I have a friend who really hates the Nissan LEAF. I mean, he despises it. If it cost $9.50 and had a 1,200-mile range, he would say something like: “Jeez, for nine fifty, you’d think they could make it cross the country.”
I, on the other hand, take a slightly more open-minded view. I think the technology behind the LEAF is pretty cool. I like the idea of never putting gas in a car. And the lease deal is amazing. I’ve attempted to explain these benefits to my friend, but he maintains that no sane person would ever buy a LEAF when the gas-powered Honda Fit costs so much less and doesn’t require hefty doses of Xanax for range anxiety.
Fortunately, I can now put this argument to rest. That’s because I recently had the chance to drive the updated 2013 LEAF at an event near Nissan’s headquarters in Nashville, which – for you foreigners out there – is a medium-sized city located in Taylor Swift County, Tennessee.
I have compared the LEAF and Fit in several crucial categories, using painstaking effort to ensure the accuracy of my data as long as it was easily located with a Google search. This is what I’ve found.
The most important category for any car enthusiast is, of course, acceleration. Unless you’re one of those handling people, in which case you probably shouldn’t be reading a comparison test of the Nissan LEAF and the Honda Fit.
Anyway, the LEAF and Fit accelerate exactly the same: very slowly. I have no idea what the actual 0-to-60 times are, but if I had to provide a general guess, it would probably be somewhere in the ten-second to 45-minute range. You will lose stoplight races to landscaping crews.
However, there is a clear winner here. While the Fit has to build power like a normal gasoline engine, the LEAF has access to its full range of torque the second you press the pedal. As a result, you might beat landscaping crews from 0 to 15 mph. Advantage: LEAF.
I haven’t forgotten about you handling people. But Nissan and Honda have! Just kidding: the LEAF and Fit handle just fine. They also go over bumps just fine, and go around turns just fine, and have a normal amount of wind noise, and have acceptable visibility.
A typical car reviewer would try and explain each of these things in minute detail and find slight advantages, but I’m going to level with you: a normal driver wouldn’t notice major differences between the two cars. However, in the LEAF, a normal driver wouldn’t notice these differences while his hands were on a standard heated steering wheel. Advantage: LEAF.
Fuel Economy and Range Anxiety
This one is important, so listen up. The Honda Fit gets 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. The Nissan LEAF, which does not use fuel, gets 106 mpg city and 92 mpg highway based on a calculation understood solely by the EPA and a TTAC commenter who will now make me feel like an idiot. (“You just divide the amperes by the kilowatts and subtract the electropositivity, DUH. It’s like Physics 101. What were you, a history major?”)
Yes, it’s true that you don’t have to put gas in a LEAF. But the LEAF is saddled with long charge times versus fuel stops, even with the new 6.6-kWh on-board charger. It also has a range of less than 100 miles, compared to the Fit’s range of probably a lot more. That means with the LEAF you can drive less, and spend more time filling up. And if you do run out of juice, you have to sit around waiting for a tow truck while my friend drives by, laughing and revving his engine. (This actually occurred. He sent me a picture.)
Obviously, the winner of this category depends on your lifestyle. As I was driving the 250 miles back from Nashville in a gas-powered Dodge Dart, I realized: in a LEAF, this four-hour trip would never be completed, because rural north Georgians do not have electricity. But how often do you make trips like that? For most Americans, the answer is virtually never. Advantage: LEAF. And possibly a nearby Enterprise Rent-a-Car location.
Debating the styling of economy cars is challenging because they all look roughly the same: like five-door eggs. In the LEAF’s case, it’s more like a five-door Easter egg, because all of them are that rather dainty shade of light blue. The exception is my neighbor’s LEAF, which is just a dull non-metallic black. Unfortunately, this returns us to “they all look the same.”
Fortunately, the LEAF offers one highly distinctive styling characteristic: a very large sticker placed on the rear window of most units that says “WORLD CAR OF THE YEAR.” Does the Fit have that? No. For the sake of rear visibility, this may actually be a good thing. Still… Advantage: LEAF.
Windshield Wiper Normalcy
This is a hugely important category that’s overlooked all too frequently in car reviews. Like most cars, the Honda Fit and Nissan LEAF have two windshield wipers. In the LEAF, they’re about the same size. In the Fit, one wiper is the size of that tree in California you can drive under, while the other shares its length with a golf course pencil. Why is this important? Because as a professional automotive journalist, I have deemed it so. Isn’t that enough? Advantage: LEAF.
The Honda Fit’s pricing is very straightforward: a base model starts around $16,000 with shipping, while the Sport (hah!) is closer to $18,000. Easy.
The LEAF’s pricing is a lot more complicated. Yes, it’s true that a base-level LEAF starts around $29,500 with shipping. But to hear the Nissan people tell it, no one ever pays that. Instead, you take advantage of a federal tax credit, and then you take advantage of a state tax credit, and maybe there’s a credit on the charger installation, and by the end of it, the government actually owes you five grand at six percent interest. Advantage: LEAF.
Obviously, the LEAF is far better than the Honda Fit in virtually every measurable category, from boring ones like pricing to the all-important “windshield wiper normalcy” game-changer. Surely, my LEAF-hating friend now agrees: the Fit is transportation. The LEAF is revolution. Winner: LEAF.
In a rare moment of seriousness, I must say: the LEAF isn’t for everyone. But if you go into it knowing that, it’s much more acceptable. It’s not a sports car. It’s not a hauler. It’s not for long trips. But it’s really good at what it does, which happens to be what most people use a car for anyway. Driving the 2013 model, I was surprised at just how normal it felt – and that’s a good thing. I didn’t even need to take any Xanax.
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.