The Leaf is quickly becoming a mainstay of the American EV scene. Nissan is very much determined to keep it that way: it's starting US production of the 2013 model year with sizable upgrades to fend off the likes of the Focus Electric. The refresh includes a lower-cost (if currently priceless) S model as well as an optional 6.6kW charger (standard on higher trim levels) that should top up the car's battery in about four hours -- almost twice as fast as the original, and more in line with newer alternatives. Nissan is also teasing us with more driving range, although it has yet to pin down just how much further we'll travel. In-cabin tech receives its own upgrade through both Google Places searches for local points of interest as well as an eco-friendly routing mode. We might glean more details of the 2013 Leaf's launch when the North American International Auto Show kicks off next week; for now, we'll have to make do with Nissan's technical details after the break.
Now in its third model year, the highly innovative, industry leading Nissan LEAF pure electric vehicle features an extensive list of important enhancements for 2013. Importantly, LEAF is now assembled in the United States at Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn. assembly plant, with battery production taking place right next door in the country's largest lithium-ion automotive battery plant.
Changes to the 2013 Nissan LEAF start with improved energy efficiency* due to refined aerodynamics, a wider range of regenerative braking, improved energy management and a newly available 6.6 kW onboard charger that reduces 220V charging time nearly in half to approximately four hours for full charge*. In addition, a new lower priced entry-level LEAF S grade joins the previous SV and SL grades, while an array of feature enhancements are added to the LEAF SL grade, including leather-appointed seating and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. Also, three new option packages are available – offering advanced systems such as Around View® Monitor and 7-speaker Bose® energy efficient audio.
Due to efficiency improvements, the 2013 Nissan LEAF is expected to offer improved range, with testing on the EPA test cycle to be announced closer the vehicle's on-sale date.
Said Nissan Division Vice President and General Manager Al Castignetti: "The refinements and enhancements for 2013 hit at the core of customer requests during LEAF's first two years – available features providing quicker charging, improved range expectations and the ability to fine-tune the equipment levels to exact owner needs, whether they desire fewer standard features for an even more affordable car or more luxury amenities like leather-appointed seating and premium audio."
Other 2013 model year additions include an available hybrid heater system that provides superior cold weather performance while consuming less energy; a new available "B" drive mode that increases regenerative braking during deceleration; and a new charge port light and lock, with a charge port door release button added to the intelligent key fob.
Enhanced interior features range from a standard leather-wrapped steering wheel to a new black interior color and sun visor extensions. Rear cargo space has been increased to 24 cubic feet with the 2nd row seat upright by relocating the onboard charger to the front of the vehicle. There is 30 cubic feet of cargo space with the standard 60/40-split rear seat folded down.
EV-IT improvements for 2013 include a new "Eco route" feature added to the available navigation system that includes suggested power-saving alternative routes – plus Google® local search, Pandora® link for iPhone® and iPod® cover art. The new Google Places search function allows LEAF owners to look for area restaurants, shops and other points of interest and browse user reviews using Google's POI database to get the most up-to-date information at all times.
"When we launched the Nissan LEAF two years ago our desire was to offer surprising acceleration performance and a quiet, refined interior with room for five adults and their cargo – all in a vehicle that is fully electric, produces zero carbon emissions and with a range that would satisfy the daily needs of most drivers," said Castignetti. "Having met and exceeded those original goals, we've now enhanced nearly every aspect of LEAF for 2013 – extending its appeal to an even wider audience just as we've started local assembly and local production if our batteries and electric motors."
A Dedicated EV Platform, Innovative Battery Design
The front-wheel drive LEAF again uses a dedicated EV platform with batteries housed in the floor for optimum vehicle packaging and weight distribution. The body design includes a rigid-mounted battery frame, which helps provide greater body rigidity compared to a conventional compact car.
LEAF rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, with a 175.0-inch overall length, 69.7-inch width and 61.0-inch height. Dimensionally, the Nissan LEAF falls in between the Nissan Altima and Nissan Versa, and like those vehicles provides room for five adults and a good-sized cargo area. Placing the batteries in the floor of the vehicle provides optimum weight distribution to help enhance handling and allows for five-passenger seating by not intruding into the cabin space. LEAF's 24 kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery is comprised of 48 compact modules of four cells each (192 cells total), which allows a high degree of packaging flexibility. The batteries are designed to maximize drive time and minimize charging time.
The battery was developed by the Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC), a joint venture of Nissan and NEC. Unlike conventional cylindrical batteries, the thin, compact laminated cells offer more flexibility in design applications. The battery powers a high-response 80kW AC synchronous motor, rated at 107 horsepower and 187 lb-ft of torque, which drives the front wheels through a single speed reducer. Unlike a conventional internal combustion engine, LEAF has 100 percent of its torque available from start, delivering smooth, consistent acceleration and the driving feel similar to a conventional V6 engine.
