By on June 8, 2012

History repeats itself.  I repeat, History repeats…well, you see my point.  Which was probably one of the reasons why my creations in Car Design College were universally panned as being “too retro”, among other things. It was a similar fate given to Lenny Kravitz, except he was very talented in his form of artistic expression.  And while you can’t “sell” most design studios on the power of history, I present to you the latest Nash/AMC Rambler.

I mean Nissan Leaf.  You’ll have to forgive me for seeing the similarity between the two, in spirit, historical context and on the Vellum.


The Leaf embodies many of the (un)loved traits of modern cars, but adds the element of a compact Euro-Asian people mover in terms of its proportioning. Which unloved trait do we see here? Gigantic chromey lights! The look is, well, positively electric. (snort)


While hard to tell in a brutally hot lunchtime photo shoot, this emblem is a bizarre blue-tinted chrome affair.  If this car wasn’t 100% electric-powered, I’d hate it.  But since the Leaf is all electro-juice, the symbolism is quite delicious.  In a very, very subtle manner.

As you probably already know, this is a “fuel door” of sorts, to plug-in the Leaf and recharge its batteries. The presentation is worthy of a gourmet meal at an overpriced restaurant. Nice job, Leaf Brand Management Team!


Design elements on this curious little vehicle are actually quite well-integrated.  The honeycomb grille doesn’t look cheap, the subtle folds in the plastic bumper harmonize with the design elements presented here and the chrome trim isn’t an afterthought. If I told you this was a Lexus, would you believe me?


Once again, I really enjoy how the bends/folds in this design integrate into the package, reducing “visual” bulk from this obviously tall and tipsy looking vehicle.


While nearly impossible to photograph in this setting, the hard crease here is especially interesting, at least on a black paint job.


Born from jets?  While not the 1950s space age tailfins, this (admittedly oversized and Chevy Avalanche-like) plastic casting definitely makes you realize there’s no conventional powertrain underneath.  We don’t need no stinkin’ cowl vents for engine cooling!


I wish the Leaf’s headlights looked this slim, modern and sexy from every angle.  This is a car from the not-too-distant future!


WTF is this, son?  An absolute waste of real estate, and not in the cool chrome tailfin trim kinda way.  To emulate a cool tailfin, the headlights must taper down quicker as they reach the front doors.  Or maybe this hunk of plasti-chrome need not exist: round the end of the headlight like a MINI/500/911/Beetle and put the turn signal in a less gaudy assembly.


You know that any people mover with these proportions and chassis hard points will need a hunk of glass to avoid the Black Plastic Triangle syndrome, but you don’t expect this: a round theme on the sideview mirror base emulated in the glass tinting. Very cool!  Also note the side window defogger’s feng shui like location perfection.


Alternative fuel vehicles normally have super-sleek wheels to minimize drag, so I am a little surprised to see such large holes on the Leaf’s hoops. Then again, the flat face probably helps more than you’d imagine…but I’d prefer the 1970s modernist perfection of the rims found on the last-gen Honda Civic Hybrid.


Small, stylish and voluptuous.  I like the Leaf’s “hips” as the belt line fluidly moves upward, skyward.  It reminds me of the similarly goofy profile of the 1974 Ford Gran Torino sedan, but with less real estate and almost no overhang.  Which is why the Rambler analogy makes far more sense. This is a small car that looks distinctly familiar…yet not so much!


Mitt Romney would be proud.  If those roof pillars aren’t an homage to the work of his father, I donno what is!  While not classically beautiful, the Leaf is a Lenny-Kravitz-retro alternative fuel Rock Star!


Too bad about the black plastic triangle.  I really wish the door glass and extended all the way back, like the Rambler from whence it came. Sure that’d be stupid retro like the glasses on Stephanie Courtney’s character in the TV show Mad Men, but why the hell not?  This ain’t no Nissan Altima!


But when pairing the side with the rear, you see something un-retro: very cool and collected taillights.  So cool in fact, that I wish the headlights emulated their slender and sleek profile. This rig must be unmistakable at night, in a very good way.


We may never see a vehicle this comfortable with itself ever again. While the Leaf is unabashedly tall, the taillights keep the CUV references at bay.  They make you proud to have a tall vehicle, because it might be just as hip as owning a MINI Cooper.  And the rear bumper?  Sure it’s a massive beast like every other car out there, but the strong downward plunge of the lights almost makes it look like a toned and fit plastic form!

Pictures don’t do it justice, there’s more surface tension back here than you can imagine. And unlike the front, it’s not so much because of creases and harsh bends.


Although here’s one harsh bend that is hard to hate: the taillights absolutely make the Nissan Leaf.  When’s the last time you could say that about a new car?


More blue-chrome goodness.  Even better, the grab handle has a rather excellent casting that allows for an integral backup camera. Eat your heart out, Lincoln MKZ.


I mentioned the surface tension present in the rear, and perhaps this strong fold at the corner of the bumper is one reason why. Such is the beauty of a black body in harsh sunlight.


Wait…no plastic inserts or gaudy tailpipes?  Obviously no on the latter, but the former is a pleasant surprise: sometimes lighting elements should slip into a body and never draw attention to themselves.  Reflectors are one such light. Too bad the front’s side markers didn’t learn from the same master.



The clear CHMSL (i.e. high mounted stop light) is obviously needed to complement the taillights, but whatever lies above it is a wonderful conversation piece.  The not-uniform diamond pattern is very, very eye-catching but difficult to spot from afar.

What is it? I don’t know, but they did a fantastic job designing it. Perhaps I should grab the press packet that came with this vehic…LULZ, OH WAIT I DON’T GET PRESS CARS, SON!!!

