2011 Nissan Leaf One Week In: Five Things We Hate

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2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

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A week ago I took charge of my very own 2011 Nissan Leaf. The U.K. equivalent of the 2011 Nissan Leaf SL ordered by our own Marty Padgett last year, it includes a level 3 fast charge port and 12v solar panel as standard. 

But with over 560 miles now on the clock shared between two drivers and a variety of road experiences from fast-moving freeway to quiet country lanes under our belts, what things are bugging us about Nissan’s first electric five-door family hatchback?

Carwings Isn’t Ready for Primetime Yet

A common thread on Nissan Leaf owners forums like MyNissanLeaf.com and Leaftalk.co.uk, Nissan’s own integrated Carwings telematics system isn’t all its cracked up to be. 

2011 Nissan Leaf Carwings

2011 Nissan Leaf Carwings

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Designed to act as a gateway between the Leaf and its owner’s computer and smartphone, the Carwings system allows the car to be accessed remotely to turn on charging, check charge status and even pre-cool or heat the car. 

But with some owners losing the ability to even connect to Carwings and its clunky web interface, we have no love for the overly-complicated system. 

White Seats Are Dirt Magnets

Sure, any car with light colored interior is an absolute dirt magnet, but even with a liberal application of scotch-guard our new ride has picked up stains all over its beige recycled plastic bottle interior. 

While the seats are plush enough and the interior welcoming, we’d expect more stain resistance from a $35,000 car, especially one sold as a family car. 

The Miles-to-Empty is Useless

2011 Nissan Leaf State of Charge and Miles remaining

2011 Nissan Leaf State of Charge and Miles remaining

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Unlike the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2011 Tesla Roadster, the miles-till-empty gauge on the 2011 Nissan Leaf jumps around like a jack-rabbit on steroids.  It’s almost as if the system is too sensitive, taking sudden overtaking maneuvers or short hill stretches as an excuse to drop the predicted range by as much as 10%.  No wonder people suffer from range anxiety.

Instead, we’d prefer to see more attention given to the Leaf’s state-of-charge meter, with its slowly falling bar graph showing the car’s remaining charge.  Sure, the miles-till-empty is a great idea, but the implementation just isn’t there yet. 

The GPS is Built for a Gas Car

You’d think that such a revolutionary vehicle as the 2011 Nissan Leaf would have its own custom-built GPS.

Instead, it’s a modified version of a gas car GPS. As such, our car is happy to point out nearby gas stations, but can’t find any public level 2 or 3 charge points. We’re not alone, with users worldwide reporting similar issues. 

Nissan claims the GPS and Carwings integration will improve over time, with charging stations being loaded into the GPS database over the coming months. Until then, you may be on your own. 

Our second bugbear comes from the GPS’s lack of awareness of hills. In one case it directed us up a two mile long 10% hill, a route which was a few minutes faster than a flatter valley route. Sadly however, the hilly route wiped more than 15 miles of the predicted range from our car, giving us a little range anxiety in the process. 

Route-planning based on the car’s state-of-charge and terrain is, we think, a must for future revisions of the Leaf. 

The Charge Port Door Release Needs Relocation

2011 Nissan Leaf Charge Port Release

2011 Nissan Leaf Charge Port Release

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Placing the release mechanism out of sight by the hood release doesn’t work. Firstly we’ve lost track of the times we’ve forgotten to open the charge port door only to grovel around in the dark and pulling the hood release instead. 

Secondly, we think the charge port door needs a smart release similar to the door and hatch release buttons. Hiding the mechanism in the Nissan emblem would work, as would having an electronic release on the key fob. But hiding it away by the door? That’s a fail.

Do you have a 2011 Nissan Leaf? What things do you love or hate about the car? Let us know in the Comments Below. 

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Comments (35)
  1. Good report. I agree with all those with the exception perhaps of the charge port door release. I have had no issues with it being there but a button release would be better.

  2. I agree with your five things and have a couple of more. I really do like the idea of a release button on the little door or a push button on the dash. More importantly, I would like the GPS system to work more like a Garmin does. Why can't I select the "recently found"? or why not have a "fastest" or "least power consumed"? My Garmin's UI / GUI is much easier to navigate to find resturants, stores, etc. It also allows me to name the stored locations. It seperates different types of destinations: Points of Interest, Schools, Hotels, Airports, and on and on. When I want to find a drug store it offers dozens. And if I want "fast food" it will find hundreds which are along the route I am taking. And it knows "Thai food".

