Op-Ed: Is the Nissan Leaf Really Ugly?


2014 Nissan LEAF

2014 Nissan LEAF

I want to address one of the most perplexing phenomenon I’ve ever seen. Anytime there is an article about the Nissan Leaf, whether it is on a general news website, automotive website, or even a website devoted to plug-in cars, I always see comments like this:

  • I wouldn’t buy one because they are so ugly.
  • Why do they have to be so ugly?
  • Wouldn’t be caught dead in such an fugly car.
  • Its uglier than a Prius.
Nismo LEAF Gets The "Nismo" Treatment

Nismo LEAF Gets The “Nismo” Treatment

I was even sitting in my Leaf one day at the Nissan dealer where I had just picked up some new wiper blades. I was answering some texts on my phone while sitting in my car. Two Nissan employees walked behind my car, not realizing I was still inside of it, and commented how butt-ugly they thought the car was.

Now, I realize everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I also realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I also realize there is not a car in existence that somebody doesn’t think is ugly. Heck, I’ve even been known to express my personal opinion about cars I feel are ugly. (The i-Miev, for example) Keeping that in mind, however, I don’t see other cars getting the amount of flack that the Leaf does.

Having said that, there is another part of this mystery. In my lifetime, I have owned a Pontiac Firebird, a Ford Probe, several Saturns, Mitsubishi Eclipse,Honda Insight, several different generations of Prius, and currently we have a Leaf and a Volt. In all of that time, I have never received compliments in parking lots about the appearance of any of those cars except for the Leaf. I have had at least 20 people over the last 3 years come up to me in parking lots and ask me about the Leaf when getting out of it. The conversation almost always goes something like this:

“Wow! That is a really cute car! What kind of gas mileage does it get?”

Nissan Japan "Fancies" Up The LEAF With An Available "Aero Spec" Option

Nissan Japan “Fancies” Up The LEAF With An Available “Aero Spec” Option

And that usually leads into a conversation about the drive train being electric. The point is, these people didn’t even realize it was an electric car, and they still thought it was attractive. In fact, attractive enough to walk over and say something about it.

Another interesting statistic is that probably 80% or more of these compliments have come from women. My wife has mentioned encountering the same phenomenon when she is driving it.

I’d also like to point out that we live in Texas, home of the giant SUV, Hummer, the 4×4, and dually pickup. And if people come out of the woodwork around here and go out of their way to tell me my car is cute, then I have to say that obviously not everyone thinks the Leaf is ugly.

Second thing I want to point out. If you look at the Leaf compared to the Toyota Matrix and the Mazda 3, you’ll see they are very similar looking. In fact, they share essentially the same body features. Yet, I do not see these other cars constantly bombarded with insults about their appearance. I realize the headlights on the Leaf are an unusual sight, but you have to be in front of the car to even realize it. From the side you don’t really see how much they bulge out.

Not All That Dissimilar

Not All That Dissimilar

Now I’m going to throw in my personal opinion. When I put down my $100 deposit on a Leaf back in 2010, I wasn’t really all that fond of the Leaf’s appearance either. In fact, I remember saying to my wife that I thought it was a bit ugly.

But I still wanted it because it was the only electric option available at the time. And when I flew to San Francisco later that year to attend the Green Drive Expo and saw the Leaf in person for the first time, it seemed to look better in person than in the pictures I’d seen online. But it still had an unusual look to it.

However, after owning it for well over 3 years, the look has grown on me a lot. In fact, now I actually find it attractive. I think one of the distinguishing features is how sloped the front nose of the car is, since it doesn’t have a traditional grille.

And so I have begun to wonder if is not that the Leaf is ugly, but rather it is different?

I can’t help but think of a similar scenario. I remember going to the state fair back in 1993 and seeing the new Dodge RAM on display. I remarked to my girlfriend that it was ugly and looked like a SEMI tractor and there were plenty of people around making similar remarks. The reason was because of the way the headlights droop down beside the grill. Nevertheless, the design caught on and has sold well. Now people don’t give it a second look. Now it’s normal.

1994 Dodge Ram

1994 Dodge Ram

I also can’t help but look at the evolution of vehicle exterior designs over the last century. Especially over the last two decades I’ve seen cars being reshaped to be more and more aerodynamic.

Some of the cars we drive now actually look similar to cars that were considered futuristic concept cars back in the 1980’s. You can imagine driving around in a 2014 Toyota Camry or Honda Civic back in 1984 would have probably gotten some strange looks. Some people might have even called them ugly. As such, I’m convinced at this point that cars like the Prius and the Leaf are a glimpse of the future.

Not that every car will look like them, but I suspect a lot of cars will. More and more cars will eventually have no use of a front grille, and will most likely adopt shapes similar to the Leaf. After a while people will get used to seeing it, and eventually cars like the Leaf will be considered normal.

