From Nissan Leaf To Tesla Model S: The Big Electric-Car Jump

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2013 Tesla Model S and 2011 Chevrolet Volt in garage; photo by George Parrott

2013 Tesla Model S and 2011 Chevrolet Volt in garage; photo by George Parrott

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With more than a dozen plug-in cars on the market in California, this was the year we decided it was time to trade up--and swap one electric car for another.

Since March 2011, our household fleet has consisted of a 2011 Nissan Leaf and a 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

MORE: 2011 Nissan Leaf vs 2011 Chevy Volt: Strengths & Weaknesses, By The Man Who Owns Both

We took delivery of our Leaf in February 2011, and over the next two-plus years recorded more than 16,000 trouble free miles.

The big jump

But with the consistently positive reviews of the upscale Tesla Model S, this year we decided to make the big jump to that car. Our home delivery and first drive came on July 9 of this year.

We now have about 5,000 miles on our Model S, and it recharges each night in our home garage using a Coulomb Level 2 charger that was first installed for our Volt. We now recharge the Volt on 110-Volt power each night.

So our previous combination of the Leaf and Volt has now become a combination of the Model S and the Volt.

2011 Leaf: learning experience

The Leaf was a solid first effort, but the 2011 models were--sadly--something of a learning experience both for Nissan and for early-adopter buyers. 

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with charging station visible; photo by George Parrott

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with charging station visible; photo by George Parrott

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Our Leaf (VIN 000320) performed, and continues to perform, very well as a basic commuter car. Casual mentions and early advertising that mentioned a range of "100 miles" aside, the range was always more realistically right around the 73-mile EPA rating.

And the range projection display came to be referred to as a "guess-o-meter" by many 2011 Leaf drivers. Even after several software upgrades with supposedly better algorithms, the Leaf typically lost 6 to 8 miles of projected range during its first 2 to 4 miles every day.

Performance of the Leaf in stop-and-go driving was excellent, and the air conditioning was very effective.

Negatives: heating and range

But the 2011 Leaf did not offer either heated seats or a heated steering wheel, and running its heater in colder areas has a major negative impact, cutting actual driving range by as much as 20 percent.

The Leaf was adequate for merging at freeway speeds, and in many respects, its biggest plus for us was that it could transport five people. It was our "go-to" car for group dinner outings, as its back seat was far more roomy that the one in our Volt.

MORE: Electric Cars: How The 2011 Nissan Leaf & 2011 Chevy Volt Differ

Our Leaf had the Pearl White exterior, so it was also the car of choice when parking outside during hot Sacramento Valley summers.

But the big negatives with the Leaf were the poor winter heating and lack of heated seats, along with an electric range that is minimally realistic for our needs. The Leaf was clearly a "second car with specific limits" on its use.

Virtually no limits

With the arrival of our Tesla electric luxury sedan, we now have an emission-free car with virtually no limits on its use.

Our Model S (in multi-coat red) has the 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack with the standard 362-horsepower motor, air suspension, leather, technology package, twin 10-kilowatt chargers, and upgraded stereo.

We are seeing a realistic range on a full charge of 272 miles, and regular charge projection of around 242 miles--and these projections are actually consistent with our driving! Three miles into a drive, the Model S has lost 3 miles of range.

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