2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with charging station visible; photo by George ParrottEnlarge Photo
In that very first drive, on a cold, windy, and wet February day, it was clear that the heater in the 2011 Leaf is nowhere near as strong as one in the Volt (and the Volt's heater is not great).
The Leaf does have a rear window wiper, however, which I put to good use on the first drive and have used regularly in heavy spring rains all across Sacramento.
As a zero-emission vehicle, the Leaf is obviously "cleaner" in operation than the Volt, and we are committed to being green.
We use a 240-Volt Coulomb charging station in our garage to charge up the Leaf every night, and we are get 75 to 80 miles of actual range--despite seeing electric range numbers as high as 121 miles when we leave the garage in the morning.
It has been and continues to be frustrating that the Leaf's digital range display is so optimistic at the start of the day, but drops off so quickly during the first 10 miles. Nissan just doesn't have the range algorithm figured out as well as GM does.
(A software update for the 2011 Nissan Leaf is now available that reportedly makes estimates much more accurate.)
2011 Nissan Leaf Software UpdateEnlarge Photo
We now have about 2,800 miles on our Leaf, and it's our "go-to" car for errands and all of our around-town trips. My wife usually has the Nissan Leaf as her commuter car for the 12-mile drive each way to work.
She likes the space, the proximity locking-unlocking, and the visibility the Leaf offers (better than the Volt's). The white car is also better to park in the full sun at her job than the dark red Volt. And the air-conditioning in the Leaf works great.
However, my wife hates the lack of strong heating in the 2011 Leaf. We had a long wet season this winter that lasted long enough to make May more like February. She switched to driving the 2011 Volt just to be able to use its heated seats to feel warm.
We usually drive the Leaf in "Eco" mode, but switch to "D" for freeway on-ramps and to get more response from the go pedal. Driving "feel" in the Leaf offers less feedback, making it more numb than the Volt, and for us it provides less visceral fun.
The Nissan Leaf is our first choice for city driving and local commuting, and it qualifies for special free parking in Sacramento, as well as access to city charging stations in downtown parking structures.
Because of its great visibility and the backup camera that comes on the SL version, it's very easy to park in tight spaces.
2011 Nissan Leaf summary: We appreciate how clean the 2011 Nissan Leaf is in operation, but think it could have been more fully "sorted out" by Nissan prior to customer deliveries.
For the thousands of buyers still waiting for their 2011 Nissan Leaf deliveries, it absolutely is worth the wait.
For electric-car buyers who are still shopping and weighing their options, they may want to look closely at the 2012 Mitsubishi 'i' that will arrive in dealerships this November.