The Nissan Leaf is a major attempt at delivering the prototypical electric car that will revolutionize green personal transportation. Let’s see what the automotive press has to say about this year’s model.
The review team at MotorTrend has this to say about the Leaf: “It’s mostly unremarkable as a ‘Car of the Future.’ And while that may seem like damning it with faint praise, it’s really the highest praise this car can be given.” The point being is that this is an approachable car for the mass car-buying demographic. In fact, they say that driving the Leaf is just like driving any other gas-powered four-cylinder hatchback and the electric car learning curve was painless.
The review spends some time discussing the Leaf’s range (averaging 100 miles, but dropping to 60 in difficult conditions like winter rush hour) and charging time (20 hours at 120 volts, 8 hours at 240 volts). They note that “Nissan is banking on the advent of ‘Quick Charge’ stations wired to commercial-grade 440-volt power supplies that can give you an 80-percent charge in just 30 minutes.” How much would it cost to charge? Charging prices are difficult to gauge, because electricity utility rates vary by location and even time of day. In Los Angeles, they estimate, “It works out to anywhere from $1.10 to $3.84 for a full charge.”
The review notes that while Nissan requires a yearly battery check-up for Leaf owners, a Leaf driver can “forget oil changes every three months, timing belts, coolant flushes, and so on and so forth.”
MotorTrend characterizes the the steering “quick,” and the handling “nimble,” and the ride “smooth.” About the interior, they say that “there’s room for five if you squeeze a bit.” They also liked the looks of the recycled materials used for the interior. The one negative they found was the “awkwardly shaped” cargo area.
Lastly, MotorTrend mentions the “fantastic” price of the Leaf after federal and state incentives bring the price down under $21,000 in 4 states: California, Hawaii, Georgia and Colorado. Then they openly wonder if people will still be open to EVs once government subsidies expire. Their conclusion? “If all EVs are as good as this one,” they say “we wouldn’t bet against it.”
Car and Driver added the Leaf to its long-term fleet, testing the Leaf’s performance over time. The first thing they did was check acceleration. The 2011 Leaf goes from 0 to 60 mph in 10.0 seconds, a performance that they dubbed “quick enough for around-town use.”
C&D says charge times “aren’t quick.” They say that, according to their estimates, the Leaf is averaging only 58 miles of range and 80 MPGe, falling quite short of the advertised estimates of 100 miles of range and 97 MPGe. But they attribute part of that to Michigan winter temperatures and no heated seats or steering wheel (which are more energy-efficient than the heater in cold weather). They mention that “range anxiety” was a factor for some staffers, including the “what if” factor — what if my battery was drained and there was an emergency and I needed to go somewhere?
On the plus side, C&D says “There’s plenty of space inside to carry people and stuff comfortably…. As a runabout, mixing it up with the best of Ann Arbor’s many Toyota Priuses, the Leaf is perhaps the best third car many of us who live in town could ask for.”
Automobile call the Leaf’s acceleration “energetic”. Elaborating, they say “The Zen-like tranquility is pierced only by a hushed wind and tire ruffle plus a subtle pedestrian-alert whistle… The Leaf is swift enough not to be called a laggard but its 9.7-second amble from rest to sixty mph won’t earn acclaim from the National Hot Rod Association.” They proceed to note that “The generally plush ride goes jiggly over bumps… The steering must be minded during highway cruising.”
The review team called the interior “light and lively” with ample head and leg room. They say that there is no drivetrain noise or vibration detectable at all. Automobile loved the instrument panel, saying “Nissan has outdone itself here.” They were warm towards the performance indicator screens, as well, saying “These entertaining displays help diffuse range anxiety.”
They concluded that “This is a real car, not a risky science experiment” and that it would make a great second or third car for an affluent family. But they felt the loss of spur-of-the-moment versatility due to range limitations was still a significant drawback.
Edmunds says “The electric car’s time has finally arrived… We’ve all heard this ‘future of transportation’ claim before, attached to everything from hybrids to biodiesels, but the 2011 Nissan Leaf does manage to reinvent the electric car as we’ve known it so far.”
The review says that the Leaf drives “like any other car,” continuing that it has “more than enough pep to keep up with traffic, particularly when combined with the Leaf’s instant-on throttle response that’s characteristic of an electric motor drivetrain.”
They bring up range: “This means that while the Leaf can hit 90 mph and cruises easily at 75 mph, a foreboding sense of ever-dwindling travel range dominates the driving experience. This can make even aggressive drivers think twice about goosing the throttle.” Edmunds mentions their model got around 88 miles of range during their test drive.
The review notes that the ride is “at least as sporty as a typical economy car.” About the Eco driving mode, they “noticed a subdued throttle reaction and aggressive (but not intrusive) regenerative braking force whenever we lifted off the go pedal.”
Edmunds loved the interior, saying passenger entry is “a snap,” and generally praising the roomy feeling of the inside of the Leaf. They also noted that the car is “eerily quiet at any speed below 70.”
They recommend the Leaf for environmentally minded buyers anxious to break their oil addiction.