Electric cars have three big downsides.
The first is their lesser range. Most of the models on the market can only go about as far as a nonelectric economy car can travel on a half-full tank — about 150-200 miles or so.
Which brings up the second problem.
Even the thirstiest gas-powered car can be refueled in just a few minutes almost anywhere. But all electric cars — regardless of their range — need at least 30-45 minutes to recover a partial charge ... assuming you can find a fast charger.
There's also a third problem.
Electric cars are expensive.
But there is one electric vehicle that costs thousands less than the others.
What It Is
The Leaf is an electrically powered, compact-sized five-door hatchback — and the only electric car on the market with a base price under $30,000.
Prices start at $29,990 for the base S trim, which can go about 150 miles on a full charge. More range is available — as much as 226 miles — if you opt for the S Plus trim, which comes with a higher-capacity battery pack.
It also comes with a much higher price tag: $36,550.
That puts it into direct competition with the Chevy Bolt, which stickers for $36,620 to start and comes standard with about 259 miles of range.
In addition to more range, the 2019 Leaf also offers some new tech, including an "e-Pedal" that lets the driver accelerate and decelerate the vehicle using just one pedal. The operating principle is similar to the way a motorcycle's roll-on/roll-off throttle control works.
It's the most affordable electric vehicle on the road.
You have the option to go farther down the road.
There's more room for cargo behind its second row than in the Bolt.
What's Not So Good
The back seat is cramped (3 inches less legroom than in the Bolt).
With the second row folded, it has much less cargo room than the Bolt .
Fast charge capability is an extra charge.
Under the Hood
The Leaf comes standard with a 40 kilowatt-hour electric lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor that produce 147 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque.
Fully charged, the Leaf has a range of about 150 miles and can get to 60 mph in about eight seconds.
With its optional 62 kilowatt-hour battery pack and stronger electric motor, the output of the Leaf's electric drivetrain rises to 214 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque.
This more powerful version of the Leaf can get to 60 mph in about six seconds.
On the Road
Movement without sound or any sensations of mechanical things happening takes a little getting used to, but once your senses adjust, driving the Leaf is like driving a nonelectric car.
Better, in some ways.
Acceleration is instantaneous because of the immediate power delivery from the electric motor to the rear wheels. You just go.
But, you have to be conscious of how far you've gone — and how far you can still go — because of the time it takes to recharge. If you forget to gas up a nonelectric car and run empty, you can refuel in moments and be back on your way.
If you forget to charge up your electric vehicle and run out of range, you'll be stuck where you are — for a while.
At the Curb
The Leaf is similar in general appearance and layout to its main rival, the Chevy Bolt — but it's not as space-efficient.
Though it's about a foot longer overall (176.4 inches versus 164 inches for the Chevy), it has less backseat legroom (33.5 inches versus 36.5 inches) and only 30 cubic feet of total cargo capacity, versus nearly twice that (56.6 cubic feet) in the Bolt.
However, it can still easily accommodate a full-size bicycle inside — something even a full-size sedan can't manage. Hatchbacks — electric or not — are popular for this reason.
The Leaf's main sell, though, is its much lower cost to start versus that of the Bolt. However, if you want the ability to fast charge (30-45 minutes versus several hours), you'll have to upgrade to the SV, which starts at $32,600 — a big jump in price from the base S trim's just-under-$30k base price.
You will, however, also get a much nicer six-speaker stereo in place of the base S trim's four-speaker system, a larger (7 inch versus 5 inch) touch screen, leather trim and adaptive cruise control.
An important thing to know about electric cars is that their mileage — their range — can vary a lot depending on how you drive, when you drive and how much you use electrically powered accessories such as air conditioning and heating.
Higher-capacity batteries have increased the margin, but no matter how far an electric vehicle might go, it will still take you much longer to recharge — even at a fast charger — than it takes to refuel a nonelectric car.
The Bottom Line
But if you don't need the longer legs — and prefer the much lower price — there's no other electric vehicle on the market that goes as far as the Leaf for as little ...
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.