Published Sunday April 17, 2016: Updated April 18, 2016

Nissan Leaf 2011-2012 vs 2013-2016

Since January 2015, I have been commuting to work in a 2012 Nissan Leaf. I'm finding that no matter how efficiently I drive, it will not go as far as the 2013 model year that my wife drives. I dare say that you would be hard pressed to actually go 100 miles (real world highway/city driving), on a single charge, in a 2012 Leaf. The 2013 Nissan Leaf has a few range improvements over the 2012 Leaf. 

  • A heat pump instead of a resistive cabin heater
  • More efficient firmware in the speed controller
  • More accurate range estimator and 
  • B-mode for more aggressive regenerative braking. 
  • A more sophisticated battery management system and charging algorithm that allows batteries to be charged up more fully. 

This graph shows the actual charging power curves for a 2012 and 2013 Nissan Leaf on-board battery charger. Notice how the 2012 curve, (in blue) cuts off at the end whereas the 2013 curve, (darker orange) does some extra stuff at the end? Because of this the 2013 is able to fit ~0.5 kWh of additional energy into its battery. 
The lighter orange spikes in the picture are caused by our home's electric water heater cycling on and off. 

According to the Leaf-Spy app, fully charged, my 2012 Nissan leaf battery only has 18.3 kWh of usable battery capacity. Cheryl's 2013 Leaf has 20.2 kWh of usable capacity. Both cars have nearly the same mileage put on them. 

 Year Usable kWh Cell Capacity Mileage
 2012 Nissan Leaf 18.3 kWh 57.21 Ah 21,572
 2013 Nissan Leaf 20.2 kWh 60.22 Ah 24,288

The cars physically look the same but on the inside are slightly different. 

Even though the battery and chassis are virtually identical, these minor improvements greatly extend the range of the newer model. 

However, if you look under the hood, they look like totally different cars due to a complete reorientation of the controller, 12 volt battery and cooling components. 

Comparing engine compartments of the 2012 and 2013 Nissan Leaf. 

After moving the battery charger up front, there's more cargo space in the 2013 hatch-back vs the 2012. 

Comparing interior space in the 2012 and 2013 Nissan Leaf. 

Nissan Leafs 2013 and newer also have a faster on-board charger (6.6 kW vs. 3.6 kw) and more storage space in the hatch-back. 

After months of experience driving both model years, I estimate the 2012 has about 10-15 miles less range. I estimate that I can only drive the 2012 about 85-95 miles on a charge for a 70/30 mix of highway/city driving, whereas the 2013 is 95-105 miles per charge. Of course topography, ground speed, temperature, air density, traffic and weather all play a huge part in what your actual range will be. 

Beginning in the 2016 model year, SL and SV models of the Nissan Leaf now come with a larger 30kWh battery pack. The EPA rated range is 107 miles, (up from 84 miles for a 24 kWh battery pack and 73 miles for the 2011-2012 Leaf). While I have yet to take one of these cars through its paces, by following the driving techniques mentioned in the previous article here, the range of one of these electric cars could potentially exceed 125 freeway miles. Not bad Nissan, not bad at all. 

However with the 200 mile range of the $30,000 Chevy Bolt and the 215 mile range of the mass market $35,000 Tesla Model 3, Nissan needs to step up its game for the next model year. 

When car companies complete, we all win! 

Bring it on!