We all know electric cars like the 2011 Nissan Leaf were designed to satisfy the daily driving needs of 90% of the population. For most cars, that translates to a life in or near a large metropolis, where daily commutes are between 10 and 40 miles. 

But with rapid charging capable of fast-charging the Leaf to 80% full from empty in under 30 minutes, we wondered if it was possible to do that occasional long trip?  

With that in mind we set ourselves a challenge. To drive Nissan’s leading environmentally-friendly affordable family car on a 519.5 mile round trip in two days, complete with children, a trunk full of luggage and a variety of roads. 

2011 Nissan Leaf does 520 Miles in 2 days

2011 Nissan Leaf does 520 Miles in 2 days

At this point we should reiterate that the 2011 Nissan Leaf, like most electric cars, isn’t a long-distance car. Secondly, frequent repeated use of rapid level 3 DC charging stations is not recommended by Nissan. 

Our test car, a European specification 2011 Leaf with rapid charge port, was just a few weeks old. Having successfully completed a medium-length trip a week earlier, we packed our bags and headed east, leaving Bristol on the south-west coast of the U.K. for Norwich in East Anglia, some 230 miles away by the fastest route. 

Rapid DC charging stations are rare in the U.S. In the U.K. the situation is hardly any better, with some fifteen stations currently active and available nationwide.  Ideally, these would be placed at freeway rest-stops, but in the early days of what is a new fast-charge technology the $20,000 DC fast chargers are most often found at Leaf dealers. 

Previous trips had taught us that at freeway speeds our 2011 Nissan Leaf had a range of between 50 and 60 miles, meaning we’d stick to lower speed roads to increase our range to between 80 and 100 miles per charge.

So the route was plotted. Our first leg, a cross-country trip taking 90 minutes and taking us some 70 miles from our start saw us climb 10% gradients, spend brief time on faster moving highways and arrive at our first charge station with miles to spare. 

30 minutes after stopping to charge we were on our way, battery pack replenished, heading for the second rapid charging station. 

And so it continued, stopping at dealers with rapid chargers available. We were even able to venture onto freeways for shorter 50 mile hops between chargers, speeding up the trip and letting our car stretch its legs a little.

2011 Nissan Leaf does 520 Miles in 2 days

2011 Nissan Leaf does 520 Miles in 2 days

It wasn’t all roses however. Arriving at one dealer we were faced with a broken rapid charger, and with just 10 miles of range remaining, no way of going on. Luckily the dealer technicians were able to reset the massive unit, but not until we’d been waiting at least 40 minutes. 

It wasn’t an isolated problem either. The semi-public location of the rapid chargers appear to be magnets for youths hell bent on pressing the units’ big red emergency stop buttons. 

Charging hiccups aside, we completed the first day’s trip with range to spare. An overnight level 2 charge and a route retrace on the second day put more than 5 times the standard day’s range on our Leaf in just 48 hours. 

We made it, proving that it is at least technically possible to use a 2011 Nissan Leaf for the occasional long trip, provided suitable rapid chargers are en-route.

Fast Charging 2011 Nissan Leaf

Fast Charging 2011 Nissan Leaf

But we also noted some severe negatives. 

Aside from being forced to make detours to the nearest rapid chargers, we also were forced to spend longer traveling and spend time at child-unfriendly car dealers. 

We also subjected our Leaf’s battery pack to increased strain, raising the temperature of the pack by several bars on the car’s temperature gauge. 

Most frustratingly, we also had to plan our trip during business hours, when we would have access to the rapid chargers located at dealer lots. 

Our Leaf behaved impeccably, we saved a lot by not buying gasoline, and the trip was a success. Should you do the same? 

We’d say that for occasional longer trips everything seems fine - but beware of the hidden damage you could do to your car’s battery pack if you plan this kind of trip frequently.  You have been warned.