So if anything can be said for sure about the appearance of the Leaf is that it is polarizing. Lots of people love it, and lots of people hate it. If anything, that at least means the car gets noticed – for good or bad, which I think overall is a good thing for Nissan.

Categories: Nissan


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140 Comments on "Op-Ed: Is the Nissan Leaf Really Ugly?"

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Agree 100%! Nissan wanted a car that stood out from the pack, and love it or hate it the Leaf is very unique.

I didn’t care one way or the other too much but after seeing it at the dealership I was immediately enamoured with its appearance. I think it looks super futuristic. The headlights are prominent but not in a Juke kind of ugly way, more so in an aggressive LOOK AT ME NOW kind of thing.

I think the rear is one of the most attractive on any car I have seen period. There’s nothing similar to it.

So initially I thought meh when looking at pics online but in person it is a striking car. Now what I love about the car others may hate, especially those used to generic conventional looking cars.

Basically Nissan wanted to make it look different, and while it is polarizing love it or hate it, it certainly does drum up attention!


There’s no question that Nissan deliberately designed the Leaf to look different from any other car, in at least a couple of directions.

I too noticed the similarity with Toyota Matrix, esp. from the side (there’s one in your neighborhood that keeps confusing me). But the look of the Leaf’s tail lights, whether from behind or at an angle, is recognizable from literally a km away.

Indeed, the idea has been to get people to notice. And I think it’s been a good idea, even if for some people the look is “too spicy”.

I don’t know what you and David are smoking to think the Leaf looks like the Matrix or Mazda 3. The only thing they share is the same body classification.

The Leaf’s front lights, rear lights, rear fenders, long nose, and protruding tail all make it uglier than those other hatchbacks.

The sad thing is that you know Renault-Nissan have some great design skills when you look at the ZOE, but nobody is bringing it to the US.

I agree, the comparison to the Matrix and Mazda is hilarious. It’s like saying, “Well, she really looks like Reese Witherspoon, but her eyes are twice as big, a bit higher on her face like they’re on her forehead, and halfway popped out of their sockets. Oh, and the lower third of her butt is about three times bigger than it should be.”

The car is genuinely ugly. Mystery solved.

You know; the fact that you noticed that everytime the car was mentioned, several people said it was ugly, that should really have been a hint. That you admit to yourself that when you first saw it you thought it was pretty ugly, that was a hint as well.

You think it’s ugly, everybody else thinks it’s ugly, what conclusion do we draw from that?
Oh yeah, let me write a long article claiming it’s not ugly! No that’s not the conclusion you draw! πŸ™‚
The heinous appearance of this car is one of the several massive mistakes Nissan made.
Pontiac Aztek is ugly. AMC Pacer is ugly. GWiz is ugly, Fiat Multipla is ugly, the Nissan Leaf is ugly. DEAL. WITH. IT.

We don’t need apologists. We need to bitchslap Carlos Ghosn for saddling the world with such an embarrassing first move. He needs many slaps for the price as well. A few kidney punches for various other aspects. People buy the Leaf when it’s the only choice around or they really don’t care how it looks.

They couldn’t have done many focus groups on that car.

I have had many women tell me my Leaf is really cute, so perhaps it qualifies as a chick magnet. The fact that you think it is ugly does not make it ugly. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am very fond of the looks of my Leaf. Get off your high horse.

Some women will like a heinous little dog as well. And that it looks clumsy and harmless will also appeal to them.
It sort of has toy car shapes.
And let’s be clear, it’s not so ugly that one is overly embarrassed to drive it. The elements of the car are quite modern and well built. So it’s bearable, otherwise it would not sell at all.
But the fact is it aint got no alibi, it’s ugly.

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I’ve never heard someone say about a leaf “damn thats a good looking car”.

It’s an oddly shaped non proportional un-aerodynamic looking car. The headlights are non flush to the body and are bigger than the freakin tires i mean come on.

Like i’ve said before if it wasn’t electric it wouldn’t be selling as well as it is and people seem to not care how a car looks that they are going to spend their money on.

The Chevy Volt is by far the best looking “electric” car available other than the obvious work of art, the Tesla Model S.

Even though the Volt has a sort of boxy type look in the rear it still looks great. And the front end is incredibly attractive.

I like the leafs looks and have heard the same from others.I also have high hopes for any EV that advances the field…whether I like their looks,or not. Many of those that don’t like its looks seem outspoken and over-emotional as if they are personally offended. It should be obvious that personal opinions about aesthetics are just that and rather myopic. Those that are personally offended about such things seem to have an inflated sense of self-importance and may benefit from reviewing their values in the world at large.

Don’t over-analyse this.

Offended due to “an inflated sense of self-importance…”? Yikes! Some people just don’t like the look. Is that OKAY with you? There are things YOU don’t like, right? Does that make you have an inflated sense of self-importance? Does this force you to review YOUR value system?