The Nissan LEAF offers a number of charging options. A charge port is located in the front body for the 220V charger and portable trickle charge cable (110V). A charge port light and lock has been added for 2013. The available Quick Charge Port (standard on SL, optional on S, SV) allows charging to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes at public charging stations using a DC fast charger. There is also a standard photovoltaic solar panel spoiler on SL models, which supports charging of the 12-volt battery for vehicle accessories.
For 2013, LEAF SV and SL grades feature a new 6.6 kW onboard charger that reduces 220V charging time nearly in half to approximately 4 hours for a full charge. The system is optionally available on the LEAF S, which in standard form will utilize a 3.6 kW onboard charger. All LEAF models come with a standard portable trickle charge cable.
Said Castignetti: "Being able to 80-percent recharge the LEAF battery in approximately four hours gives owners tremendous flexibility, such as recharging while going to dinner and a movie, attending a sporting event or spending a half-day at the office."
The 2013 Nissan LEAF again uses an independent strut suspension with stabilizer bar in front and a torsion beam rear suspension with integrated stabilizer bar. Responsive steering is provided by a vehicle-speed-sensitive electric power steering system.
Braking is provided by power-assisted front vented disc/solid rear disc brakes with Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. LEAF's standard regenerative braking system helps increase range. By applying the brakes or reducing speed by letting off the accelerator, the electric motor acts as an electric generator, converting energy that would otherwise be wasted into battery energy. The new "B-mode" (SV and SL grades) allows the driver to engage an even more aggressive level of regenerative braking while decelerating, such as when going down hills. The "B-mode" is in addition to the normal and Eco drive modes. The Eco mode increases regenerative braking, assists in limiting motor output and reduces HVAC power output.
"The Nissan LEAF has an advantage in that braking force is used to re-power the battery, thereby improving its energy efficiency," said Castignetti.
Because Nissan LEAF does not have an internal combustion engine, Nissan has incorporated an "Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians" system, which is designed to alert pedestrians that a vehicle is approaching. When driving at low speeds, the system emits a sound from a speaker at the front of the vehicle. When the vehicle's speed reaches 19 mph, pedestrians are able to hear the car moving and the "approaching sound" automatically turns off. If the vehicle speed drops below 16 mph, the sound comes on again.
Exterior Designed for "Smart Fluidity"
Nissan LEAF's dedicated EV body is designed to offer "smart fluidity" – a fusion of sophisticated aerodynamic management and aerodynamic acoustics with the freedom provided by the new EV layout.
The smooth, elegant movement of the body starts from the low, compact hood, moves through the iconic shoulder character line and on toward the large rear spoiler.
The distinctive exterior styling is characterized by sharp, upright V-shaped design featuring long, up-slanting headlights with a blue internal reflective appearance. The headlights split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, reducing wind noise and drag. LED headlights, which consume about 50 percent of the electricity of halogen headlights, are standard on LEAF SL (and optional on SV). Heated outside mirrors are standard on all grades.
In the rear, the slim-type aerodynamic LED taillight design and crisp corners combine with the aerodynamic rear bumper with rear diffuser to manage the aerodynamics of the rear end without compromising rear interior roominess. The coefficient of drag for 2013 has been improved to 0.28 (versus the previous 0.29).
The exterior also utilizes a flat underbody (including a large front flat floor cover, electric motor area undercover, front undercover and rear diffuser with fins) to help manage airflow under the vehicle. An innovative vortex-shedding roof-mounted antenna is one of many design elements utilized to help reduce wind noise. Other noise reduction features include a quiet-operation windshield wiper motor, a sound insulation windshield design and a dual-isolated motor-mounting system. The 5-door hatchback design also features chrome door handles, aerodynamic outside mirrors and a large greenhouse to provide a bright interior environment.
Three different wheel designs are offered for 2013: 16-inch steel wheels with full-wheel covers for LEAF S, 5-spoke 16-inch aluminum-alloy for LEAF SV and new split 5-spoke 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels for LEAF SL. Bridgestone Ecopia 205/55R16 all-season tires are used with the S and SV grades, while 215/50R17 Michelin Energy Saver all-season tires are standard on SL.
Seven exterior colors are available: new for the 2013 model year Metallic Slate and Glacier White, along with the previously offered Brilliant Silver, Super Black, Cayenne Red, Pearl White and Blue Ocean.
Distinctive "EV Touch" Interior
The roomy Nissan LEAF interior offers a pleasingly modern design created to provide a unique "EV touch" with "simple and human flow." The bright, welcoming atmosphere starts with the wide, high tech instrument panel design – which is dominated by a twin combination meter display in front of the driver and a center "floating" C-stack with a 4.3-inch color LCD display (S grade). A 7.0-inch display is standard on SV and SL grades. The digital "eyebrow" display at the top of the instrument panel provides high visibility for the Eco indicator and speedometer, while the lower liquid crystal meter display houses the new percentage style state-of-charge meter, power meter, battery temperature gauge, multi-function display, remaining energy gauge, capacity level gauge and distance to empty display.
