The previous day’s usage had left me in a pickle. With the 12 miles left and only nine-and-a-half hours charging time at 120V. Of course if I constantly had to remind myself, if I had a 240V charging station at home this would be a non-issue as the Leaf would have been completely full. However, my situation as it was, the Leaf was perhaps a hair over 40% charged when I left for work with the range indicator displaying 59 miles, hopefully enough for my 57 mile drive.
Since I needed all the juice I could get to make it to Burlingame I decided to forgo the pre-heating and let the Leaf charge to the very last second. Fortunately this morning was a hair warmer than the day previous being a brisk 40 degrees. Unfortunately the temperatures and humidity conspired to fog the windscreen. Without sufficient power to make it to work and use the defogger, I chose to defog the old-fashioned way: windows open.
Thankfully the climb up to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains was gradual in comparison to the re-charging trip down the other side. Once back on flat land the car indicated a range of 52 miles and I only had 40 miles ahead of me. Right as I was patting myself on the back, US-101 ground to a total and complete halt. We’ve all been there before right? You forget your purse or wallet, your car is running on fumes and that is the exact moment when you encounter heavy traffic. Much like a hybrid however, if you drive the car gently in the stop-and-go traffic the battery usage turns out to be relatively low. Of course if you are buying your leaf in California or a few other states, you would qualify for carpool access stickers making waiting in traffic a much rarer event. Since my car was not so equipped, I inched along the bay for 45 minutes traveling a whopping 5 miles in that time. Once traffic started flowing freely the car announced I may not have enough power to reach my destination. True to form, three miles before my exit the range indicator went from “3 miles” to “- – - ,“ indicating a depleted battery.
Trip distance: 57.1
Average speed: 32.4 mph
Travel Time: 1:45bad traffic
Average miles/kWh: 6.8
Range Left: 0
Temp: 40-48 degrees
Since Nissan needed to pick the Leaf up, I ponce again connected my trans-sidewalk charging cable and checked the display for a charge time: 31 hours to full. Ouch. I find I need to keep reminding myself that had I access to a 240V charging station at home, the battery would be more than half full on my arrival. Since the press fleet doesn’t come with some funky dryer-plug hacked charger (sort of a shame really) the emergency trickle charge cable was our only option. And there is the problem I see with some of the TV news bites I have seen about the Leaf; which I am sure will be re-ignited once the rumored Top Gear episode featuring the Leaf hit the airwaves: The 31 hour charge time is not likely to be an issue for buyers as most people seem to buy the home charging station.
Currently the Leaf is only available as a hatch back in two trim lines SL and SV. In reality there is little difference between the two trims as both receive 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps keyless entry and keyless go, power windows, cruise control, Bluetooth, navigation system with CD player, six speakers and iPod/USB integration. The SL model adds a spoiler solar panel (yes it seems as useless ad it sounds), automatic headlamps, fog lamps, a rearview camera, a cargo cover and the option to purchase the $700 CHAdeMO DC quick-charge port. Our SL tester was a pre-production model so it did not itemize the CHAdeMO port on the Monroney sticker; as a result the price as tested was $33,720 before rebates. As I live in California, after the $7,500 federal and $5,000 state rebates, the Leaf drops to a commuter car appropriate sticker of $21,220.
As I indicated before, weight constraints are largely due to the lack of window shattering stereo performance. Still, the system is adequate for most listeners. USB/iPod integration is about average for the segment allowing full control of your Apple device and playlist/artist/album browsing while on the road. Sadly like most Japanese vehicles sold on our shores, the Nav system is not operable when in motion and like other Nissan products this means you have to completely stop in order to enter a destination as the voice commands do not extend to destination entry. This is something of an odd choice for Nissan to make since you can easily spend far more time distracted by searching for that ZZ Top album than entering the address of that charging station you are looking for.
Compared to the Chevy Volt, the Leaf is $12,000 cheaper (after rebates) and qualifies for carpool lane usage over here on the left coast. Arguably the Volt is a car without the sort of lifestyle compromises that must be made if you used tour Leaf as a daily driver, but on the other hand, you could buy a Nissan Versa with that $12,000 and have two cars for the price of one Volt. Until the Ford Focus Electric surfaces later this year, the Leaf has little competition. [Correction: due to an amended Senate Bill in California the Volt and other plug-in hybrids will be allowed HOV lane access. Thanks to our readers that pointed this out. ]
How green is the Leaf? That depends on how you look at it. Although in terms of volume the US is the world’s largest producer of electricity from geothermal, solar and wind resources, these only account for 11 percent of the total electric production in the US (US Energy Information Administration 2010). As energy demand continues to rise in America the percentage of our power that comes from renewable resources has actually dropped rather than increased since the 1960s. Since 70% of all the electricity produced in the US contributes to global warming, you might almost say that any electric car driven in this country is half-powered by coal. Unless you’ve invested in solar panels, driving a Leaf could be said to be burning coal in a square state to feel green in California. I am told that despite the decidedly un-green power mixture in the USA, total greenhouse emissions from the Leaf (when you consider the power generation) are still lower than just about any car on the road today.
After three days of self-induced anxiety it was time for Nissan to collect the Leaf. As the battery powered commuter car was driven away slowly and replaced by its antithesis (a Mercedes CL550) I was forced to reflect on the previous 62 hours. Bottom line, the Leaf is a commuter car. This term has never been so appropriately applied to a single model before. While some may buy a Prius or Fiesta to commute, they are still multi-purpose vehicles while the Leaf has a more singular focus. Just like you would not expect a 2-door sports coupé to be all things to everyone, neither can we expect a short range full electric vehicle to be everyone’s cup of tea.
ABC News Polls indicated in 2005 that the average American’s commute is 16 miles. Let’s say we don’t believe that and use 30 miles as a number. In a hot climate like Arizona, a Leaf would essentially make it to and from work without issue even when driving it like a normal car. That in itself is the function. It’s not made for long commutes (although with an 8 hour day and 240V charging at each end, even an 80 mile commute would be possible.) If you can set your anxiety aside, have a 240V home charger or live near a planned 480V quick charge station and are looking for a commuter car, the Leaf makes more sense than any number of $21K cars especially when you consider the California carpool sticker. Before you jump on the Leaf pile, check with your tax guy as there may be some tax liabilities in regards to the rebates.
Nissan provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.