By Derek Price
Today’s electric cars can be quirky, fun and futuristic, but one of the most unique things they do is make silly noises at low speeds.
Because electric motors are almost completely silent, car manufacturers create artificial sounds to warn pedestrians when the vehicle starts to move. And I think that’s bound to be one of the most fun jobs in the transportation business.
Think of all the creative options. You could make the car say “Whee!” You could have it scream “Watch out, buddy!” You could make it generate pulsating sounds like it just hit warp speed in a cheesy science fiction movie.
In reality, the noises are a bit more subtle, as I experienced in the latest Nissan LEAF.
It makes a pleasant chime when backing up and an orchestral glissando when moving forward, which is even louder this year thanks to government regulations that take effect in September. Nissan beat the deadline by pumping up the volume and adding an extra speaker in the engine compartment for all the 2020 LEAF models.
Nissan calls the sound “Canto,” based on the Latin word for singing. It definitely has a musical sensibility, although not as melodic as “La Cucaracha,” which would be near the top of my list if I were designing Nissan’s sounds.
Much more relevant this year, albeit less entertaining, is the addition of standard safety equipment.
Nissan Safety Shield 360 is now standard across the lineup. That includes automatic emergency braking that can detect pedestrians in the vehicle’s path, automatic braking when backing up, blind-spot warnings, sensors that can warn you of cross traffic from behind, and high beam assist.
Also standard this year are Intelligent Lane Intervention and Blind Spot Intervention. Basically, if the car senses you’re drifting from your lane or about to change lanes where you could hit a vehicle in your blind spot, it will gently nudge the steering wheel in the correct direction.
I found the intervention a mixture of comforting and alarming. Under normal driving, I like the idea of an electronic guardian angel watching over me. In heavy traffic with frequent lane changes, though, unwanted steering nudges can add anxiety to an already stressful situation. It seems to prefer gentle cruising over lane jockeying at rush hour.
Content is upgraded on several grades, including standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the LEAF S and a standard 8-inch touchscreen on all the 40 kWh models.
My tester was the upgraded 62 kWh version, the LEAF PLUS. Aside from the obnoxious capitalization, it’s a great car.
And I don’t mean it’s just great for an electric car. It’s genuinely fun to drive, with outstanding handling, honest-to-goodness muscular acceleration with instant response, and even a serene cabin for everyday driving.
Basically, it’s everything I want from my perfect compact car, just without the gasoline engine.
The big question, of course, is how far it can travel. The LEAF PLUS with its bigger battery capacity can drive up to 226 miles on a full charge, a number I found slightly optimistic for my lead-footed driving style.
I could see it being more realistic for people actually trying to eke the full range out of it. I also noticed myself instinctively driving more gently at times when I would be pushing the limits of its electric range.
The standard LEAF has a range of 149 miles.
Pricing for the base LEAF S starts at $31,600. The longer-range PLUS version starts at $38,200 for the S trim and ranges up to $43,900 for the more luxury-laden SL PLUS.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Nissan LEAF SL PLUS ($43,900). Options: Splash guards ($200), premium paint ($695), carpeted floor mats ($195), kick plates ($130). Price as tested (including $925 destination charge): $46,045
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 176.4 in.
Width: 70.5 in.
Height: 61.6 in.
Motor: 214 hp, 160 kW
Transmission: Single speed reducer
Fuel economy: 104 combined MPGe
Why buy it?
A fast and supple driving feel combined with an electric range of up to 226 miles makes the LEAF both rewarding and easy to live with.