2011 Nissan Leaf Electric Car: What We’ve Learned After 5 Months

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At the end of March this year, I took delivery of our very own 2011 Nissan Leaf. 

After the first week, we shared with you the good and bad side of Nissan’s first all-electric hatchback and even reported on a mammoth 520-mile two-day trek utilizing the U.K.’s dealer network of D.C. rapid charging stations.

Now, just like our 5,000 mile report, it’s time for an update after five months and 8,000 miles of ownership, sharing what the last 3,000 miles have taught us. 

Freeway trips aren’t as tough as we thought

While we were pretty adventurous for the first 5,000 miles of ownership we tended to stay away from freeway trips for any trips which approached the EPA-approved 73 mile range of the car. 

Relegated by our own choice to slower roads, we took the most direct route, driving everything from country lanes to inner city streets in the pursuit of range. 

A few months ago -- spurred in part by more confidence in the Leaf’s capabilities -- we started to use the freeway for more than a few miles at a time. 

Our car handled it admirably, clocking up trips in excess of 75 miles with ease. 

Admittedly, we stuck to between 60 and 65 mph for longer trips, but the lack of stop-start traffic, smoother and more gradual gradients and the constant speed makes freeway driving doesn’t affect range as much as we thought.

Sadly though, it’s only true if you’re careful with speed. Drive at 80mph, and you will run out of charge much quicker than you would on a rural route doing 50 mph. 

You can’t rely on Carwings...ever

For now, Carwings -- Nissan’s integrated telematics system for the Leaf -- really can't be relied on. 

2011 Nissan Leaf Carwings

2011 Nissan Leaf Carwings

Enlarge Photo

We’re not talking the on-board range predictions either. We’re talking about using the online Carwings portal and smartphone applications to check the car’s range, state of charge and plan trips. 

When it comes to checking on our Leaf’s state-of-charge, Carwings can’t be relied on to give an accurate answer. 

For example, if the car hasn’t been switched on recently but has been charging, the range estimation using Carwings can be as much as 50 miles less than the actual range estimate given by the car when you turn it on. 

In other words, if you want an accurate range prediction from Carwings, you have to actually turn the car on first. 

Planning trips aren’t much easier

So far, the on-board GPS system has been pretty accurate, but using the Carwings portal to plan a trip leaves us frustrated and in need of a stiff drink. 

Simple point A to B trips normally get planned with great accuracy, but anything more complex usually results in an error, making us resort to the more accurate -- and reliable Google Maps.

Worse still, Carwings even directed us to two charging stations which didn’t exist Luckily, we’d checked their functionality before making the trip -- but if we hadn’t we would have been stranded with no way to make it back home. 

For now then, long-trips have to be planned in a much more military style with the aid of more than just Carwings. 

Giving passengers range anxiety is a fun new game

We also discovered a new game, best played with a passenger who isn’t so familiar with the Nissan Leaf’s bizarre -- and rather inaccurate -- range estimates. 

Set a destination that’s within the range of the car’s remaining charge - then watch with amusement as your passenger gets range anxiety as your car gingerly tells you “You may not reach your destination” on the next big hill or fast stretch of road. 

We joke, but the way the Nissan Leaf calculates remaining range is so unacceptable we can understand why some enthusiasts went ahead and built an open source battery gauge for the car. 

Now we’re confident that the Leaf will drive between 75 and 85 miles at 50-60mph, we tend to go on how far we have traveled versus how far there is to go, using the battery gauge and some simple common sense  to give us range estimates rather than the Leaf’s on-board computer.

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