Leaf from J.D.Power was in 2019, where it received a rating of 79 out of 100 for quality and reliability. In terms of recalls, there's nothing to report for the 2021 model. In 2019 46 cars were recalled because the rearview camera did not display on the infotainment system, which increased the risk of having an accident. In 2020 it was recalled twice. The first was for the same problem as in 2019, but only one car was affected. The second was for the rear window that may separate from the car. Only 150 cars were potentially affected by this recall.

The Leaf has a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, and a five-year/60,000-mile warranty for the drivetrain. The electric components are covered by a five-year/60,000-mile warranty.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Hybrid/Electric Components:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    3 Years \ Unlimited Miles

Leaf Safety

The NHTSA finally got around to testing the Leaf for the 2021 model year, and the resulting comprehensive safety report was positive. Both the standard Leaf and the Leaf Plus were tested, and both received five stars for overall safety. The IIHS also reviewed the Leaf and awarded it a top rating of Good in all three categories it has been tested in.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

The 2020 Nissan Leaf comes with a comprehensive list of safety features as standard. All Nissan Leaf models have10 airbags, intelligent forward collision warning, auto-forward braking with pedestrian detection, intelligent lane intervention, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear auto braking, and high beam assist. SV, SV Plus, and SL Plus specifications get added adaptive cruise control.

The top-spec SL Plus adds Nissan's ProPilot Assist, which comes with semi-autonomous technology, a surround-view camera, and intelligent driver awareness.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Nissan Leaf a good car?

It's easy to forget what the Nissan Leaf did for electric cars. Many see the Tesla Model S as the turning point for EVs, and it's hard to disagree with that, but it's worth remembering that Nissan built the first EV aimed at normal people, and it worked. In the 11 years since it was first launched, a bunch of new EVs have entered the market. With the exception of the Mini SE, all of them come with a premium price tag. All of them are more interesting than the Leaf, for various reasons, be that a nicer interior, funky exterior, sporty handling, or a giant touchscreen interface. But the Leaf remains the people's EV, retailing at a price a large portion of the population can afford, especially in a post-COVID world.

The Leaf doesn't pretend to be anything other than a no-nonsense practical hatch with space for five and a big trunk. It's comfortable rather than sporty, even though it has the ability to be brisk in a straight line. It's also generously equipped across the range, and not just with luxury items, but safety kit as well. The Leaf's main problem is the retail price of the high-end models. The SL Plus, with all of the features and a range of 226 miles has an MSRP of $43,920. That's already more expensive than the $36,490 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range, which is a better all-around car, and it has a range of 263 miles. For $45,495, you can have a Tesla Model 3 Long Range, good for 353 miles. Not to mention the seven-seat Model Y Standard Range with an MSRP of $49,490...

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Nissan Leaf?

The cheapest model is the base S, with an MSRP of $31,670. Next in line is the SV, costing $34,960. After that, the range moves on the Plus models, which include the 160kW motor, 62 kWh battery and 226-mile claimed range. The S Plus retails for $38,270, and the SV Plus goes for $40,520. The top-of-the-line SL Plus costs $43,970. An additional $950 is charged for destination and delivery fees.

The Chevrolet Bolt has a starting price of $36,500, while the pricing for the Kia Soul EV has not been announced yet, nor has it been confirmed for arrival in the US at the time of writing. The latter has a claimed range of 243 miles. The Leaf's biggest problem is Tesla, as mentioned earlier. The price of the top-spec Nissan Leaf puts it directly against the Tesla Model 3 - a Standard Range Plus if you want to spend less, and a Long Range if you're willing to spend a bit more. Tesla's class-leading sales figures clearly speak for themselves.

2021 Nissan Leaf Models

The Nissan Leaf range consists of five trim levels, covering a broad range within the EV segment. The entry-level S model is already generously equipped, both feature- and safety-wise. It comes with automatic climate control, an eight-inch touchscreen interface with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry with a push-button start, and automatic emergency braking. To this already ample list, the SV adds navigation with traffic updates, fog lights, and a 50 kW charging port for quicker charges. The S and SV are both powered by the same 110 kW electric motor and 40 kWh battery. They offer a range of 151 miles when fully charged.

