2011 Nissan Leaf: GreenCarReports Best Car To Buy 2011

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It’s been a long time coming. More than 80 years, in fact, since viable electric cars were offered to U.S. car buyers.

Now, finally, at long last, it’s happened. The 2011 Nissan Leaf is the first practical, five-seat electric car—a full plug-in, running solely off grid electricity—that you have been able to buy since the late 1920s.

Sure, there was the General Motors EV1, subject of the much-discussed Who Killed the Electric Car? Sure, a handful of early-2000s Toyota RAV4 EV crossovers are still whirring around after almost a decade.

Green Car Reports 2011 Best Car to Buy Award

Green Car Reports 2011 Best Car to Buy Award

A real electric car

They no longer matter. They’re now incremental steps along the road. The next new thing is here, produced by a none-of-the-above carmaker. It’s really, truly, absolutely, positively a real car.

A real electric car.

The 2011 Nissan Leaf is our GreenCarReports Best Car To Buy for 2011 because it is the sole vehicle offered to U.S. buyers (this model year, by an established global automaker) that uses absolutely no gasoline.

There will be many more coming, but this year, the 2011 Leaf is the one and only.

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

The lowest carbon footprint

And, no matter how you run the numbers, it is the vehicle with the lowest carbon footprint of any new car sold today.

Just to be clear—because this question comes up often, as it should—even if you run your 2011 Leaf on the dirtiest coal-fired power grid in the U.S., its overall “wells-to-wheels” carbon footprint is significantly lower than any 25-mpg car in the market.

ND, WV, yeah, OK

There are a very few states—North Dakota, we’re talkin’ to you—where the grid power is so dirty that a 50-mpg vehicle is slightly better on carbon.

If you live in ND or WV or a few other states, you should buy a 50-MPG 2011 Toyota Prius rather than a 2011 Nissan Leaf if you want your transportation to have the lowest possible carbon footprint.

Except that you don’t have a choice, since Nissan isn’t selling the Leaf in your states during 2011. (So buy that Prius, and lobby your elected officials to clean up the local grid and require more renewable power.)

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

For everyone else—all of you buyers in the San Francisco Bay Area; the Los Angeles basin; Portland and Seattle; Austin, Texas; selected parts of the Northeast; and of course Nissan’s home state of Tennessee—the Leaf will roll out over the next year or so.

Your power is clean enough that buying a 2011 Leaf automatically lowers your carbon footprint far below those of your Prius-driving counterparts.

90 percent of your needs … is enough

No, the 2011 Leaf isn’t the answer to every family’s every need. But, again, that doesn’t matter.

Just as General Motors will tell you that more than 70 percent of U.S. vehicles do less than 40 miles a day, Nissan frequently points out that more than 90 percent of U.S. vehicles do less than the Leaf’s range of 100 miles per day.

Will the Leaf be right for every American household? Of course not. Neither the Toyota Prius hybrid nor the late and unlamented HUMMER H2 are right for every household.

But it will be right for more than 90 percent of most households’ needs.

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

Yep, a Leaf is a second car

So the Leaf is right for the millions of drivers and families who own more than one vehicle—the average U.S. household now owns more than two—and want to cut at least one car’s gasoline consumption to, ummmm, zero.

Replace your subcompact or your beater third car with a Leaf and, after you get used to it, all you’ll notice is how much nicer it is to drive. And how cheap it is to fuel up.

Plugging it in will become second nature. If you forget, the Leaf will remind you—politely—over your mobile phone.

But why not the Volt?

We anticipate a lot of questions about why we didn’t choose the 2011 Chevrolet Volt as our GreenCarReports 2011 Best Car To Buy.

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