hello to the leaf

The first-generation Nissan Leaf was a car that only an owner could love. It had bug eyes for the headlights, the body of a Bulbasaur, a toy-like startup sound, and a big plastic button in the center console that you moved like an air hockey paddle to put the Leaf on. in reverse or in reverse.

I was one of those owners, and even though I passed out during the 2018 redesign, I still only had eyes for my first-gen Leaf. Like many new EV owners, it was my first true all-electric car, one that changed the way I think about every drive and how to get there without draining the battery. He’s the one who helped me discover what it’s like to have a gas station in your own house.

And above all, it was a taste of the revolution to come. The electric vehicle is here, and so is the future of cleaner personal transportation. And now that the Leaf is said to be about to roll out of production, it feels like saying goodbye to an early electric pioneer and one of the best cars I’ve ever owned.

The Leaf was far from a perfect car. Most notably, it was not suitable for long road trips or even the most modest ones. The 2013 model I owned typically clocked 70-80 miles or more on its range, though the weeks I was traveling locally – and in perfect weather – I had bumped it into triple digits.

You can drive very conservatively and get a 2015 Leaf or similar to boast 100 miles of range for its 24kWh battery.

At sunset, a black Nissan Leaf is parked in the direction of a DC Royal Farms fast charger.  The CHAdeMO socket is already in the Leaf with its front latch open.  There is a small suburban house with many trees in the background with an empty convenience store parking lot in the foreground.

I sometimes had to venture off the highway to find CHAdeMO fast chargers on car trips.

But on the highway, that range was elusive. I used to drive it between New York and Baltimore, stopping at any DC fast-charging station I could find three times each way. I didn’t care, I was determined to only drive electric from then on, and it really helped me to save a lot of money on the car itself and to be able to charge for free at work.

The real deals for the Nissan Leaf came in 2015-2016, when you could snag the top “SV” or “SL” trims on the used market in the low to mid $10,000 range. These models were more likely to come with built-in navigation (although CarPlay wouldn’t come until the 2018 redesign), Bose sound systems, and most importantly, the CHAdeMO DC fast-charging port that could charge the car. to 80% in about 30 minutes. .

The unfortunate thing about the CHAdeMO fast charging standard is that it didn’t beat the CCS combo connector that most of the industry adopted for the US market. And Tesla still has its proprietary connector, though it plans to start adding CCS combo support to its stations soon.

Tesla has offered a CHAdeMO adapter that allows drivers to plug their luxury sedans into stations where the Leafs would normally frolic, but it’s not currently available in the United States. Right now, CHAdeMO is still available in almost every place CCS is, but major charging networks like Electrify America are starting to discontinue the connector in favor of opening more taps for Tesla’s growing population. .

But the biggest problem with the Leaf in the long run isn’t in the charging port; it’s more in the stacks. Early Leafs suffered from rapid battery degradation in hotter climates or if they were recharged too often while commuting due to the lack of a liquid cooling system.

A new “lizard” drum module design was released in 2013, but the improvements were not drastic. In 2016, the Leaf finally got its first significant battery upgrade, dropping from 24 to 30 kWh and improving its EPA rated range to 107 miles. But it still wasn’t cooled – and neither were the redesigns of 2018 and beyond.

The used market got interesting as the Leaf got older. You should pray that dealerships release a clear image of the fully powered dashboard so you can count the battery health indicator bars. The meter traveled vertically along the state of charge (SoC) meter, and a battery in very good condition could be identified if it still had all 12 bars (including the red bits).

But if you really wanted to know if the battery was viable, especially if it was missing a few bars, you’d need physical access and connect a Bluetooth OBD-II reader in combination with the handy LeafSpy app for iPhone or Android. (It’s also important to check with LeafSpy as the battery gauge may be temporarily reset and appear to have a perfect battery, even though it isn’t.)

If your own Leaf has an out-of-warranty battery, you can try a third-party service that upgrades new donor Leafs packs that may allow for longer range. In other words, Leaf owners should keep an eye on the battery meter, purchase date, and mileage to ensure they don’t miss a crucial warranty-covered battery replacement – or else research the modding community. The worst outcome would be owning a Leaf with a wasteful battery that can barely get you to the nearest mall without draining.

I traded in this 2013 Leaf S for a 2015 Leaf SL which had all the bells and whistles.

Despite some design flaws and the problem of Nissan hanging on to a dying charging standard, it was a very practical vehicle, was more affordable than the BMW i3 and had more cargo space compared to EV-compliant cars like the Chevy Spark EV and the Ford Focus Electric. But it certainly wasn’t a Tesla Model S, which was the only (can I say objectively?) beautiful electric car at the time, even if it remained financially out of reach for most car buyers.

In 2018, the Leaf got its much-needed facelift with longer-range options. The following year Nissan included a 200+ mile option, but the car itself was essentially the same. The Leaf maintained its starting MSRP at nearly $30,000 for most of its life. You could have landed on lower ā€œSā€ trims that lack leatherette seats and feature steering wheels for around $20,000, and with the $7,500 federal incentive, that could go even lower.

But car buyers were largely uninterested. Nissan still hasn’t triggered the phase-out of its sales-based federal incentives like Tesla and GM, showing how weak Leaf sales have been over the years. Take Ford, for example; it’s only really been selling EVs since 2021 with the Mustang Mach-E, and it’s already close to hitting the 200,000 sales threshold (although that cap could soon be lifted with new legislation). Recently, Nissan dropped its latest Leaf 2022 price below the $30,000 mark for 40kWh battery models that can go about 150 miles on a single charge.

A range of Leaf charging in 2017. Today you are more likely to see a range of Tesla Model 3 or Y.

Nissan popularized the “zero emissions” marketing slogan that many electric vehicle manufacturers use today, and it helped launch the electric vehicle market with one of the most available and affordable all-electric options. The Leaf was a sight in its own right, with its odd design cues and warning whistles for low-speed pedestrians. Nissan has followed the path of product differentiation that Toyota and others have trodden: making internal combustion cars more attractive and not stirring the pot too much on the fossil fuel economy that all automakers have always relied on.

But at the same time, Nissan treated its electric car differently. It built and sold an affordable electric car at a time when other EV makers were starting with luxury models or compliant trims to appease regulators. It was a genuine effort to spur some kind of mass adoption of electric vehicles, even if the rest of Nissan’s lineup overshadowed it in marketing. It’s a car the company has been building for more than 10 years, and yet it hasn’t changed the Leaf much or applied what it’s learned to other models.

The Leaf became New York’s first all-electric taxi and was even the first to demo the car-at-home backup technology that automakers like Ford plan to bring to market. It would be sad to see those days over if Nissan unplugs the Leaf, but hopefully the Leaf will come back later, fully reborn.

Either way, I’m grateful to Nissan for giving me one of the most enjoyable and rewarding automotive experiences ever. With the automaker’s $17.6 billion initiative to transform itself into an electric vehicle company, we may soon see better, more affordable options ā€” preferably ones that aren’t boring, expensive compact SUVs ( sorry, Ariya).

Photography by Umar Shakir / The Verge


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