The Plus models all add a 62 kWh battery, 160 kW electric motor, and 100 kW charging port. The S Plus is also equipped with Nissan's e-Pedal regenerative braking system with two settings. The SV Plus adds NissanConnect EV with its services and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The top-spec SL Plus has a full leather interior, a Bose premium audio system, surround view camera system, and intelligent driver alert.

See All 2021 Nissan Leaf Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

The only option you can add to the base S is the Charge Package, which allows for faster via a 50kW quick charge port. It can also be kitted out with a number of standalone options. The SV model can be equipped with the Technology Package ($2,000), which includes ProPilot Assist, Intelligent Around View Monitor with 360-degree bird's eye view, and Intelligent Driver Alertness, which lets you know if it thinks you might need a break. On the SV Plus, this package is $400 cheaper. The SL Plus also doesn't have any optional packages, but rather a number of standalone options.

🚗What Nissan Leaf Model Should I Buy?

The Leaf remains the budget alternative in the EV segment, with the entry-level S and SV retailing for around $10,000 less than the Tesla Model 3. That's why we'd recommend either the S if you want the most bang for your buck, or, if you can afford to stretch to the SV, it would be a worthwhile investment. The SV uses the same 110 kW electric motor and 40 kWh battery so the range isn't spectacular, but it should suffice for most city dwellers. The SV shares the already comprehensive standard features list with the S, but adds adaptive cruise control, navigation, and, crucially, a 50kW quick charge port. The top-spec models are simply too expensive, as the competition is too strong at the $40,000 price point.

2021 Nissan Leaf Comparisons

Chevrolet Bolt EV Chevrolet
Tesla Model 3 Tesla
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Nissan Leaf147 hp124/99 mpg$31,670
Chevrolet Bolt EV 200 hp127/108 mpg$36,620
Tesla Model 3 258 hp138/124 mpg$35,000

2021 Nissan Leaf vs Chevrolet Bolt EV

The Chevrolet Bolt is also a five-door hatchback with space for five. It's not as practical as the Leaf, however. The Bolt range consists of the $37,495 base LT and the $42,695 Premier. That means it also has the same problem as the Leaf, which is the existence of the Tesla Model 3.

Having said that, it is an interesting alternative for many reasons. First and foremost, both models are equipped with a 200-hp and 266-lb-ft EV powertrain that Chevrolet claims is capable of doing 259 miles on a full charge. It's a fast little tyke and can sprint to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. Like the Leaf, it was also built for comfort rather than speed. It does extremely well in the city and is perfectly happy on the highway.

But the Bolt doesn't have the same generous standard specification as the Leaf. It's missing blind-spot monitoring and pedestrian detection, for example. For a car that will spend 99% of its time in the city, these features matter. The Leaf SV is cheaper than the entry-level Bolt, and for that reason, we'd go with the Nissan.

See Chevrolet Bolt EV Review

2021 Nissan Leaf vs Tesla Model 3

The Nissan Leaf carried the torch for affordable electric motoring for nearly a decade, and, in a way, it still does. The Mini SE may be the cheapest EV, but the Leaf remains the cheapest practical EV. Last year Nissan had to hand over the torch to the Tesla Model 3. Sales of Tesla's entry-level EV are booming, and for a few days in 2021, it made Elon Musk the richest man on earth. With Model 3 prices starting at $37,990, it completely dominates the $35,000 to $50,000 space in the market. It delivers a Mjolnir-like blow to all of its competitors.

And, it's easy to see why. The Tesla is powered by a single electric motor that produces between 258 hp and 450 hp, depending on the trim. The base model does 263 miles on a charge, while long-range models will do over 350 miles. The build-quality has been questionable, but there's no doubt that Tesla sets the standard when it comes to interiors. It's an elegant minimalist space that most luxury car manufacturers are now copying and implementing in their fossil-fueled cars. It's also good to drive in the city, good on the highway, and delivers an engaging drive overall. At just $3,020 more than the top-spec SL Plus, the Tesla Model 3 Long Range is a no-brainer.

See Tesla Model 3 Review

Nissan Leaf Popular Comparisons

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