This just boils down to a matter of taste for people, don’t be offended if they happen not to agree with yours.

You like the look, and that’s cool with me.

Those headlights look like bug eyes. Also, it just doesn’t look very masculine. I bet a significantly higher percentage of men think it’s ugly than women do. More than ugly, I just think it looks dorky.

At least it doesn’t look like a Cube (my vote for the world’s ugliest car).

The Volt isn’t a bad looking car though it is a little plain for my taste.

For what it’s worth, first time i saw the Prius, I though it looked ugly, too, But I wound up buying one because, at the time, it was really the only game in town for lower emissions. However, I still think it looks ugly…

I think the cube looks great but the leaf is kinda strange. Wouldn’t resist if they would sell it with enough battery for me anyway.

I’ve had people stop me in parking lots to tell me how attractive my Ford Focus Electric was. I personally also think the current generation of Focus (in general) is a very nice looking car, and the Electric in particular, with its special Astin-Martin-esque faux-grill and upscale headlamps. So, I’m quite happy with the appearance of my EV.

Oh.. and I think the Leaf is ugly.

I purchased the Focus Electric because the only over valid alternative (Leaf) looked far too weird for my tastes.

Oh, and I also agree with the Car & Driver March 2014 EV comparo where they describe the Focus Electric as “The Benz S-class of lower-priced electrics, comfortable, quiet, and suave-looking.”

Or as stated, “This Tesla Model S for the rest of us….”

For me, the unusual styling is okay.

The bug-eyed headlights and their position are the only real problems.
There are a few cars with bug-eyed lights;
a few with the headlights too high, maybe some with both, but bug-eyed anything does not look good.

The car does not need a complete redesign, just place the headlights where they should be – at the front of the car (where they can not be directly seen by the driver).

If you look closely at the pictures of the three not dissimilar cars, you will notice that the real dissimilarity is exactly there:

The lights are lower and at the front of the car (where headlights per definition should be).

I test drove a leaf after i had my volt and the leaf was simply a downgrade in terms of performance and feel… other than twice the electric range that was it.

The Volt has style, leaf doesn’t. I have style, the leaf doesnt. I like good looking things. The leaf isnt a good looking thing. Lol

To sum it up the leaf is not a good looking car in any way but “its electric” so its gets some credit for cutting down emissions and not using gas. And all the strictly leaf owners i’ve met are kind of odd individuals to add “fuel” to the fire. Like when i was at the plug in day i talked to a few of them and they just had a pure aversion against the Volt and i was very confused. It was also kind of funny as well. Your talking bad about the volt yet look what your driving? lol

I’ve seen a Leaf and a Volt next to each other at the front of a light and its just like a model on a runway vs. a bum in a back alley

I looked at both cars. The LEAF just seemed to have a smoother, integrated and more futuristic gauge cluster sculpted into the dash. The Volt seems add-on tacky. The Volt is not as quick as my 2012 LEAF jumping across the intersection (0-30mph), which simply pisses off many Volt owners I have encountered. This has been tested on the on-line Youtube video you can watch by romanthecarguy. The exterior door sheet metal of the Volt is 1980’s GM boxy.

And one has to appreciate the simplicity of an electric car. No exhuast, gas tank, evaporative emissions systems, tons of reciprocating parts, etc. The Volt unfortunately is as needlessly complex as a ICE car and then some. Some people get it, and appreciate these things. Food for thought: If the LEAF is so ugly, and still has sales up 100% from the year before…how sad is it that the Volt is actually on a decline even with all the publicity. Besides the factory changeover, the LEAF would have outsold the Volt last year. Again, if the LEAF is so ugly…then there must be something very unattractive about owning a Volt then.

LEAF sales are up b/c they are giving it away for FREE in Georgia with that $5K incentives. Take that away and see how fast the sales fall…

So, the Leaf kicks butt on the Volt from 0 to trailer-park speed. Lol.

What I do know is that the Volt (in my opinion) is really pretty quick. Best acceleration of any other car I’ve owned, and they have usually been pretty sporty; Mazda Miata, Honda CRX-Si, Golf TDi among them. I’m happy with it, that’s for sure. It’s rated at 0-60 mph 8.9 Quarter Mile 16.7*. Not bad.

The cars that I have usually purchased have been based of efficiency more than flash or performance. I’ve tried to balance those.

* As per http://www.zeroto60times.com/Chevrolet-Chevy-0-60-mph-Times.html

Sorry, 0-30mph is where you feel the most acceleration and have the most fun… Every single stop light. As none of the electric cars besides the Tesla has anything remote to exciting acceleration after 30mph.