  3. Basically, the GPS in the Leaf is good as a map but lousy as a destination / route finder. I carry my Garmin around with me :-(

  4. Marc Geller and I had a conference call last week with Tim Gallagher and Mark Perry over the SOC issue. We got a verbal confirmation that we'd get the SOC info. It's just a matter of time. Everyone hates the "guess-o-meter".
    I have no problem with the charge port door release location. Having it blue helps. I've gotten quite used to it.
    I'd like to be able to freewheel as an option. I found that when the pack is full the regen doesn't work for a few miles, so I get to freewheel then. I liked this function in my RAV and would like to have it in the LEAF. Stronger regen would be helpful, too, but operator controlled.
    The light colored interior is OK with me, but it's starting to show dirt. I'm just not concerned about the interior as much as the exterior. I love my red color!
    The eco mode is extremely beneficial! If all cars had this, we'd save millions of barrels of oil every year.
    This is the best car I've ever owned by a long shot.

  5. We think of our Leaf as a solid "appliance." It works, with its own drawbacks, which Nikki has listed and which I have noted online earlier. IF you harass Nissan enough, they will agree, it appears, to give you a complimentary GPS software upgrade around September or October of this year. I am pushing Nissan on this, as their version of the map detail is 5 YEARS out of date for my home area !
    Further we should all be urging Nissan to update CarWings at least monthly for charge stations and anything else, as currently it is also USELESS here in the US as well.
    We now have almost 1700 miles on our Glacier Pearl Leaf SL, and as the weather warms a bit (even in California), we are seeing range projected numbers as high as 128 miles when we FIRST leave our garage, but even that drops to 105 territory by the second mile down the road.

  6. There's no reason in the world to release the hood instead of the charge port lid. The charge port lid has an indentation at the end of the lever, while the hood release does not. It can even be seen in the non-enlarged photo in the article. Just pull on the lever with the indentation.

  7. "That’s a fail."
    Nikki, you're a contributing writer. There's enough trite phrases and ungrammatical gibberish out there. Please don't lower your standards for the lowest internet reader.

  8. Bert,
    Our of curiosity, what exactly is it about this seemingly complete sentence that you abhor?
    It's good to see so many differing opions about the Leaf and its poor points. As the first production electric car to maket it is easy to view it through rose-tinted glasses - but by letting the automakers know what isn't quite right we can hopefully look foward to a better revision for 2012.

  9. Freewheel coasting is the best way to increase the efficiency / range of any car. The only losses are aero drag and rolling friction. With regeneration, you also lose a percentage to the electrics and charging.
    I agree that elevation would be a critical addition to the GPS. The folks at Charge Car are working on using the GPS for these sorts of advantages:
    Is the feature that lets you have (friendly) competition with other Leaf drivers, for range and/or Wh per mile working?

  10. Perhaps because I drive race cars, I'm more sensitive to vision in a turn; I find that because the side pillars project so far forward, They obstructs your vision when in a tight turn; the two little front windows help; but, the pillars are pretty thick and right in the line of sight. I understand the comprmise for aero; but, in a tight turn in a parking lot, you need unobstructed vision.
    Otherwise, the car is great.

  11. On Miles to empty - why do you say they should completely abandon the user friendly number and revert to a % that may not mean much for new ev drivers ?
    We should encourage Nissan to find better algorithms & fuzzy logic to get better forecats of range.

  12. During the Nissan "Drive-Electric" tour they claimed that the GPS maps would automatically keep updating themselves via GPRS so you would always have up to date maps and never have to change a DVD. It was supposed to be a big selling point / feature.

  13. "fail" grates on my nerves too--one of the worst bits of slang to evolve from technology. Noun? Verb? Adjective? Yuk.

  14. EV Now - I can see your point: but right now, the fuzzy prediction of the miles-to-empty really doesn't work.
    Perhaps the answer is to give two gauges, a best-case and a pessimistic one, as in the 2011 Tesla Roadster?

  15. I think having driven the vehicle only one week and 560 miles is not sufficient to learn about a new drive technology. How would you have reacted going from a horse to an early automobile?
    But to your points, the Leaf operates on an energy equivalent of less than 3/4 gallon of gas. One must remember that all the time they are operating an EV. Secondly as you use the vehicle more and more, you will realize the most important gage is your trip odometer. You will get comfortable knowimg what to expect from your Leaf and you will drive within those limits and be very comfortable with little range anxiety.
    Give yourself some time to learn your car and laugh at all those people filling their gas cars at $4/gal and maybe even $5/gal in near future.

