By on April 25, 2013

I have a friend who really hates the Nissan LEAF. I mean, he despises it. If it cost $9.50 and had a 1,200-mile range, he would say something like: “Jeez, for nine fifty, you’d think they could make it cross the country.”

I, on the other hand, take a slightly more open-minded view. I think the technology behind the LEAF is pretty cool. I like the idea of never putting gas in a car. And the lease deal is amazing. I’ve attempted to explain these benefits to my friend, but he maintains that no sane person would ever buy a LEAF when the gas-powered Honda Fit costs so much less and doesn’t require hefty doses of Xanax for range anxiety.

Fortunately, I can now put this argument to rest. That’s because I recently had the chance to drive the updated 2013 LEAF at an event near Nissan’s headquarters in Nashville, which – for you foreigners out there – is a medium-sized city located in Taylor Swift County, Tennessee.

I have compared the LEAF and Fit in several crucial categories, using painstaking effort to ensure the accuracy of my data as long as it was easily located with a Google search. This is what I’ve found.

Acceleration

The most important category for any car enthusiast is, of course, acceleration. Unless you’re one of those handling people, in which case you probably shouldn’t be reading a comparison test of the Nissan LEAF and the Honda Fit.

Anyway, the LEAF and Fit accelerate exactly the same: very slowly. I have no idea what the actual 0-to-60 times are, but if I had to provide a general guess, it would probably be somewhere in the ten-second to 45-minute range. You will lose stoplight races to landscaping crews.

However, there is a clear winner here. While the Fit has to build power like a normal gasoline engine, the LEAF has access to its full range of torque the second you press the pedal. As a result, you might beat landscaping crews from 0 to 15 mph. Advantage: LEAF.

Driving Feel

I haven’t forgotten about you handling people. But Nissan and Honda have! Just kidding: the LEAF and Fit handle just fine. They also go over bumps just fine, and go around turns just fine, and have a normal amount of wind noise, and have acceptable visibility.

A typical car reviewer would try and explain each of these things in minute detail and find slight advantages, but I’m going to level with you: a normal driver wouldn’t notice major differences between the two cars. However, in the LEAF, a normal driver wouldn’t notice these differences while his hands were on a standard heated steering wheel. Advantage: LEAF.

Fuel Economy and Range Anxiety

This one is important, so listen up. The Honda Fit gets 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. The Nissan LEAF, which does not use fuel, gets 106 mpg city and 92 mpg highway based on a calculation understood solely by the EPA and a TTAC commenter who will now make me feel like an idiot. (“You just divide the amperes by the kilowatts and subtract the electropositivity, DUH. It’s like Physics 101. What were you, a history major?”)

Yes, it’s true that you don’t have to put gas in a LEAF. But the LEAF is saddled with long charge times versus fuel stops, even with the new 6.6-kWh on-board charger. It also has a range of less than 100 miles, compared to the Fit’s range of probably a lot more. That means with the LEAF you can drive less, and spend more time filling up. And if you do run out of juice, you have to sit around waiting for a tow truck while my friend drives by, laughing and revving his engine. (This actually occurred. He sent me a picture.)

Obviously, the winner of this category depends on your lifestyle. As I was driving the 250 miles back from Nashville in a gas-powered Dodge Dart, I realized: in a LEAF, this four-hour trip would never be completed, because rural north Georgians do not have electricity. But how often do you make trips like that? For most Americans, the answer is virtually never. Advantage: LEAF. And possibly a nearby Enterprise Rent-a-Car location.

Styling

Debating the styling of economy cars is challenging because they all look roughly the same: like five-door eggs. In the LEAF’s case, it’s more like a five-door Easter egg, because all of them are that rather dainty shade of light blue. The exception is my neighbor’s LEAF, which is just a dull non-metallic black. Unfortunately, this returns us to “they all look the same.”

Fortunately, the LEAF offers one highly distinctive styling characteristic: a very large sticker placed on the rear window of most units that says “WORLD CAR OF THE YEAR.” Does the Fit have that? No. For the sake of rear visibility, this may actually be a good thing. Still… Advantage: LEAF.