I seriously doubt your story about your intersection encounters “pisses off many Volt owners I have encountered”. I know several Volt and Leaf owners, and stoplight racing has never been a topic. It doesn’t really fit the demographic. Plus, the road tests comparisons from reputable publications (not youtube videos) have put them even up to 30, or if there is a difference, a tenth of a second difference. After 30, the difference is bigger, in favor of the Volt. Best of luck with your 0-30 races though I bet that is just oh so important to you and the people you think you are racing.

And I think the Volt looks fugly and boring. Way too cluttered interior and only seating for 4! Also made by Chevy… Ewwwwwww!

You’re just citing your opinion and no fact.

And so are you… Good for you! Just try not to take offense if someone else does. I appears that you MAY have by flaming the Volt. Go ahead, though, if I makes you feel better.

Hehe must be a slow News Week David. The Leaf is rather part of the EV furniture at this point, so the subject is a bit dated for 2014.

The S is in general a good looking car, although I’m not impressed with that “looks like an Impala except with a Catfish Grille”.

People buy the Leaf due to its features, roominess, and space-efficiency. Can’t fault them for that.

Many of us in the EV community seem to be very harsh toward other EV owners’ choices.

I remember Bob Lutz’s comment in 2011 when criticized about the $43,000 price of the volt at the time, his answer was, ” Hey, it cost a lot of money for GM to develop this car. You’re basically paying $43,000 to get an $80,000 car, (a bonanza); What’s wrong with that?”

the Model S and BMW i8 are by far the most futuristic looking and best looking EV’s on the planet.

Whenever a Model S is next to me its just an amazing strong presence. The slope of the roofline and how it goes all the way back, the curves and the length and everything is just unlike any car available. And to top it off the awesome LED cat eyes good god the car makes me shake every time i see it.

You would have thiought they would have used real advanced LED headlights. (Like the LEAF, or any other top Luxury car nowadays)

I own a MS and is not comparison to a i8. Tesla MS is average beautiful but it does not stand like BMW i8, in fact the nose cone is ugly, but in general is a nice looking car. Leaf could be better, Prius is way uglier.

Couldn’t agree more.

I catch myself drooling a bit whenever I see a Model S. My friends and family chuckle when I mutter “Tesla” in a low mono-tone (with tongue-in-cheek) whenever I spot one, which seems like all of the time. The Model S is truly a gorgeous car, IMHO. While I could afford one, I just can’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on a depreciating asset.

…..but when the Model E comes out…..

Can’t wait to find out what the Model E is going to look like! Patience….patience!

In the meantime I’ve owned their stock for some time now. Go TSLA!

I too think that way about depreciating assets, but unlike the marginal advances of most luxury cars, the Model S is such a huge leap forward in design and the use of space that I’d actually consider it.

I don’t agree about EV owners being harsh about other EV owners car choices. I think all EV owners universally appreciate the fine crafted looks of the Model S. I think the Volt has a nice, sporty look to it. I thought the Fisker to be as sexy looking as a car can look. I find the Fiat electric model to be sort of cute, fun car. On the other hand, the Smart EV looks like a skateboard that would be crushed in any crash.

And I find the Leaf to look like a bug-eyed EV with baggy sheetmetal.

It is not REALLY ugly. But:
1) It is an econobox. Many people would like an alternative body style like a sedan, a mini-van (on the way with the NV-200!), a sports car, a pick-up, etc.
2) It does have the bug-eye headlamps. (Yes, I know they have an aerodynamic purpose . . . but they still look kinda goofy.)

“Now I’m going to throw in my personal opinion.” Hmmm… so what was all of that diatribe you wrote in the first three paragraphs?

I’m sure the way it looks suits you very well!
Do you happen to own a pug, too? πŸ˜‰


Some folks LOVE pugs. Statistically; someone has to. But as I’ve stated before– I do not.

But to be fair, I think the INSIDE of the Leaf is actually awesome. Very futuristic, digital displays that don’t pretend to be an old analogue oil burner. I really hate EVs with conservative instrumentality, like VW or Mercedes is scurrying to produce now.

So in a lot of ways, I compare the Nissan Leaf to Dr. Who’s TARDIS– they are both much more interesting on the inside. πŸ˜‰

Form follows function.

Time to grow-up and abandon those high school “this car will get the chicks” attitudes.

Do you ever look at a blender and say “Man that is ugly, I wouldn’t buy it….”

Yeah, but most cars are purchased with their appearance considered…..it is what it is.

Blenders, less so.

I’ve never bought a car based on being a ‘status symbol’ but I at least do have a little sense of style. I’m alive, after all.

While a Yugo may have done the job, technically, I didn’t want to buy one.

It is ugly. To many people. So are those other cars.

Now look in the mirror, and repeat every morning: I have an ugly car, and that’s OK. My Leaf is Good Enough, it is Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Them!

(Hat tip to Senator Stewart Smiley)

The paint on most of the leafs that I’ve seen on the East coast look dingy almost hazy or oxidized. It’s like they never get clean (and this is summer or winter).