  16. I really like Tesla's system--they have three indicators:
    1. A big picture of the battery that shows how much is left in it. While it's hard to get an accurate reading from this, anybody can get a general impression very quickly. This is
    2. An "ideal miles" gauge that says how many miles you have left under ideal conditions; this is just SOC adjusted by a fixed miles-per-unit value. I consider it to be a measurement of arbitrary electric units left
    3. An "estimated miles" gauge that calculates how far I can go if I keep driving the way I have over some period of time. They apply weightings, and it can change with ROM updates, so I'm not even sure how they calculate it.
    When I first got it, #3 was helpful (though still not a reliable guide!) because I was unfamiliar with the units on #1 and #2. But now that I've had the car for a while and am familiar with the units, I look at #2 and pretty much just ignore #3. There's no way the car can tell how I'm about to drive; I know better than it does how I'm going to use the remaining energy.
    #3 is only useful now when I'm on a long trip with a constant driving pattern. But I still only look at it every now and then to verify my consumption rate, then generally pay attention to #2 as a measure of what I have left.

  17. Nikki,
    My point was "That's a fail" makes no sense as written. What's a fail? It sounds like something a three year old would say, no offense given.
    "That's poor ergonomics" or "That's a poor design" would be understandable. The word fail is not used that way. Failure would be more appropriate.

    Perhaps this:
    "But hiding it away from the door? That's a design failure."
    It would be similar to writing "In a press conference, the CEO of Nissan was like, no problem."

  18. Nikki,
    Having said all that, you make some good points about the Leaf and features that could be improved.

  19. "That's a fail" perfectly captures the user frustration with a stupid design failure which a trendy consumer-oriented manufacturer for a much-hyped car should have thought through. Since the dawn of pass/fail grades and inspection checklists, the concept of 'that's a fail' has come to have universal recognition.
    This is a well done review.
    Now here's hoping that all those 737 inspectors will flout grammar if they must and on seeing a crack conclude 'that's a fail.'

  20. I have to add to my previous comment that I would like to see a way to coast. Coasting, or driving where you are not drawing power from the battery nor regenerating, is the best way to get good range. I would like to see the "no feet" position as coast, perhaps in Eco mode, or as an alternative, a button on the steering wheel that when pressed puts the car in coast.
    I think Nissan have missed an opportunity here to make the Nissan LEaf easier for anyone to get better range.
    As it is, the driver is constantly having to feather the brake or throttle to find the coast position. It makes driving for range quite hard work.

  21. I've owned my LEAF for almost two weeks now (I'm in the U.S.) and have put over 500 miles on it...
    CARWINGS has been working great for me. On Monday it popped up a message stating that 6 charging stations have been updated. The maps are okay, however as Nikki stated, do not take elevation into account.
    Regarding the seats, I haven't had any issues yet with dirt or wear, but then again I don't have kids and don't allow eating or drinking in the car...
    The miles-till-empty guesstimate is worthless! I would pay good money to have an actual state-of-charge percentage in that spot instead. When I charge up the car to 100%, I reset the "trip b" odometer and end up a lot more accurate (well, as accurate as 12 bars can give me) than the Nissan Miles (trademark) display...
    I haven't had any issues opening the charge port door without looking at the handle... As another poster mentioned, I just feel for the divot and yank on the handle...
    Otherwise, the LEAF has driven like a dream and can't wait to put even more miles on it!

  22. I have had the car a week and I completely agree. I have had those same thoughts exactly--including the release button for the plug. I wish the steering wheel could "telescope." I also wish the visors were longer and that there were a lumbar support for my back. The seats seem concave to me.
    Most of all I wish there were available level 3 chargers around.

  23. Paul, regarding your comment about posting - my wife discovered - perhaps inadvertantly, I'm not really sure - that you can put the car in neutral as you are driving just by moving the "shift knob" to the left and holding it for a moment. Thus, neutral is engaged and you can coast to your hearts content. (No different, really, than putting a conventional automatic in neutral while driving).

  24. I am going to side with Nikki on these two issues.
    1) The charge port door release does not need to be right next to the hood release. In my wifes car, I have popped the trunk when trying to open the gas cap cover. This is poor usability design.
    2) "That's a fail." Our language is dynamic and evolves. LOLcats and failblog are part of the modern Internet culture, not gibberish for the lowest internet reader.