Windshield Wiper Normalcy

This is a hugely important category that’s overlooked all too frequently in car reviews. Like most cars, the Honda Fit and Nissan LEAF have two windshield wipers. In the LEAF, they’re about the same size. In the Fit, one wiper is the size of that tree in California you can drive under, while the other shares its length with a golf course pencil. Why is this important? Because as a professional automotive journalist, I have deemed it so. Isn’t that enough? Advantage: LEAF.

Pricing

The Honda Fit’s pricing is very straightforward: a base model starts around $16,000 with shipping, while the Sport (hah!) is closer to $18,000. Easy.

The LEAF’s pricing is a lot more complicated. Yes, it’s true that a base-level LEAF starts around $29,500 with shipping. But to hear the Nissan people tell it, no one ever pays that. Instead, you take advantage of a federal tax credit, and then you take advantage of a state tax credit, and maybe there’s a credit on the charger installation, and by the end of it, the government actually owes you five grand at six percent interest. Advantage: LEAF.

Conclusion

Obviously, the LEAF is far better than the Honda Fit in virtually every measurable category, from boring ones like pricing to the all-important “windshield wiper normalcy” game-changer. Surely, my LEAF-hating friend now agrees: the Fit is transportation. The LEAF is revolution. Winner: LEAF.

In a rare moment of seriousness, I must say: the LEAF isn’t for everyone. But if you go into it knowing that, it’s much more acceptable. It’s not a sports car. It’s not a hauler. It’s not for long trips. But it’s really good at what it does, which happens to be what most people use a car for anyway. Driving the 2013 model, I was surprised at just how normal it felt – and that’s a good thing. I didn’t even need to take any Xanax.

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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110 Comments on “Doug’s Comparison: Nissan LEAF vs. Honda Fit...”


  • avatar
    amca

    RESEMBLANCE TO FEMALE ANTEATER

    Advantage: LEAF

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    I can’t decide which is uglier, the Leaf or the AMC Pacer.

  • avatar

    Now that was funny! Seriously, I wouldn’t dream of buying anything that would reduce my quality of life by adding range anxiety to all my other anxieties. I take plenty of trips which woiuld take twice as long if I had to plan for electricity and sit around for hours waiting for a full charge.

    Nonetheless, I am grateful for those who buy electrics, for taking just a little bit of pressure, each, off of the planet (warming) and supplies of petroleum, which I like to call the magic fuel, since it comes in such high energy density.

    Go the Leaf! (as far as you can)

  • avatar
    geee

    Little FYI for ya’ll. It’s in Franklin TN, about 30 minutes south of Nashville, a place that Franklin has exactly nothing in common with, save for they both reside inside Tennessee’s borders. :)

    • 0 avatar
      crtfour

      Lol I’m in middle Tennessee and Franklin is the only place in the area that I see Leaf’s (or Leaves?) fairly regularly.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      Yes, exactly. Thank you from someone who (almost) lives in Franklin. It slightly irritates me the same as when I lived in Chicago. All the suburbanites constantly ragged about the city. Yet when they traveled and people asked where they lived, they always said Chicago instead of Mount Prospect or Downers Grover or whatever.

      Bless their hearts.

      • 0 avatar
        Slab

        Ah, you never met my aunt.

        “Where are you moving, Aunt Jannie?”

        “Lake Forest”

        “Where’s that?”

        “In Illinois”

        “Oh, where in Illinois? North, south?”

        “It’s on the lake, of course.”

        Uncle Ray, exasperated – “It’s near Chicago.”

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        Nice. I can remember an argument between two people back at a party in college (far from Chicago), paraphrased:

        A: Where are you from?
        B: Chicago
        A: Me too! What part?
        B: Naperville
        A: Nice, I’m from Munster.
        B: That’s not Chicago. That’s in Indiana.
        A: Naperville isn’t Chicago either
        B: Yes it is.
        A: If Naperville is Chicago, so is Munster
        B: No, that’s Indiana
        A: Munster is closer to Chicago than Naperville
        B: No it’s not, it’s in Indiana

  • avatar
    rickyc

    Honda needs to give the Fit a 6th gear really bad, not sure why they haven’t.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      It will slowly trickle down from the Accord/Pilot/Ody, that’s the way Honda does things. More likely, anything with four cylinders will get a CVT.

    • 0 avatar
      Thinkin...