This doesn’t provide for a favorable impression on the road.

I think some people like the distinctive styling as it stands out as being different than the regular car. Same thing with the Prius. There is a South Park smug episode coming to mind now. I’m not interested in trying to stand out that way, so I kind of wish they’d dial it back a bit in that regard. Still, the exterior looks wouldn’t keep me from getting the current Leaf. Its funny you spend more time looking at the interior of the car, but people seem to put priority on the exterior looks.

“Another interesting statistic is that probably 80% or more of these compliments have come from women.”

Like I’v said before, the Leaf is a girl’s car.

A teenage girl approached me and said, u got nice car….. Think u r right

So while exterior looks aren’t high on my list of priorities for a car, I guess I can’t ignore it, so a couple more thoughts..

I think pedestrian safety regulations may have posed some design challenges in recent years??

There are better looking small hatches that we could be comparing here than the ones pictured:) That generation Mazda3 and Matrix did not have exterior looks as their strengths. I thought the Matrix got worse to in the generation you gave the picture of. The first and third generation Mazda3 had better looking front ends than the 2nd. True just my opinion – fair enough, but I use to own the first generation Mazda3, and I know I’m not the only one that like the first gen better than the second.

I will be glad when the regulations are changed so that quality cameras & screens can be used instead of mirrors. This of course would improve airflow and will change the overall look of a vehicle. I would like LED headlights all across, just above the bumper in a smooth fashion.

I couldn’t agree more. The side mirrors have to go. They just hang out there ruining the aerodynamics of these new, very carefully engineered cars. It will be interesting to see what the new technology will look like as their replacement solution.

Who cares how it looks. Just tell me how much is a widows face worth to you when she learns that she lost her man in action in the Gulf? Is that not worth driving an electric car no matter how it looks?

Take a deep breath. These are just opinions. We are all on the same team, here.

The appearance of the Leaf was not love at first sight, but, similar to your analogy with the Dodge Ram, they are becoming very common place around my area and the look has really grown on me. I’ve owned some really “cool” cars in the recent past and I can honestly say I’ve had far more people approach me to ask about the Leaf. I’m not sure that people saying my car is “cute” is a good thing, but I like the car enough to not care. Now the Model S is gorgeous, but we’re talking about a $28,000 car versus a $90,000 one.

I think the 2013-14 Leaf SL model fixes my biggest complaint with the appearance of the Leaf–the 16″ wheels are just too small. The SL’s 17s look much better.

Volvo C30 is beautiful and small. Why EVs design is so bad.

It is a different look, and you mentioned the reason, it has no grill. The grill has been a very distinctive part of a car for many years, if you erased a feature (nose, lip etc) off a persons picture, that would change peoples perception completely.
Its going to take a while for people to get used to the no grill look, Nissan may have erased it too quickly, BMW and Kia have pseudo grills to ease people into this look.
Was kinda the same when they took real bumpers off cars, didn’t look right, but now we are used to more color coordinated expensive plastic instead.

Porsche doesn’t have a grill and is beautiful, that is not the reason of the dorky look.

Superbeetles and their related ilk, always looked good without a front grill… It can and has been done throughout automotive history. Even the old Detroit Electrics and Bakers didn’t have huge grills– and they’re still very attractive vehicles.

I would call it more quirky looking than ugly. Although the side view is similar to other popular small hatches, the front and back are both obviously unattractive. The headlights are bug-eyed and huge, while the rear end is bulbous, with a disproportionately small hatch.

Our individual preferences aren’t the important thing to debate. Whenever large numbers of people complain about the looks of any item, the manufacturer should pay attention, because it’s costing them sales. I believe LEAF sales could explode (like the Prius) if the range and styling are improved.

I would love to see Nissan do a styling refresh for the LEAF. They just restyled the econo-box looking Versa into the more stylish Versa Note and it’s a big improvement. Since the LEAF has already been on the market for 3-4 years, it seems like a no-brainer.

Very astute observation and I complete agree.

The only thing I don’t like about the Nissan leaf is the butt on the end of the car other then that I think the rest of it looks fine. If they could do something about the butt cheeks on the end of the car it would be a great looking car.

Does my boot look big in this? :-0

I think it’s cute. Most Americans are just used to a car whose “face” looks like some kind of sinister animal, so one that seems to be smiling at you seems lame.

The comments of ugly Leaf is World wide not only in US.

If a lot of people say a car is ugly… then its ugly, simple.

Just like a lot of people saying a McLaren MP4-12C is good looking… then its good looking. Now the few people that say its ugly definitely have something wrong with them, and vise versa for people that think the leaf is good looking. Lol jk …. or not jk? πŸ˜‰

“If a lot of people say a car is ugly… then its ugly, simple”

This is the worst way to establish a “fact”.

Apparently you have a problem accepting that looks are subjective.

