This is enough time & miles to evaluate the car far more than a short test drive. I’ll cover the driving experience, range, and areas that I think could be better.
The Leaf is intended as an around-town commuter car. It fills this need very well. If you are looking for a racer, or a cross-country cruiser, skip the Leaf and keep looking.
The driving experience is great. The car has enough acceleration off the line to put you back in your seat. The acceleration slows when you get above 40MPH or so, but still plenty for a car in this category. The low weight gives the car a solid feel when cornering. The front-wheel drive and traction control have kept it surefooted on the wet roads of Oregon.
It is difficult to compare an electric motor and a gasoline engine. They have very different performance characteristics. The 80kW motor only has 107 BHP. However, it has a full 206 ft-lbs of torque from zero PRMs. This aspect is more comparable to a 250 HP gas engine. So off the line, the Leaf feels like you have 250 horsepower, whereas at speed, it has a mere 100 horsepower feel.
If you are the first car at a red light and want to change lanes, you are not going to have any trouble zipping ahead of the other cars at that light (unless another one of them is an EV).
When driving an EV you do have to be “range aware” but there is no need for anxiety. The Leaf has a display that shows you an estimate of how far you can go. The estimate is based on two factors: how much charge you have left and how efficiently you have been driving recently.
The first thing that all EV drivers need to know is that not all miles are the same. Going 65 MPH uphill with the A/C on is very different from puttering around town. The range estimator in the car monitors your driving and attempts to tell you how far you can go based on your recent driving. For planning purposes, you should have an understanding of the impact that speed has on range. Here is a chart that shows the expected range at various speeds:
On the flip side, this ever-adapting value encourages efficient behavior. If you were to accelerate hard and the range did not adjust, you may incorrectly assume this has no impact. In addition to the range estimation the car also has a “fuel” gauge. This gauge is made up of 12 bars indicating how full the batteries are. This does not adjust based on your driving patterns, it is a simple measure of the charge you have remaining. I find this combination of estimate and fuel gauge meets my needs.
The lowest I have had the car was down to 2 bars remaining with an estimated 18 miles remaining. You should plan all of your trips to have at least 20 miles to spare to allow for unseen detours.
The Leaf has a great telematics system. It shows you how far you can go on the map with a white circle. If your destination is within this, you should have no trouble making it there. Outside of the white circle is a light grey ring, this is an area that you can reach if you drive efficiently. Outside of that is the dark grey area. If you plan to go there, you should look for charging stations along the way.
Speaking of charging stations, there is a button on the steering wheel that will show you the nearby charging stations at a glance. You can also select “nearby charging stations” in the navigation menu, and you can add these as waypoints on any trip. In the month that I have had the car more than 20 charging stations have been added within a single charge driving distance of my house.
I can charge in my garage with 240V 16A and I can charge at my work with 120V 12A. Most of the time I used overnight charging. This gave the car plenty of time to fill up and the car started out each day fully charged.
Last week I decided to see if only charging at work would meet my needs. With a 20 mile commute, during my workday the car was able to fully charge up, even on just a 120V outlet. The cost to my employer is minimal, about 40 cents worth of electricity each day. I consume more than 40 cents in free drinks that we have at work each day. It is good green PR, makes me happy to see their support and does not cost much, so it is a nice perk.
My only complaints about the experience so far are not about the car itself, but the amenities. It comes with XM satellite radio. I was unimpressed with XM. It did not have as many stations as I would have liked and they had commercials. Why would I pay for radio with commercials?
The second radio failure is the lack of HD radio. There are free stations on HD radio that I do like. The Leaf system does not have HD. I took the car into my local Car Toys and they said that there was nothing that I could do about it short of replacing the entire telematics system. Since the Leaf’s system has some very special support for finding charging stations, I would not be able to find a replacement with these features.
The car does support streaming bluetooth, so I plan to listen to Internet radio via my yet-to-be-purchased smart-phone while driving.
Speaking of smart-phones, my next complaint is that the Carwing app for the car only works on the iPhone. This app will allow you to: check on the car’s state of charge, set charge times, turn on the climate control, set climate control timers... However, this app is not yet available on Android. Many people have Android phones, they seem to be ignoring too many customers by not supporting this OS.
I have been very happy with the Leaf. You can see that Nissan put a lot of thought into the car. It was not a conversion of an existing gas vehicle just to get something on the road, but a real effort to make an EV market for Nissan. There are things that they can fix in next year’s model and I hope this is just the first of many increasingly better EVs from Nissan.