      I completely agree. In terms of packaging, the Fit is the most versatile little bantam weight out there, but these days you can get a considerably bigger car with better gas mileage. Ever since it’s introduction people have been bemoaning the gearbox – cruising on the highway at ~4000rpm is insane.

      Dear Honda: Note the Hyundai Elantra GT and Mazda3 Skyactiv among many others. I know it ain’t easy, but these days the compact market plats in or near the 40mpg pool.

  • avatar
    AFX

    “Yes, it’s true that a base-level LEAF starts around $29,500 with shipping.”

    Geez Louise !. For that kind of money you could have:

    5-Craigslist C-4 Corvettes.

    10-Craigslist Porsche 944′s.

    29- Craigslist Olds Auroras with the Northstar engine.

    590- Craigslist Chevy Cavaliers.

    With those cars you could have enough spare parts on hand to keep at least one of them running for a full year, except for maybe the Cavalier.

  • avatar
    ajla

    IIRC the gearing in the Fit almost makes it a city car because it sucks on the interstate. Or did Honda change that?

    And, I think that the LEAF’s biggest foe is the Prius family, not economy cars.

  • avatar
    sitting@home

    “It also has a range of less than 100 miles, compared to the Fit’s range of probably a lot more.”

    My wife has a Fit, which she only ever drives around town (so the Leaf would have worked for her). Average economy is in the low 20′s and the tank, due to it’s under-the-driver’s-seat position, only takes 8 gallons from low-fuel warning to full. So the range of the Fit isn’t that much more than the Leaf.

    • 0 avatar
      CompWizrd

      Something’s wrong with that fit, or she’s only driving a mile or two at a time…

      I average around 28-29 city, and around 40 highway in my ’10 Fit Sport. I averaged 12/25 in my previous car, a ’96 Trans AM, and drive them vaguely in the same style.

      Is she babying it off every stop light? I get much better gas mileage by giving it a healthy amount of gas.. sitting there with it slowly building revs burns gas much more than getting into 5th gear.

      My fit has the gas tank under the passenger seat. :)

      The Sport is rated a few mpg lower than the non-sport, so your low 20′s sounds even more broken.

      • 0 avatar

        I drove my mother’s Fit around South Florida for a while before I got my own car. It was getting about 25mpg on driving that was solely short trips for errands. So I think the original poster’s data are plausible.

        Short errands are less than 15 minute drives, with a lot five minutes or so (to the local grocery).

        The 2007 Fit was about three years old when I drove it, and it had accumulated a whopping 6,500 miles on the odometer. A real collector’s item!

        D

      • 0 avatar
        CompWizrd

        My current drive to work is 2.9 miles, and the drive home is 3.8 (there’s a no left turns sign at the end of my street that breaks the commute).. averaging 26 on those trips.

        The Fit cruises at 40mph at around 55-60mpg once it’s warmed up. I suppose if you live in a community that thinks every intersection needs a stop sign, then that would hurt too. My city loves the 4 way stops for T intersections with 5 houses on the short side, a few hundred feet from the next stop sign.

        • 0 avatar
          Thinkin...

          So what you’re saying is that even the most rudimentary electric car would cover 100% of your commute as well as grocery getting and errands and that you would never, ever, have to pay for gas. Hmm… Advantage: LEAF (or homebrew electric 911)

          • 0 avatar
            CompWizrd

            The $20,000 price difference between my Fit Sport($20,500 or so) and the Leaf($38,395 MSRP, $1990 freight/pdi, $134.20 other fees) buys a LOT of gas. Plus I’d likely have to go rent a car about once or twice a month at $60 a weekend, but we’ll ignore that for now.

            Just on the gas alone, that’s enough money to buy 16000 liters or so, enough to get me 200,000 km. Even if the Leaf ran on magical fairy dust and cost me absolutely nothing to charge, I’d still be looking at a 10 year payback period, without even counting the fact that I could do something else with the extra 20 grand in the meantime.

            24kwh battery pack in those things? Figure about 90% eff.. so about $2.6 a charge. 200,000 km / 160km a charge means 1250 charges over the life.. $3250? that’s another 32,500km of gas for me.

      • 0 avatar
        sitting@home

        The average mpg is taken from the computer display. It is a Sport model and she drives very short (less than 3 mile) journeys many times a day so it probably never warms up and spends most of its life idling at lights. Her drive profile would be perfect for the Leaf; she almost never goes on the freeway and we garage the car at night. It was too hard to justify the cost of the Leaf at the time, with unknown reliability and resale value.

