The Nissan Leaf is more than the first all-electric, battery-powered vehicle offered this century by a major manufacturer. It is also a vehicular Rorschach test, with onlookers seeing whatever they wish.
For people who like the idea of electric cars, the Leaf illuminates a future devoid of gasoline stations. For those who don’t like the limitations inherent in the Leaf, this car is a misstep. Drive a Leaf for several days, and you’ll be surprised at the depth of emotions it reveals. The Leaf is a good car, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Performance is more than satisfactory, with 60 miles per hour coming in 9.8 seconds from a full stop.
Acceleration is most impressive around town. In the 45 to 65 mile per hour range, the Leaf is less eager, serving up the performance of a four-cylinder compact left in high gear.
Speed, isn’t desirable in the Leaf, as it impacts range. A fully charged Leaf should be good for 100 miles, based on the federal government’s LA4 test cycle.
Highway speeds lower this 100 mile range significantly. A 52 mile trip with an average speed of 58 miles per hour knocked 70 miles off the range indicator. Using climate control, headlights or even the audio system lowers it even more. Nissan provides a screen that allows the driver to keep track of the power being consumed by accessories that do not contribute to propulsion.
Charging can be an issue. The Leaf’s Level I (110-volt AC) charger needs about 20 hours to recharge a completely depleted battery pack. However, even the Level II charging station (220-volt AC) requires eight hours. There is also a Level III charger (480-volt, three-phase AC) that can charge a flat battery to 80 percent of its capacity in 30 minutes. Nissan touts this option, but the owner’s manual warns against overusing high-speed charging in the interest of preserving battery life. Also, this charger isn’t available on the base SV trim level, and is an option on the upper trim level SL version.
AAA has begun offering roadside recharging service for drivers who run out of electricity in selected areas where the Leaf is sold.
Despite these limitations, the Leaf is a neat car. It’s comfortable for four adults and passable for five. It would be an ideal commuter car for people who travel up to 60 miles roundtrip a day and can devote four to five hours for Level II recharging.
Public recharging stations are few and far between in Connecticut at this point, though we did take advantage of one at Figaro Restaurant in Enfield.
Some people were put off by the $32,780 sticker price, although buyers may be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.
Then, there is the cost of fuel. I averaged 4.5 miles per kilowatt hour, for a cost of 3.9 cents a mile. A comparable compact would have cost more than 13 cents a mile for gasoline this summer in Connecticut.
There are other savings, too. Throughout its life, there will be no engine oil changes, no exhaust system replacements, no new catalytic converters, no transmission service or repairs, no timing belt replacements, no spark plugs and no ignition system components to replace or fix. The first fluid change – brake fluid – comes at 30,000 miles or 24 months. The batteries are guaranteed for eight years or 100,000 miles.
All of this suggests the cost of ownership should be significantly lower than a comparable gasoline powered compact. So, the only question is: Can you live with the size, range and charging time requirements?
2011 Nissan Leaf: $32,780 plus $850 destination charges
207 lb-ft of torque
3.3 kWh onboard charger and 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack included
EPA MPGe (gasoline equivalencies for cars that do not use hydrocarbon fuels) 106 mpg city; 92 mpg hwy; 99 mpg combined