2011 Nissan Leaf Drive Review: A Real Electric Car for Real People

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2011 Nissan Leaf U.K. spec

2011 Nissan Leaf U.K. spec

Just days after Nissan announced its 8 year, 100,000 mile warranty option for the 2011 Leaf, we've had a chance to do our second test-drive of the week in Nissan's $33,750 electric baby.

Earlier this week, Nissan gave us some time behind the wheel of the Leaf in San Jose, California. We had a great time and totally geeked out about the Leaf's built-in EV navigation system, a great way of keeping track of where you are and where you can go.

But transported away from the city limits to the quaint rural location of Nissan's European Technology Center in Bedfordshire, England, we gave the Nissan Leaf a real shakedown.

First Impressions

Let's get one thing straight: Nissan are taking the 2011 Leaf very seriously.  Nissan have designed and built the Leaf from the ground up: It is a new platform and a new car.

And it shows. Instead of missing rear seats, or standard trim items found in some EVs which are redesigns of standard gasoline cars, the Leaf brings together a union of body, chassis and transmission to form a brand new EV benchmark.

Behind the wheel

Sliding into the supportive and well trimmed cabin, a neat and functional split level display in front of the driver gives all of the essential details including the usual warning lights and dials found in any car. A ‘fuel gauge' shows the battery charge remaining, as well as an expected range given current driving style.

Controls are all in the usual place, and saving the rumble of an engine, nothing gives the game away that this is an electric car.

2011 Nissan Leaf Seat

2011 Nissan Leaf Seat

We're reminded of the dash layout of the 2004-2009 Toyota Prius when looking at the 2011 Leaf Dash: Information is displayed in a clean and uncluttered way and everything is within easy reach of the driver.

Selecting gear, or rather, choosing which direction you want the car to go in, is achieved through a lever mounted on the center console, similar to the one found in the Toyota Prius.


With foot released from the brake and gear selected, the 2011 Leaf creeps forward like any other automatic. It also features hill assist, giving the driver time to move from brake to accelerator without the dreaded rollback.

While the leaf lacks a conventional gearbox, the 2011 Leaf has two settings for forward: drive which gives full access to the 80kW motor to accelerate the car from 0-60 in a respectable time of around 10 seconds; and eco which trades off some acceleration in exchange for extended range.

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

In the city, eco mode is more than acceptable. Acceleration is still more than enough to avoid holding up traffic at the lights and a highway capable 80 mph is still possible.

Mimicking the kick-down function on most automatics, the Leaf provides a reserve of power to help accelerate it in overtaking manoeuvres. Pulling out at freeway speed to overtake a car doing 65 mph and accelerating to 75 mph was easy, thanks to this feature.

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