The venerable Nissan Leaf has been a minor success in international markets, but Nissan is hoping to generate a few more sales in the Japanese market by updating the EV for 2013 and creating a new trim level with less content and a lower price.
The biggest news concerning the 2013 Leaf is that it's getting a few updates focusing on increased performance and more efficiency. Engineers integrated the electric motor and inverter/converters, making the whole unit 30 percent more compact and 10 percent lighter. The on-board charger is also smaller and located up front (as opposed to in the back of the last model), which increases the rear cargo space by about 1.5 cubic feet. The changes to the powertrain, along with the use of some lighter parts and a slightly different battery casing, drive the weight down some 176 pounds. That new motor also uses 40 percent less dysprosium, an expensive rare-earth element.
Lighter weight should mean slightly better acceleration, handling, and range, but Nissan worked to make each characteristic even better. The redesigned powertrain is more responsive tothrottle input than before, and also offers smoother and more efficient regenerative braking. The steering is a bit more responsive at speed, and the suspension now has slightly different settings to reflect the weight loss. Engineers also worked on the HVAC system to reduce power consumption, heating all four seats and the steering wheel, and installing a new heat pump and thicker insulation on the headliner.
All of this adds up to an estimated range of 142 miles per Japanese government testing (Nissan has no estimates for American testing, but the current Leaf is rated at 82 miles per charge in the States), which brings us to the unfortunate part of all of these changes: they're not yet confirmed to come to the United States. Nissan issued a statement early Tuesday saying that the chances "apply only for that model designed for the Japanese market," adding that "information on the 2013 Nissan Leaf in the U.S. will be released closer to its on-sale date here."
With that understood, Nissan put one more major change on the Japanese-market Leaf that might interest buyers in the U.S.: a low-cost, low-content trim level. The trim-level, called S, comes with 16-inch steel wheels and cloth seats, and starts $5000 below the X trim level (previously the base model) and $9609 less than the top-spec G model. Those upper trim levels now have available features like auto-leveling LED headlights, leather seats, aluminum wheels (16-inch on X, 17-inch on G), and a GPS navigation system that can estimate how much charge the car will have at the end of a selected journey (in hopes of ameliorating range anxiety). That infotainment system also optionally includes Nissan's around view monitor and a Bose high-efficiency seven-speaker sound system. Interestingly, all models have exactly the same power source and powertrain, contrary to earlier reports of a less-expensive model with less range or power.
The 2013 Leaf starts at $41,032 for the S model and is available at Japanese dealers now. Should those upgrades come to the U.S.? Let us know what you think.