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Turning over a new Leaf: upgraded EV takes it to the next level

The 2013 Nissan Leaf charges up quicker than the 2012 model.


Overall Rating
Being able to charge overnight at home minimizes the hassle of its short 120 kilometres of real-world range, offering miniscule fuel bills and near-silent operation.
Looks Rating
Cleanly futuristic to some eyes, enviro-geeky to others.
Interior Rating
Now available with a much more family-friendly black cloth or leather interior, but still more space-age than luxurious inside.
Ride Rating
Suspension tuned more for comfort than handling, but the overriding personality trait is the absence of engine noise, even at full “throttle.”
Safety Rating
For the price, especially on fully loaded models, could offer more advanced safety features.
Green Rating
Outside of biking, it doesn’t get much greener than this.

The all-electric 2013 Nissan Leaf is not for everyone. I say that as the happy owner of a Leaf for almost two years now. Powered purely by electricity, the Leaf offers a real-world driving range of about 120 kilometres, with no gasoline backup, so it's likely not for you if you need to travel farther than that on a regular basis.

But it will appeal to those who like a deal, as the 2013 Leaf starts almost $6,700 lower than the 2012 model's $38,395 starting price. Plus Leaf buyers in Ontario will see an $8,500 clean car cheque from their provincial government, with similar $8,000 and $5,000 government rebates for buyers in Quebec and British Columbia, respectively.

The entry-level 2013 Leaf S therefore starts at an effective price in the mid-20s in its three largest markets. Canadians outside those three provinces are still out of luck, with no federal equivalent to the $7,500 U.S. tax refund.

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American Leaf buyers certainly enjoy more competition, allocation and lower prices than do Canadian owners, with advertised $199/month U.S. lease deals impossible to approach here. Nissan will install a national network of more than 100 DC quick chargers at U.S. Nissan dealerships over the next year, making longer highway trips possible with an 80 per cent charge in about a half hour, and much faster than the Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) available at all Leaf dealerships. In Britain, Nissan has even begun offering every Leaf owner a free Nissan gas/diesel car rental for up to 14 days a year. Low lease prices, extensive fast charging dealer networks, free car rentals: all items missing from Nissan Canada's Leaf offering.

Once all the financial wheeling and dealing is done, there's a futuristic appeal to driving and living with any battery electric vehicle (BEV), including the Leaf: how quiet it is, how little it costs to fuel and maintain, and the guilt-free feeling of no exhaust emissions or money going up in smoke out of your non-existent tailpipe.

And not one BEV driver misses shivering outside in the bitter cold while refuelling.

Upon entering the Leaf, a Trekkie mouse-like shifter furthers this ultramodern feeling, needing a push across and down to put the car into gear, while the same motion again puts you into Eco mode, increasing the amount of juice regenerated. Driving the 2013 feels exactly like the 2012: The car silently glides along at all speeds vibration-free, while a smart new black interior is an overdue option for parents tired of cleaning light-coloured seats.

The 2013 Leaf charges quicker too, about equal to its most technologically similar rival, the Ford Focus EV. It takes about four hours to fully charge from near empty using the usual level two 220-volt EVSEs, thanks to an upgrade in the Leaf's onboard charger from 3.3 to 6.6 kW. This faster speed also means that a stop at a mall or restaurant that offers an EVSE or even an available 110V outlet will now give you double the "fuel" in the same amount of time, and for the same cost – often free.

What's not free anywhere is the 220-volt garage charger itself or its installation. The cost is roughly $2,000 installed for this, with $1,000 of that also eligible for provincial rebates in Ontario and Quebec, $500 in British Columbia. It's not mandatory, but these quicker chargers are a worthwhile investment. It's a cost that will be easily repaid in fuel savings, with every 1,000 km worth of driving costing roughly $30 in electricity.

Also a worthwhile upgrade to the 2013 model is a new heat pump system that's more effective at warming the interior, and drawing less power that cuts into your overall driving range. Putting the 2013's heat pump-equipped unit versus our 2012's climate control at -2C, the newer system generated heat quicker, while drawing roughly 17 per cent less electricity.

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After leaving both fully charged Leafs parked side by side with the heat set on its 32C max for 142 minutes, the 2012 Leaf was down to just less than half of full range (losing seven of 12 bars), with 47 kilometres of estimated range left. The 2013 drew on the main battery less, losing five of 12 bars, and indicated 75 kilometres left.

All in all, the Leaf remains revolutionary, the first mass-produced BEV, even without the design flair, performance or toys of the Tesla Model S, the gold standard of BEVs. But that car starts at about double the Leaf's price. For drivers who appreciate the Leaf's advantages and limitations, its numerous upgrades may generate buyer remorse among current owners, but also make it a more tempting offering for a larger group of new ones.

Tech Specs

2013 Nissan Leaf

Type: Mid-size battery electric (BEV) hatchback

Base price: $31,698; as tested: $40,657

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Motor/battery: 80 kW/24 kWh lithium-ion battery

Horsepower/torque: 107 hp/187 lb-ft

Transmission: none; direct drive

Drive: front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km equivalent): 1.8 city/2.3 highway

Alternatives: Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus EV, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Toyota Prius Plug-In

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