Many fundamentals of design are based on nonsubjective concepts like; visual balance, mathematical proportion, axial symmetry, directional flow, etc. It seems Nissan likes to break the rules, to make something stand out from the herd. Their asymmetrical Cube, made me want to vomit every time I saw one, even though I get what they were trying to do… I really do. But for my tastes, they went too far with the Leaf.

Ugly vs. not ugly by definition isn’t a factual measurement. It is a subjective measurement.

It’s a good thing that there are many cars out there for different tastes. I think the Leaf looks pretty good. And I also like the i3 and i8.
For some reason I don’t like the appearance of the Volt, I don’t know what it is but there is something.Even the Ampera looks better for some strange reason.

But many of my favourites are sleak sedans. Like the Tesla Model S or the Mazda 6.

I would not be caught dead in a Dodge Ram or a F-150. Those are fugly. The WV Beetle is at the same level of fuglyness too.

β€œI realize the headlights on the Leaf are an unusual sight, but you have to be in front of the car to even realize it.”

It’s funny how people say something is ugly without further elaborating what it is they find ugly.
I happen to think the Leaf is ugly because of the headlights and the rear fenders.
Based on your sentence you felt the same way about the headlights.

If the front shape (headlights) and rear of the Leaf looked more like that of the ZOE, it would be a winner in my book.


I thought the original Prius (2001) was slightly ugly, but it grew on me and I’m actually fond of it now. However for the most part I’m willing to drive an ugly car. I wouldn’t reject any car on looks alone.

That said, I do think the Leaf is ugly. It’s not the overall shape of the car, but little things they have done within the shape. You compare to the Matrix and the Mazda3. I think the Matrix is an average looking car–nothing objectionable. I think the Mazda3 is a very nice good looking car, except for the grille.

I think the Leaf looks better from the side than from either the front or back, but even looking at your Maxtrix/Leaf/Mazda3 profile comparison image, take a look at the Leaf’s hood-line in front of the front wheels. It has two aquiline-like bumpy bits, one for the headlamp lens and one nose further down. I find them moderately unattractive, which doesn’t mean I won’t end up buying one. (I find the non-thermally-managed battery a bigger impediment than looks.)

I think part of the problem is that camera lenses tend to be unflattering, and in person, the Leaf looks better than it does in pictures.

The two things I find slightly problematic are the rising beltline and the way the back bumper looks heavy/droopy – and the bulging headlights. I hope that Nissan can improve the Cd and I think whatever they can do to drop the drag will also look better.

The aero drag is the best way increase the range, and I hope they can get the Cd down to where the Model S is, or better. That could put the range up over 100 miles, as high as 110-120 – and *that* would be a beautiful thing!


Since I bought a 2006 Scion xB I no longer see car beauty. Having an xB is like being the Shallow Hal of car owners.

The Nissan Leaf is ugly. That’s all there is to it. With those bulging headlamps it almost looks like they tried hard to make it as ugly as they did.

The Leaf looks great that’s all there is to it! Now I’ve also converted my opinion into fact!

I mentioned it on another article here… I think it’s the lack of a grille that makes the cars look odd to our eyes. The i-MiEV doesn’t really have a grille either; neither did the Coda.

Anyone old enough to remember the Avanti? Its lack of a grille made it look VERY odd for its day, and still even today.

First i was not “happy” with the design. First day i got my Leaf suddenly i like it. The headlights, especially when it is dark are unique! (the LED strip). Like also the smooth front and the view from a bit sideways from back.

In contrast i hate the sideview from i3, its only ugly.

But really must say, the Tesla Model S design is wonderfull!

I really like the leaf look, cool head lights, sleek body, futuristic gear shift, perfect color to hide the dirt (sky blue), easy to read dashboard… It’s great!

I liked the 94 Ram as soon as I saw it and thought it was the best looking pickup out there.

Especially the GT version in electric blue with white stripes.

LEAF has a similar shape to Matrix and Mazda 3 but with contrived look at me details.

I think the LEAF is ugly but not fugly like the Pontiac Aztek.

Many women commented on how they liked the Aztek too.

Some people like different for the sake of being different.

Hahaha, wow the Aztek…. that was one interesting looking car. What were they thinking? They didn’t sell that many. And, where are they now?

I guess it was pretty cool that you could connect a tent to the back. Wonder how many times people actually have….

Not as ugly as the BMW i3

I’m also surprised that people think it’s ugly. At worst, it’s plain looking and hardly noticeable. At best, it’s modern looking. I happen to like it.

I would discount the “butt ugly” comments as being general anti-EV drivel, except that my wife, who doesn’t care about cars at all, has told me on several occasions that she thinks the headlights are “weird looking”, so apparently it’s a real turn-off for some people.

Whatever, I once got boo’ed off another car site for saying that the Lamborghini Countach was really ugly, but it’s apparently sacrilege to say anything less than flattering about a classic car.

