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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Comments (14)
  1. "...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..."

    THIS! For the love of all that is good and upright, this statement is truth. How many people drive a regular car according to the "Miles to Empty" readout? Heck, how many cars even HAVE a miles to empty readout?

    No, you go by the gas gauge and how far you've already driven, and how far you know a tankful gets you. Electric cars are no different: Go by how far you've already driven (same as gas), by how much fuel is left (the battery charge meter), and by how far you know the car will take you.

  2. I got to agree with Haskell here; other than you ranting on and on about a miles to go computer that you really didn't know how to use, you had no complaint about the car at all. Those miles will increase when new batteries come out, and that will be real soon. In my opinion, the Leaf is still the only clean energy vehicle on the market that's in mass production and the best one to buy if you care about the air you breathe and the water you drink.

  3. I got to agree with you Haskell about that miles to go computer that Gordon-Bloomfield ranted on and on about and did not understand how to use. He didn't have anything bad to say about the Leaf. In my opinion, the Leaf is still the only clean energy vehicle in mass production, and the Leaf is still the vehicle to buy if you care about the air you breathe and the water you drink

  4. Good info but how many miles will it actually cover at 70 MPH on the highway? Can anyone answer that please?

  5. 65 seems to be the threshold where mileage starts to drop off faster. I regularly go long stretches and keep to it 65 and get 80+ miles per charge. Max was 90 though there was a bit of traffic (my overall best surface mpc was 116 miles). At 70 miles that drops to 65-70 miles range. Significant stretches over 70 (which I never do :) ) can bring you down below 60 mpc.

    But as I regularly drive short stretches of freeway where my total miles are less than 40 miles RT. I am free to drive however I want 90% of the time.

  6. The unofficial Leaf speed range graph seems to be pretty accurate. You can check it out on this link http://yfrog.com/h7m7ugp

  7. Has anybody started to ecomod a Leaf? Things like smooth wheel covers could cut aero drag by 5-10%. Improving the Kamm back could help a lot, as well.

    Can the Leaf be put into neutral while moving, for coasting down hills? The Prius just needs to have the shifter held in N for ~2s and it goes into neutral. Only use regen when you *need* to slow down.


  8. Or you can just hold a neutral throttle position where no power is going in or out, which means you are coasting.

  9. Why make it hard to find the "right" accelerator pedal position? Just lift you foot and coast.


  10. Because it's not hard, and it's nice to have regen on the A-pedal, as we've discussed previously.

  11. I was concerned my Leaf's range wasn't so great - maybe 70 miles on a full charge - and mostly attributed it to freeway driving. But today I drove 90 miles on a single charge with about half on the freeway, and ac on most of the time. Yesterday I checked my tire pressure and it was only 28-30 psi, so I filled them to 42 psi. Huge difference. I imagine many of you are saying "duh what a newbie"

  12. We often take a 72 mile trip and arrive with 28 miles range left. It's true that our 2002 Toyota RAV4-EV, with its superior NiMH Nickel batteries, has a more reliable and higher range, but the Nissan does, with careful driving, give 100 miles range.

    The 9-year-old NiMH battery pack on our Toyota RAV4-EV, however, gives up to 150 miles with careful driving.

    So one must ask, WHY ARE WE GOING BACKWARD?

    The 1999 EV1 with PSB lead batteries had up to 110 miles range on its 18 kWh of LEAD batteries. The RAV4-EV is a much larger SUV than the LEAF; so why can't we at least have a better range than we had 10 years ago??

    The 1999 EV1 using inferior NiMH batteries DEMONSTRATED up to 160 miles range on the freeway (on one trip to San Francisco).

  13. Sounds like the Leaf will make a good 2nd vehicle or urban commuter car were you typically do not drive more than 50 to 60 miles. It would be nice if Nissan could extend the range a bit by increasing the size of its battery pack to about 120 miles or so. This would allow up to 1 hour driving in both directions and would easily handle the majority of the driving requirements of Americans. England is a small country its not like the USA where you can often travel 40 to 50 miles between cities of any significant size I am very interested in the Tesla Model S since at 160 miles range for the base model it would handle interstate driving real well and the 300 mile range vehicle will make this EV practical enough to own as a primary vehicle.

  14. Mark I live in california where we drive everywhere. On a daily basis I drive more than 65/70 miles. I work over 30 miles away. My SECOND car is a gas car. So the Leaf is a great FIRST car. I thought I might need to keep my 2000 Lexus RX 300 as a backup but now, after a year, I mainly drive it just to keep the battery charged and for making trips to Home Depot and using the truck aspect of it. My point is that the reality of the Leaf is that most people would be fine with the range and find that they really don't need a second car. (of course I don't take interstate trips every weekend either)

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