2011 Nissan Leaf Drive Review: A Real Electric Car for Real People

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2011 Nissan Leaf U.K. spec

2011 Nissan Leaf U.K. spec

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Just days after Nissan announced its 8 year, 100,000 mile warranty option for the 2011 Leaf, we've had a chance to do our second test-drive of the week in Nissan's $33,750 electric baby.

Earlier this week, Nissan gave us some time behind the wheel of the Leaf in San Jose, California. We had a great time and totally geeked out about the Leaf's built-in EV navigation system, a great way of keeping track of where you are and where you can go.

But transported away from the city limits to the quaint rural location of Nissan's European Technology Center in Bedfordshire, England, we gave the Nissan Leaf a real shakedown.

First Impressions

Let's get one thing straight: Nissan are taking the 2011 Leaf very seriously.  Nissan have designed and built the Leaf from the ground up: It is a new platform and a new car.

And it shows. Instead of missing rear seats, or standard trim items found in some EVs which are redesigns of standard gasoline cars, the Leaf brings together a union of body, chassis and transmission to form a brand new EV benchmark.

Behind the wheel

Sliding into the supportive and well trimmed cabin, a neat and functional split level display in front of the driver gives all of the essential details including the usual warning lights and dials found in any car. A ‘fuel gauge' shows the battery charge remaining, as well as an expected range given current driving style.

Controls are all in the usual place, and saving the rumble of an engine, nothing gives the game away that this is an electric car.

2011 Nissan Leaf Seat

2011 Nissan Leaf Seat

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We're reminded of the dash layout of the 2004-2009 Toyota Prius when looking at the 2011 Leaf Dash: Information is displayed in a clean and uncluttered way and everything is within easy reach of the driver.

Selecting gear, or rather, choosing which direction you want the car to go in, is achieved through a lever mounted on the center console, similar to the one found in the Toyota Prius.


With foot released from the brake and gear selected, the 2011 Leaf creeps forward like any other automatic. It also features hill assist, giving the driver time to move from brake to accelerator without the dreaded rollback.

While the leaf lacks a conventional gearbox, the 2011 Leaf has two settings for forward: drive which gives full access to the 80kW motor to accelerate the car from 0-60 in a respectable time of around 10 seconds; and eco which trades off some acceleration in exchange for extended range.

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

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In the city, eco mode is more than acceptable. Acceleration is still more than enough to avoid holding up traffic at the lights and a highway capable 80 mph is still possible.

Mimicking the kick-down function on most automatics, the Leaf provides a reserve of power to help accelerate it in overtaking manoeuvres. Pulling out at freeway speed to overtake a car doing 65 mph and accelerating to 75 mph was easy, thanks to this feature.

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Comments (11)
  1. great news - the last thing we want is to have these first evs with lots of problems. nissan also has 3 other models slated to be produced within the next couple years.

  2. Excellent, intelligent review. Your EVcast is missed.

  3. An acronym. Ratz. I thought LEAF was a reference to "turn over a new LEAF" :)

  4. Hi Nikki! Nice, comprehensive review. These next 12 months should prove very exciting as we see a few thousand Leafs, Volts and some other EVs hit the road.

  5. @ecogo - I'm now doing Transport Evolved. Have you heard it? www.transportevolved.com

  6. Great article!Let's hope that by 2012 there will be at least 500000 EV's/year on the streets!The price isn't prohibitive now,in 5 years it should be 25% down so,the automotive future is green!

  7. Great article. I cannot wait to try one myself.
    "electric cars have been considered the playthings of the rich and wealthy, or the political statements of the extreme environmentalist keen to bring down demonic oil barons."
    This seems to ignore the affordable home conversion. I would add that there are plenty of other reasons to currently be driving an EV other than green bling and crude hating.

  8. A really well done article. Thanks. Many write-ups to date contain much general info on the LEAF, and very little relating of the actual driving experience. You've given us much that we can relate to on a day-to-day basis.
    Anyone interested in the LEAF is welcome to check out http://livingleaf.info. It is a consumer-oriented, San Diego based website seeking to answer this question - Is the Nissan LEAF right for me?

  9. While there are many reasons to drive an EV beyond frustration with Big Oil and/or personal environmentalism, it would be nice for us to acknowledge that these are also legitimate reasons for driving an EV rather than using environemtnalists as a foil for the "average person". It so frustrating to see environmentalism so often being cast as 'elite' and non-average. It's almost as if buying an EV for environmental reasons is "un-American". Being an environmentalist is not "un-American", nor is it elitist. There are plenty of average Americans who believe in a cleaner, greener world. Nikki, please stop using us average Americans who believe in a greener world as a foil in an attempt align yourself with "real" average people. Thank you.

  10. nikki - great article and I enjoyed the pic's! Cant wait to test drive one myself. Go EV's!!!

  11. "Like many modern ‘drive by wire' systems, the steering feels a little remote."
    Since all steering systems retain a mechanical linkage, they are not technically 'drive by wire' in the way that accelerate pedals are.

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