A March 2014 Car & Driver article states that the Leaf has “a baggy design.” I would agreee.

It would be really interesting for all articles if comments were accompanied by the the autos owned or planned purchases. Some do. It is hard to take a Volt owner serious dissing a LEAF or a LEAF owner dissing a Volt or a BMW owner dissing anything… I value comments from the autos they own like David owning Volt/LEAF, but people’s misconceptions of vehicles they have not experienced not so much.

Since this is all just a matter of someone’s personal taste, it’s okay to have an opinion to share, isn’t it? We are just talking about the ‘look’ of cars here. You don’t need to own one or even drive one to have an opinion on that. I guess it’s just how someone goes about sharing that opinion. The internet is anonymous. Some people tend to forget others’ feelings when they share their opinion, which I think shows someone’s true class, or lack thereof. It’s kind of like someone’s honesty (when no one is looking).

It surprises me how people can go classless by flaming someone in the way that they tend to do on the internet. I really can’t picture them doing that same thing standing in like at the bank or library.

The author thought the leaf was ugly until he saw the i-miev. I feel the same way.

The leaf is the only affordable EV with full features (charge rate, cargo space, etc) that is available nationwide. If it weren’t ugly I would buy it for sure when my second Volt’s lease is up.

Cargo space? You’re breathing in fumes, there. The LEAF has the hump in the hatch only slightly mitigated for the 2013 model year. Only the I-MiEV and the Model S has a flat floor for cargo. The Volt, LEAF, Fit EV (lost their magic seat), Fiat EV and Focus and other EVs have interior space problems.

I agree that the LEAF is ugly from many angles, whether it be the hawkish beak, bug eyes, braces across the grille (tell me the frontal view doesn’t look like a metal-mouthed adolescent), or that waste-of-space rear hatch and concave-looking rear silhouette. BUT, it does have a certain exterior appeal as well (especially in black), and aero noise is very low at speed. I preferred and purchased the ‘pure design’ of an i-MiEV, TWICE, even though our people pod is a cartoonish, high-drag design. It’s simplicity and uber-functional interior trumped the weeble-wobble image on our priority list. Plus, I just love the befuddled looks on testosterone-overdosed operators when we leave them behind at intersections!

After 3 years of Leaf ownership, the front end has grown on me — I really like the look of the the short hood and the unique headlights. The lack of a grill and the “catfish” mouth never bothered me either. However, there are a few areas where I still don’t like the design: 1) Wheels and tires — the base wheels and tires don’t fill the wheel wells and the base wheels aren’t a very attractive design. I know I can change this but the stock wheels show up on every ad and photo. 2) Shape of the rear quarter panels. The “line” through Leaf’s “hips” is unattractive — it’s not sharp and linear like the Mazda’s nor is it organic like the 370Z. It’s some poor combination of the two. The rear is still jarring and unattractive to my eyes. 3) The lower window “belt line” appears to droop in the middle, while the Mazda is more linear. Once again, this seems like some sort of poor organic mimicry. Basically, I like me cars either sharp and linear or organic and rounded. The front of the Leaf starts of sharp and linear. The rear quarter panels try to… Read more »

IMO, if the Leaf looked like a Sentra, they would sell twice as many.

Personally, I wouldn’t call LEAF “ugly”. But it is NOT the best looking cars on the road.
I certainly like it more than a Prius. But that is just me.

Among all plugins, I would rank them this way:

Model S
Fisker Karma
Fusion Energi
Accord PHEV
Focus EV
Fiat 500e
Fit EV
C-Max Energi
Smart EV
Prius Plugin

I am sure some of the i-Miev owners would flame me for this ranking…. Sorry in advance. That is just my personal taste.

I guess I forgot about ELR, Spark EV and CODA…

CODA would be dead last….

Spark EV would be just above the i-Miev.

I would put ELR just behind the Model S.

Coda was a great example of a vehicle that had a good range and respectable electric powertrain, and immediately discounted it from purchase– all because it looked like a car from the 1980’s.

That didn’t surprise the EV market, either.

The two-star crash test results didn’t help either.

The side view is not bad, just the front and rear is ugly. Particulary the oversized headlights. I know that the main reason behind that was re-direct wind, but they could design it better. Look at Hyundai and Kia. They improved their design and now they selling way more vehicles they used to.

I’m planing to buy the next generation Leaf as long as they will do the following.

1) improve exterior design
2) increase the range
3) keep the price


Hey all. Volt owner here. I would like to thank David and all of the posters here for the most entertaining thread I’ve seen in a long time. Thank you! Made my night.

All I would have to say is whether you drive a Leaf, Tesla, Volt or i3 take comfort in fact we all drive very unique electric cars that stand out from the Vanilla crowd of mostly mundane easily forgettable vehicles out there!

True dat!

