I was a lower-cost EV purchaser as well. Two models that really tempted me were the Fiat 500e and Chevy Spark EV. They are supposed to be incredibly fun to drive, and the Spark has some impressive motor output for its size. They also both have actively-cooled battery packs, so they aren't as prone to long-term degradation as the LEAF.
I went with a 2016 30kWh LEAF, although it cost more, for a number of reasons. I live rurally, and use the car for almost everything, including camping, so I wanted something with more battery capacity, interior space (with room to fit a spare tire on the trunk floor), and the ability to rotate the tires (the Spark and 500e have non-matching tires/wheels front and rear). I also wanted the charging versatility of the LEAF with the quick-charge capability. It can level-2 charge to 6 kW and DC-quick charge. The Spark can DC quick-charge (when equipped), but can only level-2 charge to 3 kW. The 500e has level-2 to 6 kW but no quick-charge. I'm very happy with my decision. Although the 1st-gen LEAF only has an 80 kW motor, it's plenty responsive for my liking. Range has been quite acceptable with the 30 kWh pack: 90-100 miles in the winter and 110-120 miles in the summer, with my driving style in ECO-mode.
As mentioned, modifying the battery pack and powertrain of an EV is fairly outside the scope of most of us. Although I used to be a 4wd tweaker, I've never felt the desire to change anything on the LEAF.
I completely understand your desire to go EV. I love the whole experience, and have a hard time when I need to use combustion vehicle for something...it feels like punishment.
2016 LEAF S-30 w/QC "Lexie"