Why does the Leaf look the way it does? Purely for the best electrical and aerodynamic function possible, because it operates so quietly. So quietly, in fact, that Nissan worked with a number of groups to design and build a noise generator that operates between 1 mph and 18 mph, so that blind pedestrians and their guide dogs can hear the car coming toward them. After 18 mph, the tire noise and wind noise generated by the body are enough of a noise signature to be heard.
That hatch in the nose is where the electric charging system terminal resides. Those raised headlamp units that stand proud off the front fenders were designed to split the air into two paths, so that the two paths would go around the outside rearview mirrors as quietly as possible. A similar low-noise treatment was done to the antenna. The big mouth on the bottom carries cooling air into the motor compartment and, interestingly, Nissan has made the underhood area look like a conventional four-cylinder engine and 12-volt battery. The slippery shape, which includes a completely flat bottom, generates a wind-tunnel coefficient of drag of only 0.29, among the best of all cars, because aerodynamic drag drains power and creates unwanted noise.
Nissan has equipped the Leaf with a system called Carwings, a smartphone application that can check state of charge, charging status, a start-charging command, and a remote switch to start the heating or cooling system. It can also tell the driver if the charger has been inadvertently or deliberately disconnected.
Nissan has made sure that nothing has been left out of the Leaf package, with voice-guided navigation, cruise control, electric air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks (the seats are manual), 60/40 split folding rear seats, AM/FM/XM/CD six-speaker sound system with AUX and iPod inputs, Bluetooth, and a trip computer (with instant and average energy use, driving time remaining, outside temperature and autonomy range).
Special instruments include a large speedometer, battery temperature, power meter, remaining energy, capacity level, distance-to-empty, and an ECO mode indicator. The palm-sized floor shifter offers Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and one more notch to the rear, Eco mode, which changes how the throttle and brakes work to give the best possible mileage performance from the battery. The Leaf navigation system is programmed to show all available public charging stations as well as a continuously updated circle of driving range overlaid on the nav map. There is a separate screen for charging timer to take advantage of low electricity rates at night, and a climate control timer screen.
Inside, the Leaf is simple, clean and modern, with the instrumentation packaged in a beautiful blue-tinted array of center, left, and right modules.
The seats are comfortable and well fitting, the adjustable wheel is comfortable to use, and there is plenty of light coming into the car from the large windows and narrow pillars. There is more room inside the Leaf than it looks like from the outside.