The reviews of the Nissan Leaf electric car have already been posted, and one GreenCarReports writer even owns a Leaf, but this isn't going to be your standard review with driving impressions.

It's no secret that I'm not exactly a green-car kind of guy. When the opportunity arose this winter to drive a 2011 Nissan Leaf for a week, I jumped at the chance, curious to see how this electric car differed from a typical hybrid in everyday driving.

The Toyota Prius and Honda Insight offer high gas mileage, but to me, driving one is roughly like what it might be like to drive a Kenmore washing machine.

They lack both steering feel and any real sporting character. If those cars are representative of the future, then color me one sad car enthusiast.

I've also driven the Chevrolet Volt and the Tesla Roadster, though neither for a substantial amount of time. They were better.

My initial impression of the 2011 Nissan Leaf--in styling, driving, and nearly every other way--was how different it is from both of those electric cars.

Fun To Drive

The Nissan Leaf proved somewhat fun to drive, though having that fun drastically lowers your range. The electric power steering felt over-boosted, and I couldn't really tell what the wheels were doing on the road. That can make for some uncomfortable driving situations.

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Off the line, the Leaf provides 100 percent of its torque, which is sure to put a smile on most drivers' faces. While not quick, it provides enough thrust off the line to satisfy my everyday needs. Above 30 mph, I noticed that the instant thrust slowed a bit, and above 60, well...plan accordingly.

Range Anxiety Is Real

We hear about "range anxiety" all the time. Let me tell you, experiencing it first-hand is a whole new world. I started planning my day around where I had to go and how much charge I would have.

While the Leaf could serve as a daily driver, my driving habits would have to change. I might be able to make it downtown and back, but would I have the juice to go grab drinks with friends after work and then hit the grocery store for last-minute dinner items?

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Bottom line: While range doesn't have to be an issue, it can quickly become one. (Experienced electric-car drivers tell me that it wanes a lot after several weeks, once you get comfortable with the notion that the car will always deliver that 70 miles--adjusted for weather, anyway.)

Real world: 70 miles

The "fuel gauge" is actually a range gauge, showing how many miles you have until the battery is depleted. For the most part, this gauge is worthless. It changes constantly based on driving conditions.

But your driving conditions change, so the range changes constantly. It's almost scary, as you sometimes really don't have a sense of how many more miles you can drive.

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Let's talk numbers. Nissan and many Leaf owners say you can get up to 100 miles on a charge. The EPA says the Leaf can go 73 miles before the battery is depleted.

I wasn't brave enough to attempt to deplete the battery fully, but in mixed driving, I covered 40 miles in one day and the range indicator said I had 36 miles left.

Economy Car Interior

Inside the Leaf, I found an economy-car interior with hard plastics and big comfy seats that are somewhat like couch cushions. While they might be comfortable for sitting and watching TV, there was little to no support for me, and I found the bottoms quite flat.

It made me think that Nissan knew with the limited range, consumers wouldn't be sitting for long periods in the Leaf--and designed the seats accordingly.

But the electronics are much more advanced than you'll find in any economy car. They incorporate CarWings, an electric-car charging station locator tied into the navigation system. The CarWings app also lets you control your car's charging state from your iPhone or other smartphone.

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Bottom Line

Is the Leaf (or other electric cars) the future? Maybe, but it'll take a long time for us to get there. I have to view the 2011 Nissan Leaf as a niche product.

It may well be perfect for some, but many consumers will have issues with the range, depending on their life styles.

Then there's the price. With an as tested price of $35,440 (before any government rebates and incentives), you'll find quite a few luxury cars that cost the same or less than a Leaf.

It usually costs big to be an early adopter, and that's exactly what we are seeing here. Though, as colleagues point out, it's much cheaper to run a mile on electricity from the grid than it is to drive the same mile on gasoline--even in a vehicle with good gas mileage.

Over time, the price of the battery packs will come down, and the cars will follow. Until then, beware of sticker shock.


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