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.
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 SLEnlarge 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.