Outstanding piece David!!! I have had very a very similar experience in my almost 3 years with my LEAF in Houston. I started out thinking it was relatively ugly, but put my money down for the drive train anyway. When I saw it in person the first time (in prototype blue, not the brighter blue now), I thought it was ok and my wife really liked it. She thought it looked like a mini Murano, her daily driver at the time. Then we test drove, they had changed the blue (for the worse), but the pearl white really looked great. It slimmed the car a bit. I can attest to also have been stopped, by mostly women, commenting on how much they like how the car looks. It seems like the LEAF will be destined to have a majority female ownership once it gets beyond the early adopter stage. In any case, after three years of ownership, the looks would not stop me from buying another. However I would still not put it in a class of great looking. Currently Model S is the only plug-in in that category for me. P.S. I also owned one of those ’94 Dodge… Read more »

I’ve always like the looks of the Leaf better than most cars, including the Model S. No, I’m not a woman.

The range was too short though, so I bought a Volt. I still think the Leaf looks better.

I know early Volt Fans were simply enraged when GM basically did a “bait and switch” between the undeniably eye-catching prototype they flaunted at events and autoshows, and the Volt-flavored thing they cramed onto a Malibu chassis for actual production. The difference in line, proportions and general stance between the two designs, was not lost on the public at large. But like the execs at GM correctly thought, people would grow to eventually appreciate a more mainstream look for the vehicle, and forget about their initial styling exercise.

Some of the things I find really refreshing about the styling efforts at Tesla Motors, is the transparency and direct translation between initial prototype and final production vehicle… That kind of conceptual followthrough with a product, just strikes me as inherently more honest than other more established automakers– no radical bait and switch.

Just as a technical thing, the Chevy Volt ended up on GM’s compact platform the Delta II (Cruze) not the Malibu’s which is on the mid-size Epsilon (at least is was until 2012 – now rides on the Epsilon II). As for this statement: “But like the execs at GM correctly thought, people would grow to eventually appreciate a more mainstream look for the vehicle, and forget about their initial styling exercise.” – I think that statement has a high probability of not being correct. I would suggest staying true to the original (especially given sales of the sportier looking Model S) would have resulted in at least as much, if not more than the 55,000 sales it has log in America since 2010. I think the decision to make it essentially a modified Cruze over having its own unique “e-flex” design was a mistake, but that it was done in an effort to make money over any altruistic reasons. There was some aero-reasoning given for the wholesale transformation – but it could have still taken a more streamlined form and kept a lot of the whiz-bang look. As this this thread started about the Nissan LEAF and whether or… Read more »

Spot on Jay!

I feel like Chevy took the Volt styling cues away and used them for the new Camaro, which has been a runaway hit.

It is one thing I truly love about Tesla’s design approach is they only show production intent. I was burned by the Volt, so I don’t think I will ever trust another prototype from GM again.

My wife thinks the Leaf is ugly. She is very traditional. The only thing I say is truly ugly is when the photographer does a shot straight up the nostrils. All nostril shots are pretty dank.

She also thinks that wearing western boots with a dress is weird. I think the look is kind of hot in a girls-n-power-tools way.

I agree Loboc. I like short skirts and cowboy boots on chicks also. I guess we have similar tastes as we both own Volts.

I have to weigh in on the looks of the Leaf and the Volt.

I’m one that doesn’t mind the looks of the leaf…..but I own a Volt. The thing about the Leaf is that it stands out. People notice it……but I can’t say that about the Volt. People don’t notice it. In 2 years I’ve owned it I can count the number of comments on one hand. To most people it looks like a Malibu or an Impala.

Until you open the hatch and throw some huge cabinet or other stuff in there. It’s pretty impressive cargo area for a compact. I get a lot of comments then!

PS great article David. 115 comments and growing. You could start a writing class. Hey Jay he has an opening…..just kidding, couldn’t resist. πŸ™‚

I bought a leaf despite its appearance, because I liked everything else about it, I liked the simplicity of the electric drive-train, and it made great financial sense to me.

I don’t like the curvy rear quarter panels. I don’t like the paint color options. I don’t like silver or grey. The blue is too washed out and the red is too dark. I ended up with white.

What would have been cool is an “Electric Blue” (and an EV badge on the back).

Such a great read and such spirited comments! I love it!

I’m partial to my LEAF, but also think the i3 is a beautiful machine. Yes, they are different – but that’s what makes them special (oh yeah, and a few things under the hood and floor too). One of the things I dislike about the Focus Electric is that it can so easily be confused with its more popular ICE version. For many, that’s an argument for the car, but for me, if I am going to take such a bold leap into the future, I want people to know I’m doing it.

What bugs me the most is when EV folks seem to trash the competition. With so few choices, you would think we would be propping each other up rather than blasting each other. I’m sure we can all get along – the market will only grow and there’s plenty of room for everyone.