2015 Nissan LEAF Gripes

This page is my review of the 2015 Nissan LEAF. It's not a good car by any means. I get it — Nissan probably loses money on every one of these toads it sells to fulfill its CAFE fleet numbers, please the Sierra Club or whatever niche it fulfills in the corporation. They can't fill it with plush, stylish materials on an everyman's (well…) budget. But it is an affordable battery electric vehicle (BEV) with a usable in-town range. And that is what it does best.

Gripes

That Awful Shifter
The key design failure of this drive mode selector is the physical lack of state indication. It provides the identical functionality of a conventional automatic shifter but with an obscure and inconsistent user interface providing no benefit for its unnecessary differences. It is, in a word, frippery.
Exterior Styling

Face it: This car flat out looks weird. Even weirder than most contemporary Nissans. Starting up front those long, narrow headlights stick way up above the hood like some surprised frog — not my idea of nature's best model of beauty. (Though they might help aerodynamics around the side mirrors.) It proceeds to a spacious interior necessitating decidedly tall, unsleek lines, practical if ungainly high ground clearance and overlarge wheel arches unfilled by small, skinny tires. It is a practical necessity for people who hate cars and hate driving. Not sure why Nissan didn't include aerodynamic skirts around the rear wheels like my old Insight.

Call me a grumpy old man, but I'll take S30 styling over anything Nissan has made since.

Interior Styling
Interior shapes are oddly angular, though not nearly as bizarre as Toyotas and Lexuses I've sat in. It's possible I've been tainted by the materials, sights and even smells of tasteful and understated VW, Porsche and Mercedes interiors.
Interior Materials
The interior is filled with decidedly cheap, hard, ugly plastic.
Parking Brake
Nissan used a ratcheting foot pedal for the parking brake. Even worse, it's the push-to-engage/push-to-disengage mechanism that leaves me never quite certain if it's fully disengaged. I much prefer the positive feel and indication of a mechanical handbrake lever. At least it's not an unnecessarily complicated electric motor that actuates the parking brakes.
Steering Wheel Controls
The three-spoke wheel has a good feel and looks good enough despite the '90s-huge airbag hub. The convenient control switches are a bit awkward, though. It has flush rocker switches for volume up/down and phone on-/off-hook on the left and Eco mode and cruise control toggle buttons on the right. (I still find a cruise control on switch to be redundant. It's on when you set it and off when you cancel it.) They aren't textured or arranged well for operation by feel but maybe I'll get used to them eventually. The audio source up/down and cruise control accel/decel controls are on tall, textured toggle levers that stick up enough I've accidentally brushed them maneuvering at parking speeds. I guess putting the audio source on such a prominent switch is important for incessant channel flippers. The most awkward steering wheel control is the flush cruise control cancel button. To get to it you have to reach your right thumb over the protruding accel/decel rocker. Very much a human factors FAIL here.
Wide A-Pillars
The A-pillars to either side of the front windshield are surprisingly wide, blocking at least 1.5 times the view around curves as our new VWs. I understand the need for structural rigidity in the passenger compartment, but it would be nice if some of that load were managed with material depth rather than width. I miss the incredible visibility from inside the Corvair.
Narrow Rear Glass
The view out the backlight is annoyingly narrow owing to wide trim on either side of the hatch and the wide C-pillars. Yet another new car visibility FAIL requiring a rear camera.
Hard, Skinny Tires
Economy is the enemy of handling and road-holding. This car chooses economy.
No Spare Tire
The LEAF is yet another modern car that ships without the basic safety equipment to recover from a tire deflation. You get a bottle of messy goo and a 12V electric pump that might help you with certain small leaks. I need to work on putting a real spare tire kit in this car before I find myself stuck on the side of the road.
Sound System
The sound system is very flat and tinny like the Evo's OEM head unit. Since I use it primarily to commute to work, I usually only listen to news radio which it reproduces understandably.
Digital Dash
Lacking the fast-changing, dynamic gauges of an internal combustion engine, there's not much detriment to the instrument cluster. The layout does a reasonable job of showing the important information such as state-of-charge, distance-to-discharged, battery temperature and speed. It has a helpful trip computer, though my S lacks the fancier sat-nav and distance-to-charging station feature of the SL and SV. There is a handy time-to-charge estimator on one of the minor displays. Annoyingly, the cruise control indication takes up an inordinate amount of space on the display when enabled yet fails to show the set speed like most modern cars.
Cruise Control
As noted above, the indicator takes up a lot of room on the display despite not showing the set speed. Most annoyingly, the cruise control resets to off when the car starts rather than remembering the previous state.

Huzzahs

There’s still things to like on this economy car.

Hatchback
The hatchback/station wagon body remains the most practical (and, IMHO, handsome) shape. The sloped hatch and fold-down rear seats don't offer as much room as my externally smaller VW Golf, but I'll take it.
Choice of Charging Connectors
My 2015 S provides both the common J1772 level 2 (L2) charging port as well as a DC fast charging CHAdeMO L3 port.
Phone Connectivity
The LEAF benefits from third party software like the popular Leaf Spy phone app. It's no VAG-COM, but it provides a number of EV and battery related information displays a controls not offered by the instrument cluster.
Split Instruments that Actually Work
The instruments are split into two separate gauge clusters. One at the top of the dash shows important, instantaneous information such as speed, turn signals and warning indicators as well as an amusing but oddly arboreal driving efficiency meter. The larger bottom display just above the steering column shows more esoteric and less immediate information such as battery and charge/discharge status, trip computer, odometer/trip, etc. The relative depth between them isn't so bad as to cause old eyes trouble refocusing from one to the next. The vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) instruments are decently shaded as to avoid washing out in the sunlight most of the time. Decidedly low-rent looks but functional.
Leaf Spy
The Leaf Spy Android application (sorry, Apple fans) connects to your LEAF via a Bluetooth or WiFi OBDII dongle. It gives you access to a number of battery state meters and a few settings available only to the Nissan diagnostic tool.