By Eric Peters
How much are you willing to spend on a car to spend nothing on gas?
This question arises — or ought to arise — whenever electric cars are discussed. Especially an electric car such as the Nissan Leaf, which, unlike a Tesla 3 or Model Y, isn’t ludicrously fast or particularly sexy.
What it has going for it, chiefly, is that it’s a lot less expensive than a Tesla Model Y — and a lot more practical than a Tesla Model 3, which is an electric sedan with a small trunk rather than the hatchbacked Leaf’s much larger cargo area.
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What It Is
The Leaf is Nissan’s entry into the electric car arena.
It’s available in standard range (150 miles) and extended range (225 miles) versions, with prices beginning at $31,600 for the base S trim with the less powerful 150-mile range battery and topping out at $43,900 for the SL Plus trim with the 226-mile higher-performance battery.
You can also buy the less expensive S trim with the higher-performance battery (S Plus) for $38,200.
The Leaf’s most direct rival is the Chevy Bolt, which, though more expensive ($36,200 to start), is also a hatchback with cargo space rather than a trunk, which emphasizes practicality over sex appeal and speed.
Another possible cross-shop is the Kia Niro EV, which is also a practically laid-out hatchback that’s about the same size as the Leaf. But its base price of just under $40,000 is much higher than the Leaf’s.
2021 is a carryover year before what is expected to be a major reboot of the Leaf for the 2022 model year.
The base S trim is the most affordable electric car on the market.
The hatchback layout is practical.
It’s very roomy up front.
What’s Not So Good
The base S trim has the shortest range of any electric car on the market.
The Kia Niro EV and Chevy Bolt have more cargo room.
There’s less back-seat legroom than others in the class.
Under the Hood
The base Leaf comes with a one-speed electric motor directly powering the front wheels fed by a battery pack capable of holding enough charge to let you travel up to about 150 miles before you have to stop to recharge — which takes about 7 1/2 hours on standard 120-volt household current.
Plus models get a larger, stronger battery that increases the Leaf’s range to about 226 miles — but the time to recharge also increases to 11 1/2 hours (on 120-volt household current).
The Leaf’s closest-in-cost rival, the Chevy Bolt, comes standard with a 259-mile range and a 10-hour recharge time.
The much-more-expensive Kia Niro EV comes standard with a 239-mile range.
On the Road
The Leaf is not a performance car, but it performs adequately for its intended role as a transportation appliance that happens to be electric. Zero to 60 mph takes about 8.8 seconds.
Keep in mind, however, that everything that’s powered in an electric car is powered by the battery pack — including the heater, the AC and the headlights. Use of these accessories will reduce your range, as will high-speed driving and “fast” starts.
However, an electric vehicle can also do something that gas-powered cars can’t: recover power by using inertia. So, although you’ll lose a lot of range going up a hill, which takes power, you can recover it going down the hill, which uses no power.
The wheels act as generators, using the rolling of the car to recharge its batteries.
At the Curb
When the Leaf came out, it boasted much more practicality than sex-appeal electric vehicles such as the Tesla 3 with its tiny, 15-cubic-foot trunk. The hatchbacked Leaf has twice as much cargo space — 30 cubic feet behind its third row.
But the Leaf has competition on the practicality front from the Bolt — which has 56.6 cubic feet of cargo space with its back seats folded and 36.5 inches of back-seat legroom, versus the Leaf’s a-lot-tighter 33.5 inches of back-seat legroom.
It’s hard to make an economic case for any electric vehicle, even an affordable one — and not just because it’s doubtful you’ll ever recover the roughly $15k difference in cost to buy one versus buying an otherwise similar but not electric transportation appliance.
There is the hidden cost of battery replacement, which is an inevitable part of owning an electric vehicle, because all batteries lose their capacity to hold a charge over time. The problem isn’t just the expense of replacing a tired battery, either. It is the cost of replacing the tired battery — generally around $5,000 — versus the depreciated value of the electric vehicle itself by the time it needs a new battery.
This is why you can find 5- or 6-year-old used Leafs on the market for less than $10k.
The Bottom Line
The Leaf still has practicality — and a lower cost — going for it. But that’s only relative to more expensive electric vehicles that make you pay a great deal more for their greater range.
Eric’s new book, “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride!” is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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