- I drove the 2022 Nissan Leaf, the cheapest EV you can buy in the US.
- The latest Leaf starts at $27,400. The one I drove came out to a bit over $39,000.
- The 2022 Leaf is accessible, practical, and nice to drive, but other EVs have more range.
When Nissan first launched the Leaf hatchback in late 2010, electric cars weren’t really a thing.
Tesla had been selling its first model, the Roadster, for a couple of years. But it didn’t sell very many of them, and they were for rich people. If you were one of the few buyers who wanted a practical, economical, fully-electric ride in those early days, the Leaf was your best bet.
More than a decade later, the electric-vehicle landscape couldn’t be more different.
Tesla is the most valuable car company on Earth. The Hummer nameplate, which shut down mere months before the Leaf arrived, is being reborn under GMC with electric motors in place of a roaring engine. More battery-powered SUVs and pickups are on the horizon than I care to count.
Through all that change, the Leaf is still kicking. Moreover, a recent price cut to $27,400 makes the 2022 Leaf the lowest-priced EV you can buy new in the US. That drops to just under $20,000 if you redeem the full federal tax credit for plug-in purchases.
But can one of the OG EVs still deliver value in 2021, even at a budget price point?
A week with the 2022 Leaf told me the answer is: definitely, so long as you can look past the hatchback’s so-so range in certain trims, less common fast-charging plug, and analog interior relative to some of its newer rivals.
A solid EV at a bargain base price
Although I did test the cheapest EV you can buy in the US, the 2022 Leaf, I, unfortunately, didn’t get to drive the cheapest version of the Leaf. Nissan would only loan out an upper-trim SL Plus model, which came out to $39,255, destination fees included. Still, the core of what the Leaf offers is shared across the lineup.
The 2022 Leaf comes in five trims and offers two battery sizes. The key difference between normal and Plus models is that the latter come with the bigger battery pack, which translates to more power and longer range.
Here’s how the trims break down by retail price and EPA range:
- Leaf S ($27,400): 149 miles
- Leaf SV ($28,800): 149 miles
- Leaf S Plus ($32,400): 226 miles
- Leaf SV Plus ($35,400): 215 miles
- Leaf SL Plus ($37,400): 215 miles
What stands out: EV practicality that won’t break the bank
The Leaf I tested was perfectly pleasant to drive and delivered lots of the pros you’d expect from any EV.
Without a rumbly gas engine up front, the Leaf was quiet. Although it didn’t deliver nearly the kind of lose-your-lunch acceleration you get in some higher-priced EVs, the Leaf was noticeably agile from a stop. Darting through city traffic or making short-notice highway merges was no problem, and the Leaf smoothly and eagerly got up to speed, which you can’t say of every gas-powered economy car.
Like most EVs, the Leaf offers one-pedal driving, which makes driving incrementally more convenient while boosting range. Switch on the e-Pedal function, and the Leaf doesn’t coast when you take your foot off of the accelerator. Instead, the motor starts slowing down to a stop while feeding that captured braking energy back into the battery pack. Once you master the timing, you practically never need to touch the brake.
Another plus: A bunch of advanced safety features come as standard. That includes blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, and reverse automatic braking, but excludes ProPilot Assist, which steers for you on the highway and uses radar to match the speed of the car ahead.
Some may call the Leaf’s shape and look dorky compared with the swarm of high-riding little SUVs zooming about these days. But I ask you: Is a roomy, practical interior “dorky”? Are comfortable back seats with ample leg and headroom … “dorky”? How about a cavernous rear cargo area with the seats folded down? If that’s “dorky,” then maybe I don’t want to be cool.
What falls short: Range and charging, but not by much
In a job interview or college application, it’s cliché (and a terrible idea) to rattle off “weaknesses” like “caring too much” and “working too hard.” But in the case of the Nissan Leaf, what some call flaws, others may see as legitimate selling points.
Step inside the 2022 Leaf and you won’t find a minimal interior and a giant, iPad-style touchscreen like you’d see in the latest EVs from Volkswagen, Ford, or Tesla. Instead, there’s a modest, eight-inch display and buttons. Lots of them. There are buttons for the climate control. A button that turns on one-pedal driving. Switches for the heated seats.
This could repel EV shoppers looking to live on the bleeding edge. But for anyone put off by the screen-ification of new cars, the Leaf could be a breath of fresh air. Inside and out, the Leaf feels less like some futuristic piece of technology and more like an…