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The Nissan Leaf is seen at a charging station at Coolidge Park. / Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter

So, let's say you are one of those people who lusts after a Tesla automobile. The "affordable" one, the Model 3.

You daydream about its lush electric power. All those 21st-century electronics. That awesome touch-screen the size of Kansas.

But, let's say you also like the idea of spending your dollars close to home instead of shipping them off to Tesla workers in Fremont, California.

Well, just 115 miles up Interstate-24 in Smyrna, Tennessee, workers at Nissan are building the latest — and greatest — Nissan Leaf. It may not have the sex appeal of a Tesla, but it has most of the same practical advantages, and even some of the performance chops. In basic trim, it's cheaper, too.

I spent a week driving the 2020 Nissan Leaf SL Plus earlier this spring and came away impressed with its power and evolutionary refinements (the Leaf has now been around for 10 years). And with a range of up to 215 miles on a full charge, it's more than just a commuter car. Public fast-chargers are now available all around Chattanooga, so you are never far from a recharge station.

 

WHAT IS IT?

The Nissan Leaf is an all-electric, five-passenger sedan equipped with a 214-horsepower synchronous electric motor. Mileage estimates are 114 MPGe city and 94 MPGe highway. Annual estimated fuel cost is $650 if you drive 15,000 miles a year.

 

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

My test car rings up at $45,745, but qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax rebate, so your net cost is less. The least expensive Leaf starts at $31,600 before the tax rebate and any discounts you can negotiate.

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2020 Nissan Leaf SL Plus

* Exterior color: Scarlet Ember

* Interior color: Light Gray

* Engine: 160kW synchronous motor

* Horsepower: 214

* Fuel economy: 114 MPGe city, 94 MPGe highway

* Local dealer: Nissan of Chattanooga East, Mountain View Nissan

* Price (as tested): $45,745

 

WHAT'S TO LIKE?

My logbook is jammed with "likes" including the Leaf's amazing off-the-mark acceleration, comfy seats, heated steering wheel, simple but elegant interior design, and roomy back seats. It has a full suite of safety tech features such as emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring, too.

 

WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT?

Items for the suggestion box include a bigger (and softer) elbow rest on the center console, a taller shifter (the stubby little shifter is awkward for big hands), and a larger tire/wheel package to improve handling.

 

WHAT ABOUT STYLING?

The original Leaf had bug eyes and cartoonish body lines. The current generation, which has tasteful LED headlights, is more visually interesting. That said, the Tesla Model 3 is no beauty in my eyes. My main gripe with the Leaf is its rear side panels, which are too busy.

 

WHAT'S THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE LIKE?

Until you bear down on the accelerator, the Leaf feels sedate, even soft. But bury your right foot and it launches with vigor. It will throw your head back if you are not braced for takeoff. It's a excellent mountain climber, too. Bigger tires would make it even more fun on our twisting mountain roads.

 

BOTTOM LINE?

The Leaf is a compelling EV. If you're looking for a green machine built in Tennessee, it's a good option; at least until Chattanooga's VW plant begins producing all-electric vehicles in coming months.

Online: In the market for a new vehicle? To access hundreds of Mark Kennedy's Chattanooga Test Drive columns, visit timesfreepress.com/testdrive.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.


View other Test Drive stories by Mark Kennedy



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