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#5

in 2012 Upscale Small Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $18,102 - $19,156
Original MSRP: $35,200 - $37,250
MPG: N/A
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2012 Nissan Leaf Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

While most reviewers are impressed that the 2012 Nissan Leaf accelerates and brakes like a car with a gasoline engine, they are concerned that most drivers won’t be able to travel 73 miles without recharging, and worry that America’s poor charging infrastructure will make recharging the Leaf in the real world nearly impossible.

  • "A little bit of road and wind noise at highway speeds are the only things that taint Leaf's serene driving experience. With no gasoline engine to mask them, sources of noise you might not otherwise hear are noticeable. Nothing is overly bothersome, though." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "On the road, the car boasts peppy acceleration and, were it not for the lack of engine noise, you'd probably be convinced you're driving one of any number of gas-powered models." -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

Reviewers who have driven the 2012 Leaf come away very impressed with the 107 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque the 80-kW electric motor produces. They even say the Leaf has as much power as competitors with gasoline engines. In addition to the electric motor, the Leaf has a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery.

Unlike a small car like the Nissan Sentra, which has a gasoline engine, the Leaf doesn’t have traditional transmission. It only has one speed. Even though the powertrain is arranged differently, the Leaf drives a lot like a normal gas-only car.  

  • "Instantaneous torque from a stop means Leaf accelerates about as well as its gas-powered competition, with better low-end throttle response than most. Merging and passing response are on par with most 4-cylinder compact cars. The single-speed transmission means you feel no shifting. It's a bit odd at first, but you quickly acclimate." -- Consumer Guide
  • "As an electric car, the Leaf offers abundant torque. Acceleration is brisk from the first tap of the throttle, and the car gets up to speed with little fuss -- this Nissan certainly shines as an urban runabout." -- Edmunds
  • "Whether in urban stop-and-go traffic or on a windy back road, we found the LEAF to be utterly unremarkable, and we mean that in a good way. When loaded with passengers, the LEAF didn't struggle or strain as would a conventional 4-cylinder. Instead, its electric motor delivered all the torque a little car could ask for, resulting in brisk acceleration." -- Kelley Blue Book

Batteries and Charging

The Nissan Leaf can be charged at home, either from a typical 110/220-volt home outlet or an optional quick charging station. The quick charging station has to be installed by a professional, and will cost about $2,000, but you may find it worth the added convenience. With a 220-volt outlet, it takes about seven hours to fully charge the Nissan Leaf. But with the quick charge station, Nissan says it only takes 30 minutes to give the Leaf an 80 percent charge. With a 110-volt outlet, it takes about 20 hours to charge the battery.

Once charged, the EPA says the Leaf can achieve 106/92 mpg-e (miles per gallon equivalent) city/highway. The mpg-e rating is how fuel economy is calculated for electric cars, but it doesn’t mean that the Leaf can travel 106 miles in the city before the battery needs to be charged. The EPA says most drivers will be able to travel about 73 miles with a fully-charged battery, which is the car’s range, but that number can go up or down depending on the weather, passengers, cargo and your driving style.  

  • "Nissan claims a maximum full-charge range of 100 miles for Leaf, a number that proved slightly optimistic based on our experience. In Consumer Guide testing, we averaged 73-88 miles on a single charge, some of that driving in high-temperature conditions that may reduce battery efficiency." -- Consumer Guide
  • "If you don't commute more than 100 miles a day, live in an area with easily accessible electrical ports and don't mind waiting from 30 minutes to eight hours to ‘fuel’ your car, the 2012 Nissan LEAF EV is your ticket to the eco-Super Bowl." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "In fact, even ambient temperature plays a role in determining cruising range, because extreme temperatures are detrimental for battery performance.” -- Edmunds

Handling and Braking

Most test drivers are impressed with the Nissan Leaf’s steering. Though the Leaf’s electric power steering offers little feedback, the battery is mounted low, which limits body roll and keeps the car from feeling top-heavy. One reviewer even says the Leaf is a bit sporty.

Reviewers are also impressed with the brakes. The Leaf has regenerative brakes that capture brake friction to recharge the battery. These brakes tend to be grabby on hybrid cars, but test drivers say Nissan did a good job of making them smooth.

  • "Press on the brake and the pedal is firm and sure, without the sort of strange, vague feel indicative of most regenerative braking systems." -- Edmunds
  • "We found that the LEAF's electric power steering feels a bit numb on center, but the steering wheel response is nicely weighted with quick turn-in. Using the Versa Sedan's suspension components gives the LEAF a comfortable and smooth ride with a little bit of sportiness for good measure." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "It's by no means sporty, but Leaf handles competently. Ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires limit grip in fast turns, and the electric power-steering system doesn't have great road feel. Again, the low-mounted battery pack is helpful, preventing the car from feeling top heavy in turns." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The steering, however, offers so little feedback, the front wheels might as well be casters operated by remote control." -- Car and Driver

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