In 2011 Nissan launched the first mainstream electric car, the Leaf. To much fanfare, it was introduced and went on sale right about the same time as Chevy’s Volt. While not technically direct competitors, since the Leaf is a true electric vehicle and the Volt a plug-in hybrid, they engaged in a sales battle over who would win the hard earned dollars of early eco adopters. Now four years later, it appears the Leaf has won and after a week living with one, I can easily understand why.
Upon first glance, Nissan Leaf’s is instantly recognizable. With it’s big bug-eye headlights and bustle-butt, most people tend to love it or hate it. I myself find it unique but nothing offensive. The Leaf does however have some unique exterior features like a solar panel on top of the rear spoiler to charge the accessory battery, taillights that wrap up the C-pillars, and the charge ports centrally located at the front of the vehicle for easy charging from either side.
Nissan continued it’s avant guard styling inside where the interior is modern and slightly futuristic without being off-putting. The driver sits up high and is greeted with two displays; an upper with basic information and eco-minder, and a lower display with consumption, power, and regeneration levels. Meanwhile the center stack contains a screen with charging, climate, and radio controls; navigation if so equipped. All of the controls fall easily at hand and generous amounts of glass afford great sightless all around.
Driving the Leaf is both what you would and wouldn’t expect. On one hand it’s a great day-to-day driver with decent handling, fairly quiet, and a smooth ride. One issue that does creep up, is that because the vehicle itself is so quiet, tire and wind noise are much more pronounced at highway speeds, but it’s in no way overbearing. What’s not expected is that it’s has great pickup around town and is almost, dare I say, fun to drive. You start watching the Energy Info screen and playing your braking/coasting to see how many miles you can add. Plus I enjoy the high tech sound it makes around town.
Which brings me to the white elephant in the room… Range Anxiety. The EPA rates the Lead with an 84 mile range. Sure enough, every morning when I’d climb into the Leaf, after magically being “filled up” the night before, it showed 84 miles to go. During my week with the Leaf if I was hot footing it on the freeway, I’d get about 60 miles out of a full charge. Driving around town though or in stop n go traffic, I drove over 100 miles. So it really comes down to how and where you drive. With this in mind, range anxiety is really a myth because you quickly learn what your limits are.
In the Bay Area where I live, with charging as prevalent as it is, there really wasn’t a limit. Charging stations are becoming almost as common as gas stations so finding a place to charge was never more than a few minutes away. Nissan has also designed the Leaf with a range screen so you can calculate how far you can go in addition to also including a list of nearby charging stations provided by Carwings. One of the nicest benefits is never having to visit a gas station and always waking up to the vehicle being fully charged each day. Nissan lists the charge time at 8 hours with 240V charging, but you can charge 80% in as little as 30 min with a CHAdeMO quick charger.