Test Drive: Nissan Leaf


I just had the opportunity to test-drive the new Nissan Leaf here in sunny Seattle, and had enough time with the car to garner some first impressions, take some pictures, and shoot a little video.

The Leaf, as you are probably aware, is Nissan’s new plug-in electric vehicle, and the first of the new generation of consumer EVs to be released here in the States. Sure, you’ve got the Tesla, and even the more family-oriented Model S, but they’re beyond the reach of the average city-dweller. Priced at just under $33K ($25K including the government rebate), the car is really competing with Accords and Legacys and the like. While it’s easy to suggest that it also competes with the Volt, the pricing and technology really set the two apart; all they’ve got in common is an electric motor. I tried to keep all that in mind when comparing the car in my mind with others on the market.


The Leaf is slightly larger than I pictured it. Its closest relative, as far as I can tell, is the Nissan Versa, though the Leaf is a bit longer. While the rear is a bit too rounded for my taste, the lights are boldly designed (and newly re-sculpted for aerodynamics) and the front end is aggressive-looking and unique. I’m told that the body and interior are both “99.9%” final, subject only to the most minor of tweaks.

There is a solar panel (optional) on a small wing protruding from the roof that trickle-charges the car’s 12V battery. I found myself hoping that it would leak a bit of power into the main batteries, but that would be less than useless. Why not have it trickle charge an emergency battery that will take you 1 mile, though? That’d be great.

Opening up the bonnet revealed the modest guts of the Leaf: mostly empty space with piping, brake fluid, and the 12V taking up as much space as the engine itself. The emblem plate pops up to show the charging ports, which are amazingly cool-looking, though anyone who works with industrial electric devices will probably not be impressed.


The interior seems spacious; perhaps this due to the lack that bulky component usually found in cars — the engine. Seriously, though, the portion of the car dedicated to passengers is more than average for a car this size, I feel. There’s space in the boot for “two golf bags,” or quite a few grocery bags, and the seats of course fold down to make room enough for a Christmas tree or what have you. The rear seat is unremarkable, but seemed comfortable and fairly roomy.

The cockpit area is a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar. The steering wheel is pretty standard, with the usual media and navigation controls built-in. The split instrument panel is a little weird at first; it seems the high-priority items and low-priority items are mixed. The speedo next to the clock, live power level next to the temperature, and so on. But despite this conceptual mix-up, the readouts are clear and responsive. I must have missed where it indicates you’re driving in “eco” mode, which conserves and harvests energy, so that probably could be a little more prominent, but everything else was easily viewable. The dash extends rather far before meeting the windshield, giving you the feeling you’re farther back in the car than you are.

There are a couple readouts unique to the Leaf: the range meter, of course, which provides a live estimate of your range, taking into account A/C and other factors. Then there is the power draw indicator, which shows the rate at which you’re sucking (or replenishing) energy. The dots seem to be on an arbitrary scale, so don’t try to make mathematical sense of them. Lastly, there is a little tree display that “grows” trees if you drive conservatively, and cuts them down when you waste energy with quick acceleration or (I would guess) A/C. A karma readout, if you will.

Radio and navigation are handled by a touchscreen and a few hard buttons; it seemed as or more easy to navigate than others I’ve used. The environment controls are a little over-stylized; there’s a lot of wasted space there, though that may be room for optional dash components (I forgot to ask). Overall the cabin has an air of simplicity, symmetry, and a little bit of newness for newness’ sake.


Here’s a little video from inside the car — not essential viewing exactly, but what is? Thanks to Nissan’s Mark Perry for holding the camera. On a related note, sorry for the shaky camera.


There’s much less to put here than in a normal car, especially a manual — which, I should say, I am used to driving. There are two drive modes, normal and eco. Both are “geared” to be pretty tame, I felt; I couldn’t draw a curve of the throttle response, but it certainly wasn’t tuned to provide jump right off the mark, like so many cars around this price. Launch was controlled and smooth; this car is perfect for navigating parking lots. Of course it was very quiet. We didn’t get on the highway, but on a five-lane city street it seemed adequately insulated from street noise.

“Shifting” is accomplished with a simple knob that either goes forwards or backwards, switching into the other mode of drive if you are already in drive, or reverse or neutral. Not a lot going on there, though the shifter is given an inordinate amount of space on the console. I would have liked a little more feedback that let me know I’d “hit” the drive mode, but I think it’s pretty foolproof.

I had a high-ranking Nissan guy in the car with me, so I didn’t try to make any 11s, but I did exceed the speed limit for most of the drive. You get 0-60 in about 10 seconds, not that it really matters — acceleration is fast enough to merge onto the freeway, overtake a slow driver, or quickly juke into an open slot in traffic.

Eco mode adjusts two things: the throttle response curve and the amount of energy harvested by regenerative braking or natural motion (i.e. rolling down hill). The full amount of power is still available, but it’s concentrated much more closely to the floor. It slowed us noticeably when going down a hill. Hypermilers will enjoy being able to switch in and out of this mode quickly.

Handling seemed normal for a car of this size. Having only driven it for a few minutes, I don’t feel qualified to make any real observations other than that it went where I wanted it to.


I have always said I wouldn’t buy a new car until I could get a plug-in, and I’ve been looking forward to the Leaf as the first real example of what might be worth picking up. I have to say I was not disappointed. For a city car, travelling distances of 5, 10, 20 miles, it’s absolutely great. It’s got plenty of room for cargo, space for a few friends, it’s quiet — it’s a bit larger than I’d prefer, but for most people it should be a good size.

Nissan is trying hard to downplay the notion of the Leaf going on longer trips, focusing instead on how practical it is for the more common type of driving: commutes and everyday city driving on the order of tens of miles. That can’t eliminate the anxiety a Leaf owner would have, though, if they needed to make a trip that pushes the boundaries of what the car is capable of. As an all-purpose car, you’re better off with gas for now, of course, but that’s because the Leaf represents a generation of vehicles that isn’t yet supported by our infrastructure — a 50-year-old infrastructure based very effectively around petroleum. While thousands of charge stations will be going up over the next year or two, one still feels restricted, as if one is on an electric leash.

The Leaf is a car I’d recommend to anyone who’s already game, but it’s not going to change anyone’s mind who isn’t already interested in getting a plug-in. That’ll happen a few years down the road. But for those legitimately on the fence, I think the Leaf may be a worthy investment.

More TechCrunch

London-based fintech Vitesse has closed a $93 million Series C round of funding led by investment giant KKR.

Vitesse, a payments and treasury management platform for insurers, raises $93M to fuel US expansion

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

2 days ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses