Drive Report: Electric-Car Neophyte Uses 2011 Nissan Leaf For A Week

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The reviews of the Nissan Leaf electric car have already been posted, and one GreenCarReports writer even owns a Leaf, but this isn't going to be your standard review with driving impressions.

It's no secret that I'm not exactly a green-car kind of guy. When the opportunity arose this winter to drive a 2011 Nissan Leaf for a week, I jumped at the chance, curious to see how this electric car differed from a typical hybrid in everyday driving.

The Toyota Prius and Honda Insight offer high gas mileage, but to me, driving one is roughly like what it might be like to drive a Kenmore washing machine.

They lack both steering feel and any real sporting character. If those cars are representative of the future, then color me one sad car enthusiast.

I've also driven the Chevrolet Volt and the Tesla Roadster, though neither for a substantial amount of time. They were better.

My initial impression of the 2011 Nissan Leaf--in styling, driving, and nearly every other way--was how different it is from both of those electric cars.

Fun To Drive

The Nissan Leaf proved somewhat fun to drive, though having that fun drastically lowers your range. The electric power steering felt over-boosted, and I couldn't really tell what the wheels were doing on the road. That can make for some uncomfortable driving situations.

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Enlarge Photo

Off the line, the Leaf provides 100 percent of its torque, which is sure to put a smile on most drivers' faces. While not quick, it provides enough thrust off the line to satisfy my everyday needs. Above 30 mph, I noticed that the instant thrust slowed a bit, and above 60, well...plan accordingly.

Range Anxiety Is Real

We hear about "range anxiety" all the time. Let me tell you, experiencing it first-hand is a whole new world. I started planning my day around where I had to go and how much charge I would have.

While the Leaf could serve as a daily driver, my driving habits would have to change. I might be able to make it downtown and back, but would I have the juice to go grab drinks with friends after work and then hit the grocery store for last-minute dinner items?

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Enlarge Photo

Bottom line: While range doesn't have to be an issue, it can quickly become one. (Experienced electric-car drivers tell me that it wanes a lot after several weeks, once you get comfortable with the notion that the car will always deliver that 70 miles--adjusted for weather, anyway.)

Real world: 70 miles

The "fuel gauge" is actually a range gauge, showing how many miles you have until the battery is depleted. For the most part, this gauge is worthless. It changes constantly based on driving conditions.

But your driving conditions change, so the range changes constantly. It's almost scary, as you sometimes really don't have a sense of how many more miles you can drive.

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Comments (11)
  1. This 70 mile range BS is why I'll be making my first electric car a Tesla. It's straight up under achieving, and that's not a business philosophy that I'm willing to support.

  2. I'll never understand this sort of attitude. I drive to and from work never exceeding 30 mph and often standing in traffic. In these conditions all the driving excitement, sporty feel, etc, cannot account for anything, except for the occasional ^&%$ in BMW behind me that I am worried is going to crash in to my back bump.

    What does matter in these conditions is what is coming out of our tail pipes that we have to breathe in, something the author fails to even remotely touch upon. Real forward thinking my friend.

    Zoom Zoom. FTW

  3. Some on The Leaf Forum members believe they have identified a bit of "controlled ram up" on the Leaf. Some after market motor controllers have this device to slow down the application of current to the motor, else the initial torque is too great and could damage the drive-line. However, with a hack or two, perhaps this ramp control can be modded to allow for even more initial torque and/or better performance. Why?...Why not?

  4. Fairly representative for how the Leaf is viewed by people who are still firmly rooted in the ICE age I suppose, so most people basically. It's not the range though that puts most people off, it's sticker shock:

    Of course people increasingly experience sticker shock at gas stations too.

  5. It's all about price, the Leaf was developed when battery capacity was $800-$1000 per KWH but with a predicted $200 per KWH by 2015 ( to quote Elon Musk) the gross price will be reduced by $14,400 and all of a sudden the Leaf costs $22k and $299 per month to lease, plus $100 a month for electricity/servicing on top of that. A everyday run-around that ticks all the green boxes and costs you less than a Camry will fly out the door, no subsidies req'd.

    The whole dynamic will change then and people will not give a hoot about range as the Leaf will be a natural everyday affordable run-around and the second car will either be on the drive way anyway or at Hertz.

    It will all make sense, 2015 is close.

    Patience is a virtue

  6. Exactly, low $20K range is reachable for many people, that's why we bought a Leaf, California gave us a $5000 rebate, the FEDs a $7500 tax deduction. That made the cost $23,300.

    Over 10,000 miles later, we pay nothing for fuel due to solar.

    Now, take 8 years of gas costs, say $2000 per year, that's $16,000 that has to be added to the cost of a $23,000 gas car, plus higher maintenance, that $23,000 car is really a $40 something thousand dollar car.

    Yes, the Leaf will need new batteries in about 10 years, and hopefully battery costs will have dropped a huge amount, maybe under $5K for a new pack and higher range, so we're still way ahead of the gas car, and the electric engine will just go and go and go......

  7. Joel, you point out that at $35K price point ("before tax incentive") you could buy a starter luxury car...but there is a $7500 tax incentive. In the state of WA the 10% sales tax is waived on an EV making the LEAF purchase equivalent to $25K. The "fuel" and maintenance costs save another $1K-$2K per year making the LEAF one of the cheapest cars in its class to buy, own and operate. Range anxiety does dissipate...I have 14K miles on my LEAF and have driven less than 2K miles on my luxury car in the same year. Full battery electric vehicles are not for everyone YET, but if you have 2 cars you will never regret making one of them a LEAF.

  8. I see. So RANGE ANXIETY is REAL. And you know this and kind of sweat it out because you drove 40 miles and had 36 left on the gage?

    Hmmm. That IS scarey. Wow. I don't think I would ever be able to face an electric car again. That had to be a TRAUMATIC event. And on your first week with an electric car at that.

    Perhaps some counseling, some meds, a sympathetic ear to help you work through it? I know you'll have "issues" and I can empathize with your "feelings" but with time, I'm hopeful you can grows past this little set back.

    Not to diminish the horror of what you've been through, but are you some kind of a MORON?

    Jack Rickard

  9. Well, I wish you had left out the name calling at the end, but otherwise LOL.

  10. Nissan is strongly promoting a new charger that will charge the battery fully in about 30 minutes, or top off in a few minutes. It is a 440 watt charger. It follows the CHAdeMO protocol. Such chargers are already widely available in Europe and Japan. Nissan expects to sell 1000 in the USA this year alone. How about keeping up with technology news? Please research!

  11. Being in WA state means I got aLeaf for less than what I paid for my 2010 Prius. Now I am saving $60-80 a month in fuel costs against the best gasoline can offer and the price of gas is going up fast.

    Range can be an issue but more charging stations are going in every day and if you have a need for two cars its hard toignore the many benefits driving electric provides. After nearly 14000 miles in my Leaf my only regret is not having had the chance to do this much sooner!

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