Sometimes the rumors are true. In the case of the new Nissan Leaf, word that the 2016 model year would bring an increase in electric range turned out to be accurate. Nissan announced the next-gen Leaf would offer 107 miles of range (per the EPA) beginning with the SV trim and come in at $35,050 after destination charges. The premium of $5,190 over the base model offers 27% more range — great for 2015 if not earth-shattering considering the EVs that GM and Tesla promise for the coming years.
According to a company statement, Nissan will keep the base Leaf S with 84 miles of range at $29,860 (including destination) for the 2016 model year while the SV trim increases to $35,050 (from $32,950) and the SL trim jumps to $37,640 (from $35,970). The powertrain will remain the same with 107 horsepower and 187 pounds-feet of torque available from the electric motor. Once the SV and SL trims hits the road, they will give the Leaf the longest electric vehicle range outside of a Tesla (Kia’s Soul EV currently holds the position with 93 miles.)
Making the Leaf the longest-ranging EV outside of a Tesla is significant achievement for Nissan and, peering more closely at the upgrades available, the premium over 2015 SV ($2,100) and SL trims ($1,670) seems well worth it. To open the discussion, we have to point out the base Leaf S does not come with a 6.6 kW onboard charger, an essential tool of an EV driver who wants to charge quickly.
These faster chargers, which no one should do without, cost $1,770 on top of the base model’s sticker. That makes it $31,630 for anyone who uses the car on a daily basis. In other words, the SV trim is the most reasonable call for 2015 Leaf buyers, and that MSRP is only rising $2,100. The jump from 84 miles to 107 miles of range looks like a steal for $35,050 before incentives, if a little stuck in time considering the EV that pretends to shatter range concerns at an affordable price point.
Both the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV are expected to quell range anxiety for the masses with 200 miles to work with at $37,500 or less. It isn’t much of a stretch to say the 2016 Nissan Leaf offers half those future cars’ range at about the same price.
However, time travel is not a possibility, and buyers on today’s auto market will see the 2016 Leaf as the most bang for the buck when it arrives in dealerships in late fall 2015. Tesla’s least expensive model remains over $70,000 while the Kia Soul EV ($34,775) offers a nearly identical cost per mile of range. (The new Soul EV-e, a base model available only in California, costs $32,775.)
Is the upgrade worth it to most drivers? It will depend on incentives available in your state and (in one case) at your income level. Federal tax credits of $7,500 are available for all EV and hydrogen fuel cell car buyers, while states offering $2,500 or more in incentives abound. In California, rebates are tied to income. No matter what the case, buyers of the Leaf SV will be able to get the 2016 model for under $30,000.
In most cases, that won’t be good enough when you consider the range is still only getting you about 50 miles in each direction or 100 round-trip. Future models promising 200 miles may be too tempting for buyers to pull the trigger in 2016. Meanwhile, the 2016 Chevy Volt makes a strong case of its own. When it finally rolls out to every U.S. state (in spring 2016), the plug-in hybrid Volt has plenty to offer green car drivers who aren’t ready to compromise on range or splurge on a Tesla.
In the meantime, we’ll take every affordable bump in electric range we can get. We’ll let you know how the 2016 Leaf operates in the real world the first chance we get.