Thanks for reading, have a wonderful weekend.


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20 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 2013 Nissan Leaf...”

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    The bump on the back part of the headlight, although a bit of a stylistical WTF, was added fairly late in the game for aerodynamics: The car was reportedly too quiet that the side mirrors were making a noticable noise. Thus the bump to slightly change how the air flows too and around the mirrors.

    The black panel on the top by the spoiler is either (or can be replaced with) solar cells for a solar powered fan to keep the car interior cool in summer when parked without draining any batteries. The latest Prius has the same thing.

    • 0 avatar

      Now that headlight thing is very interesting. Makes perfect sense, because it certainly looks like an afterthought! Thanks for the heads up on the Solar cells, I do enjoy have the B&B to my homework for me. (seriously.)

    • 0 avatar

      Nicholas, I gather you have your info from Top Gear, the episode where they drive to the seaside. I have one correction: The small solar panel is not used to work a fan (as is the solar roof on the Fisker Karma) but only to keep the conventional battery this car still has for legacy reasons (supplier parts) charged while standing around. This conventional battery is necessary in the current design. The Leaf will not start without it even with a full high-voltage main battery.

      The source for this info is Nissan Germany (I visited them recently).

  • avatar

    I first saw a Leaf in the flesh (a blue pre-prod model) in the Ginza; a curious one-car showroom styled like the bridge of the Enterprise, across the street from a Hermès. It’s more striking in person than in photos. Black is perhaps its best color; it looks more grown-up. It would look better still with properly-scaled headlamps (the aero bumps should be part of the bodywork, not the lamp assemblies).

  • avatar

    duplicate post – same thing as what Nicholas said above.

  • avatar

    This is one fugly vehicle, inside and out. Black is the least offensive color that it comes in, and we see a good number of them here in LA where range can be a real issue. Drives just fine though. Can’t have everything I guess!

  • avatar

    More Vellum Venom, please! This is the best part of TTAC.

    As for the Leaf, the styling doesn’t appeal to me personally but I am still generally in agreement with Sajeev’s design critique.

  • avatar

    I generally like the front end, but it’s the back end that kills it for me. It’s like the designers thought the wheelbase was 12″ shorter and had to tack on that rump at the last minute.

  • avatar

    I think some Volvo wagons and the Cadillac CTS wagon also have the tall taillights.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep… Volvo pretty much invented the roof-to-bumper tail light concept. The wife’s C30 does this to near perfection, minus the orange egg-yolk turn signals which ruins the whole thing. Love to see a Vellum Venom on the C30, the more I wash the wife’s ’08 model the more I fall in love with its sexy shape. The newer ones (aka “face-lift”) however have an ugly front end.

      This article is timely – I saw my first in-the-flesh Leaf today in a greyish-blue. Its refreshingly different from the other eco-boxes running around, way more organic looking then a Prius, CR-Z or Volt. The Volt looks like its wearing pants that are two sizes too big, talk about junk in the trunk! The fake black window extensions are horrible.

    • 0 avatar

      There are others with the same basic tail light design…but the Leaf’s are just far more radical. They are sharper, thinner and very clean in execution. The others are far, um, fussier.

  • avatar

    I love this series. Please, please, please put the 2013 Lincoln MKZ on your “must review” list. It looks promising in pictures, and it would be nice to compare it to the 2012.

    About the Leaf, I must agree. Those tail lights are fantastic. They remind me of the frosted white tail lights on late model Saab wagons. I love that look. The front is, um, not my favorite.

  • avatar

    I drove one of these this morning. I am very jaded about cars. This one knocked me silly. It drove like a dream. Solid. Quiet. Sturdy. Torquey. Smooth. Safe feeling. Stable. Lush. Happy. And I honestly expected to be neutral to it at best. It made me realize I may not miss ICEs as much as I feared. This was a great experience.

    The car was at an independent garage. Owner is zen master/genius-Prius fanatic. Repair/rebuilds and maintains Priii. He has made a Prius limo and Prius truck for fun. He has recently bought three Leaf insurance-auction wrecked units for rebuilding. One was rear ended by a fuel tanker! Held up remarkedly well. What if a gas tank had been back there?! No fire in this case. The Leaf I drove was a major collision rebuild he recently completed and was driving daily. If this unit felt this good it speaks well of their bones.

    The point is, I suspect the person who drives one will never see the car as unattractive again.

    Incidently this fellow does excellent Prius to plug-in conversions for around 6k. I am strongly considering having him do mine. If you think about it a used Prius coverted to plug in would effectively be a very economical range extended EV.

  • avatar

    Why no DLO fail? When going back through most of your reviews any black plastic triangles automatically seem to get a DLO fail.

    why not this time?

    I haven’t seen one in person, not sure if I ever will here in China, but from the pictures it reminds me a lot of the TIIDA/Versa hatchback.

  • avatar

    @slab: I feel the opposite. The front is a bit froggish, but the rear looks pretty slick. Sajeev is right, the Leaf has the best designed roof-to-bumper taillights yet.

    @daveainchina: Sajeev does say “Too bad about the black plastic triangle”, though does not use his trademark “DLO fail” to describe it.

    Speaking of DLO fail, why don’t they at least try to match the color/texture of the triangle with the door frame? Still wouldn’t look good, but would be better.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s sorta my point. He’s got a trademark comment here. I know he describes it but by not using DLO fail it seems to me that he’s letting the designers off light because of how he likes the rest of the car.

      From previous articles I was under the impression that there was no excuse for it. Hence my question.

  • avatar

    Mr Fug Lee called. He wants his car back!

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