        • 0 avatar
          DC Bruce

          Actually, it sounds like she would be a candidate for a plug-in hybrid like the Prius plug-in or the C-Max plug-in. She would probably be using electricity most of the time, but could drive across the state or across the country if she wished. That’s the problem, IMHO, with any of these electric cars. They’re very much single-purpose vehicles, and BTW, the plug-in Prius and plug-in C-Max cost about the same, or less than the Leaf, even though taxpayers aren’t subsidizing them as much.

    • 0 avatar

      Something is wrong here. I get better mileage than that (24-25+ MPG) in town in my Lexus GS 350 F-Sport. The Lexus weighs almost 60% more and has close to three times the HP of the Honda.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    That’s what I’m talking about. :)

    0-60 times: I’ve seen between 7.9 and 10.0 for the Leaf, and mid 8s for the Fit. No shame in either car’s numbers.

    Roadholding: The Leaf’s low center of gravity helps it pull 0.79 g; the Fit gets 0.81, so they’re nearly the same.

    Wipers: Actually, the Leaf’s wipers are pretty imbalanced – 26″ and 16″.

    Mine is white, not that weird EV blue color.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Do you use your Leaf for all your driving or do you have a back up car? I want to lease a Focus EV, but I have range anxiety. A couple times a month I have to drive 60-75 miles a day without being able to plug in. The lease deal is great and Detroit Edison will pay $2500 for a level II charger and reduce electric rates by adding a dedicated second meter for free.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        @bball40dtw:

        I drive the Leaf every day as a commuter car, and I have two other cars we use for other drivers and other purposes.

        If you have a day of 75 miles to drive, the Leaf will not do, especially in the winter. You’d have to charge to 100%, go easy on the throttle (stay under 55), and use no heat to get that distance all at once in the winter.

        But otherwise, the Leaf is great for everyday stuff. I average about 28 miles a day between commuting to work and other tasks.

        Be aware that range is reported at 100% charge (I think) and 45 mph average speed with no other loads like climate control. But Nissan, for instance, only wants you to charge it to 80% so as to extend the life of the battery. Speed, load, and variation from mild temperatures will all reduce range.

        I installed my own charger from Home Depot for $750.

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      Wiper Normalcy: Pffft. Our Odyssey has three wipers, in three different sizes.

      • 0 avatar

        Both the Fit and Leaf have a rear wiper, and if my Versa (pretty much a gas Leaf) is anything to go by, the rear wiper is indeed a different size yet.

        The windshields on these tallish boxes end up being squarish in aspect ratio, so the big wiper takes a big swipe across the glass on the driver’s side, and the little wiper follows behind, clearing up a bit more glass on the passenger side.

  • avatar
    Tosh

    What about the implied utility of being a 5-door hatch? I’ve opened the hatch on a Leaf a few times and wondered if I could even pick up someone and a suitcase from the airport, never mind sticking a bicycle back there. The Fit in comparison seems like an actual station wagon in the useable space department…

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      The Leaf’s hatch is awkwardly shaped and the rear seats don’t fold flat (it doesn’t have the Fit’s seat-folding trickery), but it seems spacious enough. Neither of these cars has a gas tank in a conventional location.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I have actually seen quite a few Leaf in the So Fl area, even though EV charging stations are as rare as igloos, in contrast very few Volts, go figure!

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I work in the Boca area and see multiple Volts yet only a few Leafs. I also see several Fiskers. I assume these folks only charge at home as I’ve never seen a charging station around here. Do they any in the Tri-Rail parking lots?

      However since my USED 350Z gets 24 mpg (30/70 mixed commute) does 0-60 in half the time, has equal sized wipers and costs less then a Leaf or a Fit I will not be getting either anytime soon.

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        According to this website I visited, charging stations here are few and far from each other, not good unless your commute is short and you don’t mind your EV doubling as a sauna in the hot Fl sun.

    • 0 avatar
      Southern Perspective

      They have Nissan Leaf taxis in the Historic Center of Mexico City now; to woo and wow the tourists, I guess.

      One of them scared the H E double toothpick out of me while I was walking near the edge of the street and it approached me from behind.

