In April, General Motors announced that it was scrapping the Chevrolet Bolt, ending production later this year. That’s a big deal — not because the Bolt was the perfect car, but because it was the cheapest electric vehicle on the market at $26,500 (or $19,000 after the $7,500 federal tax credit).
The next cheapest EV is the $29,135 Nissan Leaf S, which, barring some surprise announcement, will likely be the most affordable electric car going into 2024. So if you’re looking for a new EV on a budget, you’re kind of stuck with a Nissan (or a Bolt, while supplies last). Here’s what critics and owners say about this hatchback.
What Is the Nissan Leaf?
Nissan debuted the Leaf in 2011, putting it years ahead of other car manufacturers. That head start allowed the Japanese car manufacturer to establish the Leaf as one of the best-selling electric vehicles in history.
Although the Leaf has changed since its 2010s release, the basics of the car are the same: It’s a compact electric car that has a modest engine, range, and price. In other words, you shouldn’t expect luxury or ample cargo space. This is a car for city-dwellers who want an electric car on a budget.
And since we’re focused on “the cheapest electric car,” we’ll be primarily judging the Leaf’s base model, though the $37,135 SV Plus notably has a 215-mile driving range.
Critics: Cheap and Spacious but Far From Perfect
The Nissan Leaf S receives plaudits for its standard tech, spacious interior, and price, but the base model’s 149-mile driving range lags behind competitors. Despite its shortcomings, however, the Leaf still earned high scores from US News, Edmunds, and Consumer Reports.
The most affordable EV (following the Chevrolet Bolt’s departure).
Spacious, comfortable cabin and ample cargo space for its size.
Eight-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Integration.
Five-star National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety rating.
Limited 149-mile driving range.
No longer eligible for $7,500 federal tax credit, as Nissan manufacturers the Leaf abroad.
Not compatible with all public charging stations.
Charging is slow.
Lackluster 147-horsepower electric motor.
Most critics agree that the Bolt is a better car.
Gallery: 15 Reasons I Drive an Electric Car
Consumers: A Great EV (for the Price)
According to Consumer Reports’ Annual Ownership Survey, 69% of Nissan Leaf owners say that they would buy the car again, putting it ahead of the Chevrolet Bolt (65%) and Hyundai Kona Electric (62%). That’s also borne out in consumer reviews on Edmunds and Reddit, where most owners seem pleased with their purchase. Sure, it’s not as luxurious or exciting as a Tesla, but it’s a cheap, reliable, and even fun-to-drive EV that’s adequate for urban drivers. Does that mean it’s a great EV? No. But if your budget is limited and you don’t expect to take road trips, it gets the job done.
The following consumer reviews from Edmunds.com should give you an idea of the online consensus:
“Nothing fancy, but delivers as promised. Drives great and has all the safety and tech features needed.” —Owner of a 2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus
“Curb your enthusiasm — this isn't a Tesla, nor was it meant to be.” —Owner of a 2022 Nissan Leaf SV Plus
“If you're a heavy road-tripper, the Leaf likely isn't your best choice. But if you have a 240V fast-charge in the garage, the Leaf fits the bill as a perfect commuter option, with enough range to head to the wineries, lakes, golf courses (yeah — this is Northern CA) for your typical day trip.” —Owner of a 2020 Nissan Leaf SL Plus
Other ‘Cheap’ EVs
2025 Mini Cooper Electric Classic - $32,000 (estimate)
2024 Hyundai Kona Electric - $35,000 (estimate)
2023 Tesla Model 3 Rear-Wheel Drive - $41,630
Many have mourned the Bolt’s departure. It was a well-liked, cheap electric car — a truly one-of-a-kind vehicle. But the future looks bright for affordable EVs. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, manufacturers can expect 10 years of production credits for battery cells and other renewable components, with the potential to cut the price of batteries in half.
Earlier this year, Volkswagen also announced an affordable electric concept vehicle, the ID.2all, with a starting price of just $26,600. Consumers will have to wait until 2025 for the EV’s release, but the German manufacturer confirmed that other low-cost EVs are in the pipeline, including a model that’s cheaper than 20,000 euros (around $22,000).
The Bottom Line: Is It Worth the Cost?
Can you afford an EV over $30,000? Do you plan to drive more than 100 miles at a time? Do you have limited access to charging stations? If you answered “yes” to any of these three questions, you should pass on the Leaf. Wealthy consumers can simply buy a better EV (like the Hyundai Ioniq) and eco-conscious road trippers should just go with a hybrid (like the Elantra) or efficient gas-powered car (like the Honda Civic).
That said, if you’re on a tight budget and you only drive a few miles a day, you could be one of the few people for whom the Leaf makes a lot of sense.
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