The 2021 Nissan Leaf probably isn’t the first car you think of when it comes to hatchbacks, but with a TCC Rating of 7.2 out of 10 (read more about how we rate cars), it is our highest rated hatchback and winner of our Best Hatchback To Buy 2021.
Celebrating its tenth birthday, the first mass-produced electric car has been overshadowed by flashier electric cars from Tesla and Ford that are quicker, have more range, and come more luxuriously equipped. Minus the electric range, our Best Hatchback runners up—the 2021 Kia Stinger and 2021 Audi A5 Sportback—are both rated at 7.0 and boast the same strengths as the Leaf’s electric rivals. But the Leaf excels in ways that make us love hatchbacks in the first place: practicality and value.
The five-seat Leaf has matured with age, ditching the eco quirks that begged for attention between its giant headlights and tiny wheels. It looks like a proper hatchback now with short front and rear overhangs and a handlebar face with a floating roof that blends right into the rest of the Nissan family. Inside, a mushroom-ball shifter is the only eco-car quirk, and the black-clad cabin with cloth upholstery and an 8.0-inch touchscreen streamlines the Nissan vibe.
With upright front seats and 33.5 inches of leg room behind them, the Leaf fits four adults comfortably, while the fifth seat is best used for elbow room. Cargo room behind the rear seat is good at 23.6 cubic feet, but when the bench seats fold flat it only opens up to 30 cubic feet, which trails most other hatchbacks.
Nissan makes up for that shortcoming with good standard features, especially when it comes to safety. The Leaf withstands crashes well, earning a top five-star rating from the NHTSA, and it avoids crashes well, too, with standard automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and blind-spot monitors. The 8.0-inch touchscreen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, while SV trims add heated front seats, navigation, and adaptive cruise control.
Cruising comes easy in the Leaf, which comes standard with a 40-kwh battery pack and an electric motor that generates 147 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of torque, and also offers a 62-kwh pack and a motor that makes 214 hp and 250 lb-ft in the Leaf Plus. We’d pay $6,600 more for the Leaf Plus, which increases range from 149 miles to up to 226 miles. On a Level 2 charger, it can fill up under 12 hours, or on a DC 50-kw fast charger, it can juice up in about 45 minutes. The instant torque of the Leaf provides a burst off the line, same as any electric car, but the taller ride height and numb steering won’t get confused for today’s sportier hatchbacks.
Starting at $32,545, the 2021 Nissan Leaf may appear pricier than other hatchbacks, but the available $7,500 federal EV tax credit brings it on par with the class. Over time, its low cost of ownership stretches the mile and the dollar relative to the competition. That’s why it’s our Best Hatchback To Buy 2021.
Read all about the winners of The Car Connection’s Best Car To Buy 2021 awards—and find out which vehicles took home our annual Driver’s Choice awards as well as top honors from our sister sites, Motor Authority and Green Car Reports.