2011 Nissan Leaf Roundtable: High Gear Media Editors Weigh In

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2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

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The 2011 Nissan Leaf electric car is clearly one of the most revolutionary vehicles to be sold in the U.S. in many years.

It's a first battery electric car that relies solely on plugging into grid electricity for its the energy that powers it. Unlike the 2011 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, it has no onboard gasoline engine to provide power beyond its electric range.

As such, it will the first electric car sold in volume--20,000 this year and next, perhaps 100,000 or more starting in 2013--by a major automaker since the 1920s. That's pretty revolutionary.

[See our 2011 Nissan Leaf Ultimate Reference Guide for every article we've published on the Leaf electric car.]

Three different High Gear Media editors have now driven the 2011 Leaf, two in Nashville and one in Portugal. We sat them down for a virtual roundtable on the Leaf's pluses and minuses.

  • Marty Padgett is High Gear Media's editorial director, the current owner of a 2004 Toyota Prius, and a longtime automotive journalist who's test-driven more than 500 cars.
  • John Voelcker is the editor of Green Car Reports.
  • Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield is lead writer for sister site All Cars Electric, and the past and present owner of more than a dozen electric vehicles

Here's the edited transcript:

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

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In one sentence, what's your overall take on the 2011 Nissan Leaf?

Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield:  The 2011 Nissan Leaf is an all-electric family car, competing directly for the same consumers that previously purchased the 2004-2009 Toyota Prius.

John Voelcker: The 2011 Leaf is the first "real" plug-in electric car sold in volume by a major automaker in most of a century.

Marty Padgett: We toss the term "game-changer" out pretty regularly, but the 2011 Leaf puts battery power behind that verdict.

What does the Leaf do well?

NGB:  Its proprietary battery management system and informatics is second to none. It is accurate, simple to understand, and even offers handy pointers to the nearest charging station when running low on power. Driving is simple and easy, with responsive acceleration, intuitive controls, and sure-footing. 

JV: The Leaf is roomy, modern, and feels just like a regular car, only it's quieter. And the graphics for info specific to the electric drive are very good, as is the integration with the navigation system.

MP: In almost every respect save driving range and fueling, the Leaf behaves like a conventional gas-powered car. That may not overcome "range anxiety" in our time, but it sure as hell makes it easier for non-geeks to see this replacing an internal-combustion car in their garage.

What are its bad points?

NGB:  Visibility: Without a rear-view camera, the 2011 Nissan Leaf SV presents problems with reverse parking due to the Leaf's large rear. The SL trim does away with this issue by including a rear-view camera.

Floor Layout: Thanks to a hump in the rear of the trunk, the 2011 Nissan Leaf does not have a completely flat load bay when the rear seats are folded down. It's a shame Nissan omitted a false floor in the trunk as this would have negated the problem entirely.

Steering: If you love the steering response in the 2004-2009 Toyota Prius, you'll love the 2011 Nissan Leaf. If you like more responsive steering, you won't. The Leaf's steering is light and rather vague.

JV: I wasn't wild about the steering feel--it's numb--and was a little surprised to hear electric motor whine, which is completely absent from the Chevy Volt. Also, inside, the Leaf looks and feels slightly appliance-like, meaning it's serviceable but far from stylish or luxurious. That'll be familiar to Prius owners, but may not prove as compelling as other compact vehicles.

MP: Price fluctuations. It has no control over them, but the fact that Californians and Georgians can buy a Leaf for much less than buyers in Florida makes for a distorted value proposition that will be difficult to absorb in the second-hand, used-car market. But hey, only 10 percent of Leafers are buying the cars outright--most people will lease them for $350 a month. I bet those few owners are likely to hang on to them as collector's items, like the ur-Macintosh or an Atari 2600.

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