2016 Nissan Leaf: First Drive Of 107-Mile Electric Car

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Electric-car buyers have eagerly waited for the 2016 Nissan Leaf, whose SV and SL models now offer a higher range, rated by the EPA at 107 miles.

That's up from the 84 miles of last year's Leaf, and so we eagerly accepted a short-term loan of a new 2016 Leaf SL to test the car ourselves.

The bottom line: The range is real, within the usual electric-car limits of speed and temperature, and the rest of the Leaf is all but unchanged.

DON'T MISS: 2016 Nissan Leaf Offers 107-Mile Range With 30-kWh Battery; Leaf S Unchanged

That latter piece is worth underscoring, because in its sixth model year, the current Leaf has a number of features that feel relatively crude.

Over a 10-day period, we were able to test the longer-range Leaf, the new 2016 Toyota Prius hybrid, and the 2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.

In comparison to the other two, which are brand-new vehicles, the Leaf's interior in particular is simply outdated.

2016 Nissan Leaf SL fast-charging at NRG evGo Freedom Station, Hudson Valley, NY, Dec 2015

2016 Nissan Leaf SL fast-charging at NRG evGo Freedom Station, Hudson Valley, NY, Dec 2015

Enlarge Photo

But first, about that range. We put 192 miles on our Leaf SL in a day and a half, with about two-thirds highway speeds and one-third around-town errands and stop-and-go traffic.

We recharged its 30-kilowatt-hour battery twice. The first charge took place overnight, on our home 240-Volt Level 2 charging station--as most Leafs are likely charged.

Then we used an NRG evGo DC fast-charging site, which cost $10.95 to raise battery capacity from 12 to 86 percent--or roughly 20 kWh--over 30 minutes.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Nissan Leaf: How Does It Compare To 2012 Model On Price, Equipment, Range?

Given temperatures of 30 to 45 degrees over our two days, we expected some impact on battery range--exacerbated by a highway run at 70 mph.

Our first leg, an even mix of highway and local speeds, delivered 58 miles from 66 percent of battery capacity (from 99 to 33 percent).

Lithium-ion battery pack of 2011 Nissan Leaf, showing cells assembled into modules

Lithium-ion battery pack of 2011 Nissan Leaf, showing cells assembled into modules

After an overnight cold soak, our Leaf gave us a "Low Outside Temperature" warning. In the event, we got 79 miles from 88 percent of battery capacity (from 100 to 12 percent).

The last leg involved 54.5 miles, which used 58 percent of the battery--and we delivered it for recharging at our local garage with 28 percent left, indicating 33 miles of range.

The range indicator, largely called the "Guess-O-Meter" by Leaf owners, varied greatly, at one point showing us a range of 133 miles after a few miles of downhill driving.

Overall, we achieved 3.4 miles per kilowatt-hour across our three recharges. Those numbers appear roughly proportional to ranges in older Leafs with the lower-range battery.

MORE: 2016 Nissan Leaf Range: 107 Or 155 Miles? Why Test Cycles Can Be Deceptive

As for the rest of our test, the 2016 Leaf has a new central display screen and some changes to the various NissanConnect screens

But it's been a long time since we've spent time with an earlier Leaf, so we're not capable of providing any useful feedback there. Contact your local Leaf owner for that.

What struck us, though, after time in the latest Prius and Volt, was how primitive the Leaf's interior is for a 2016 car.

2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf

Enlarge Photo

The bottom line on the window sticker was $39,390--perhaps $10,000 higher than our Prius and less than $1,000 cheaper than our loaded Volt test car.

The all-black interior of the test car, largely composed of hard plastic surfaces, looks old and utilitarian. And we were shocked that the steering wheel only tilted; it didn't telescope.

Some of the minor switches and controls looked and felt more suited to a $15,000 economy car than an advanced-technology halo vehicle for the brand.

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The low-resolution monochrome readouts in the instrument cluster looked downright primitive, and required using a perimeter button to page through.

And we've never liked pendant parking brakes (the pedal hanging under the left side of the dashboard).

The second-generation Leaf that will launch for 2017 or 2018 will likely address most of these issues, as well as offering versions with ranges of 150 to 200 miles.


 
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