  25. "That's a fail." Our language is dynamic and evolves. LOLcats and failblog are part of the modern Internet culture, not gibberish for the lowest internet reader.
    Sorry for the high expectations.
    I thought writing a column for Car and Driver, Motor Trend or All Cars Electric would have the same journalistic standard, whether it's a print magazine or internet website.
    I'll let the enablers have this one. There you have it, young writers. Aim low.

  26. @Chad Schwitters, you said that the car can't determine what you're about to do; very good point, probably why automatics & cruise control fails to deliver a pleasant drive on a hilly road but I digress, how about this for a idea: The miles remaining should be listed for city, extra-urban and highway. To avoid information overload we need to design a graph or display to show that simply. An example of the need happened to me yesterday, with a 25 mile journey ahead I had 48 miles left on the MINI E. I knew the first 10 would be on the Highway, the remaining on fast surface roads at ~40mph. I knew from experience that 48 miles would require care so I drove accordingly and arrived home with 15 left. The lion's share was sapped at 65mph on the highway - the MINI is a fast brick. How is a new EV driver expected to know that? With that info though range anxiety can be calmed.

  27. i work tech support for a rapidly changing industry and deal with "customer education" daily, or lack thereof. The Leaf is a different car so it will convey information in a different way. SOC sounds like a better way and for us experienced EVers it is, but for the general population, it might as well be 4th year French lesson in a beginners class.
    learn the car. its like any other car in that it will be different. Nissan attempted to make it easier by taking the same info and presenting it a few different ways. i dont like that because i want new info and SOC would be great, but the "charge gauge" gives me that. cmon!!! 10 bars, like what do you expect them to mean??
    as far as seats go. i had the EXACT same complaint with my Prius which btw is almost the same color. the cloth does not seem to stain easily and most cleanups are down with a damp cloth... with a 4YO, i have a LOT of experience in this!!

  28. Is this a closed group or does Nikki just remove other women's comments? (And my comment supported her with intelligence.) Well, drop this blog from my subscriptions.

  29. Caroline,
    No-one removed your comment - certainly not me! I'll get someone to look into it.

  30. I contend that coasting in an electric car buys you nothing significant in efficiency terms. You are not driving a piston engine with lots of friction. Coasting simply takes away single foot speed control.
    In the 24,000 miles I drove in the Mini E, overall range seemed unrelated to how hilly the terrain was. Maybe the regen in the Leaf is too weak or inefficient. But the Mini E always gained back enough going down the other side of the hill to make up for what it lost going up. I documented over 60 different routes for my commute to work and found no correlation between mileage and hills. Top speed mattered most.

  31. Glad to see that the complaints are pretty nit-picky! I consider it to be a great sign when complaints about a product are fairly trivial.

  32. Yes, I love the car too.

  33. My Leaf, I'm told, was on the ship that left Japan just hours before the quake. Looking forward to it and appreciative of all the advance experience posted here. My daily needs rarely exceed 40 miles so I'm not expecting much anxiety. No gas!

  34. I don't understand the request for coasting. I can see it in an ICE car, but not in an electric. When you lift your accelerator foot in an electric, you generate electricity. In fact, my Tesla generates 20 to 25% of the electricity it uses. If you could coast, you would use zero and generate zero. It is illogical to think that using zero can be any where near as useful as generating 25%. Also, you have a lot less control when you coast. That's why, unlike and ICE car,range is extended in stop and go driving.

  35. Hi Nikki. Glad to hear you got your LEAF. I would have to say the issues you point out are not a big deal to me. From your list it almost sounds like you really don't like the car. For a first generation car I was fully expecting some things to be less than perfect... I figure it comes with being an early adopter.
    I do find the Carwings to be a little annoying. Also the range meter is not perfect.. although I find mine to be pretty accurate and helpful (even if it is a big hyper-active). I find the bar graph to be fine for state of charge.. but that's just me. The charge port release works great for me. I can feel that it has a indentation so I know what I need to pull when I need to open the charge port. It's simple and works for me. After a few weeks it's just second nature to me and easy to remember.
    My big issue is the glove box. I find that to be almost worthless. I have the user manual in it and it has room for little else. Also when I open the door, the items will often fall out onto the floor. Not very useful. I hope they do redesign that, as it is quite useless.
    Personally, I am loving the car and it works really great for me. Exciting that more EV's will be hitting the market soon and I can't wait to see more driving around on the roads soon.

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