The flat panel center C-stack cluster continues the "EV touch" feel with the color monitor for the available navigation system, available RearView Monitor or Around View® Monitor and control of the audio and climate systems.
The display also provides access to the CARWINGS telematics system (standard on SV and SL), which is connected to a Nissan data center, (subscription required, no charge for 36 months). Through CARWINGS, Nissan LEAF drivers are able to use mobile smart phones to turn on air conditioning and set charging functions remotely, even when the vehicle is powered down. The system also displays "reachable area," as well as showing a selection of nearby charging stations. An on-board charging timer can also be programmed to start the charging event whenever desired. Also standard on SV and SL grades is the Nissan Navigation System with NavTraffic (SiriusXM subscription required, sold separately).
The Nissan LEAF interior also includes comfortable heated front bucket seats and a 60/40 split folding heated rear seat and rear HVAC duct. LEAF SV seat fabric is made with partially recycled materials.
Recycled materials are also used for the back door trim, roof trim and headliner, carpeting and a number of other interior pieces such as the door panels and center console storage cover. LEAF SL includes new standard leather-appointed seats for 2013.
The center console area includes the palm shifter (inspired by a PC mouse) for the "by wire" drive selector. The standard 3-spoke heated leather-wrapped steering wheel houses controls for the cruise control (except S), audio system and standard Bluetooth® Hands-free Phone System. SiriusXM Satellite Radio (SiriusXM subscription required, sold separately) is also standard, with HomeLink® Universal Transceiver standard on SL models.
Three audio systems are offered, starting with an AM/FM/CD with MP3/WMA CD playback capability, 4 speakers and 4.3-inch color LCD display for LEAF S. LEAF SV and SL add two additional speakers, the 7.0-inch display and Pandora® link for iPhone®. The Bose® 7-speaker premium audio system is optionally available with SV and SL grades. Two interior colors are offered: new Black (S, SV, SL) or Light Gray (SV only).
Standard 2013 LEAF safety systems include Nissan Advanced Air Bag System (AABS) with dual-stage supplemental front air bags with seat belt sensors and occupant classification sensor, front seat-mounted side impact supplemental air bags, roof-mounted curtain side impact supplemental air bags for front and rear-seat outboard occupant head protection, 3-point ALR/ELR seat belts (driver's seat ELR only) with pretensioners and load limiters, child seat upper tether anchor, LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) system and child safety rear door locks. Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and Traction Control System (TCS) are also standard on all LEAF models.
Three Well-Equipped Models, Three Option Packages
The 2013 Nissan LEAF is offered in three well-equipped models, the LEAF S, LEAF SV and LEAF SL. Standard features include a 6-way manual driver's seat, 4-way manual front passenger's seat, trip computer (instant and average energy consumption, driving time, outside temperature and autonomy range), Automatic Temperature Control (ATC), center console storage and 3.6 kW onboard charger.
Other standard equipment includes Nissan Intelligent Key® with Push Button Start, power windows with driver's window one-touch auto up/down, power door locks with auto locking feature, remote charge door release, two cupholders, four bottle holders, variable intermittent windshield wipers, a 12-volt power outlet and 16-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers.
The Nissan LEAF SV model adds Nissan Navigation system, 7.0-inch color LCD screen, CARWINGS telematics, 6-speaker audio system, Pandora® link for iPhone®, 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, 6.6 kW onboard charger, hybrid heater system, cruise control, auto-dimming inside mirror, partially recycled cloth seat fabric, passenger side map pocket and "B-mode" regenerative braking.
The 2013 LEAF SL model adds a photovoltaic solar panel spoiler, fog lights, auto on/off headlights, cargo cover, HomeLink® Universal Transceiver, Quick Charge Port, leather-appointed seats, LED headlights and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.
Three new option packages are added for 2013, allowing buyers to further select the exact equipment and features for their needs. The Quick Charge Package (S grade only) includes the 6.6 kW onboard charger, Quick Charge Port and RearView Monitor. The LED Headlights + Quick Charge Port Package (SV grade only) includes LED headlights, auto on/off headlights, fog lights and Quick Charge Port. Finally, the Premium Package (SV and SL grades) offers the advanced Around View® Monitor and Bose® 7-speaker audio.
A Roadside Assistance program is offered for 36 months at no charge, as is service for the CARWINGS telematics system.
The advanced lithium-ion battery pack carries an industry-competitive warranty of 8 years or 100,000 miles. Under an expanded New Electric Vehicle Limited Warranty, Nissan will protect against capacity loss in LEAF batteries that fall below nine bars, of the available 12 bars displayed on the vehicle's battery capacity gauge, for the first five years or 60,000 miles in the United States, whichever comes first.
U.S. Nissan LEAF production is sourced from assembly and battery production facilities in Smyrna, Tennessee. It is assembled on the same line as the Nissan Maxima and Nissan Altima. Nissan has a 30-year history of building quality vehicles in Smyrna. Nissan's new lithium-ion battery plant is in an adjacent facility. Nissan is the only automaker that manufactures its own electric vehicle (EV) batteries.