      Those little jobbies make NO NOISE at all!

      :)

  • avatar
    DDayJ

    You should compare the LEAF against the Crown Vic and really get people fired up.

  • avatar

    Number of capital letters in name: advantage LEAF

    Fewest number of metaphorical jumps to greenness: advantage LEAF

    When thinking about a Fit, I could easily suggest finding a mint condition Civic space wagon for $5-10k instead (OMG 6MT + AWD FTW!!!).

    To do the same for a LEAF, I’d have to suggest a Stanza wagon with a universal conversion kit from electoauto.com, probably close to $30k by the time you’re done.

    Advantage…Fit?

  • avatar
    bludragon

    Here’s how I would like to play this game:

    Fashion statement: Well this is up to you as an individual. The Fit used to be cool. You can feel smug driving a Leaf, but is it now cooler than a fit? My random surveying of one 14 yr old says no they’d rather have a proper car (the Fit), but both loose to a Fiat 500. The 5% of the population who have not already made up their mind can continue to the next category.

    Driving experience and practicality: How do they compare on interior space (e.g. fitting rear facing car seats, hauling some cargo, accommodating an extra wide, or tall driver). How is the comfort, road, wind noise. How do they stop, start and corner through traffic. How are the controls (pedals, steering, gearbox, signalling, climate, radio, etc). I’m going to assume both are similar here, but this category might rule out one or the other. Or both.

    Assuming you have not made a decision yet, we come to the final category.

    Cost to run over 3 years: This is where the real meat of this article is, as we now answer whether electric is really more economical than gas, or not. Here, you need a spreadsheet. Put in the lease cost, or the purchase price, what the car will be worth in 3 years and any tax credits or other incentives. Add in the insurance and maintenance costs (I have no clue if these are different or not). Add on the weekend car rental cost for the Leaf. Finally, figure the fuel costs. If I was doing this for real, I would give you a few worked examples. The first would be for a 2 car family that does not need to use the 2nd car (Leaf) on the weekends, and lives in CA. The Fit/Leaf driver does a 30 mile round trip for their commute, and has a free electric charging station at work. Fuel costs are zero. Rental costs are zero. Electric car tax benefits are $$$$. Mileage falls within the standard lease limit of 12k/year. This must be close to best case for the leaf. If the leaf wins this one, then we need a 2nd example to cover the case where the Fit is the more economical choice over 3 years.

    • 0 avatar
      slow_poke

      i was trying to decide just that scenario. it seems like by doing the lease and having zero fuel costs in CA there isn’t a single new car that can compete. i was comparing against my 30yr old daily driver which has $0 depreciation and essentially $0 non-routine maintenance (toyo pickup). haven’t pulled the trigger, but cost-wise its an easy win if you have a 2nd car.

      • 0 avatar
        bludragon

        I have not done the detailed math, but I can’t quite conceive how the $200 lease deals work. I can lease a $16k Fiat 500 pop for 1k down and $200/month. Or, I can lease a $29k (or 32k in the case of the fiat) EV for $2k down and $200/month (or $1k down in the case of the more expensive Fiat 500e). Am I being fed a bunch of marketing hyperbole from the headline lease prices? Where is that massive difference in MSRP made up?

        EDIT: Perhaps the 7.5k fed tax credit, plus the 2.5k CA tax credit explains this. That brings a 30k EV down to 20K, with a higher residual value after 3 years making up for the remaining difference in MSRP.

        • 0 avatar
          CompWizrd

          I believe all the EV tax credits go to the manufacturer on a lease.. so if you have a $30k car, say 50% residual, so $15k left.. divide by 36 months, you’d normally pay $416 a month.. if there’s a $7500 tax credit, you’re now paying $22,500, same residual as the next owner doesn’t care what you paid for yours, is $7500 over 36 months, or $208 a month.

          • 0 avatar

            Correct. Not necessarily the manufacturer though – whoever books the lease, really. Not all OEMs have a captive finance company to do leasing, and frankly some people might actually get a better deal if they go through a third party. Obviously in most cases though it is the manufacturer as you said.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          The lease company gets the $7500 from the feds, and whatever money the state gives them. They use that as a capitalized cost reduction and factor the payments based on new adjusted capitalized cost.

          Since the finance company owns the car, they get the money and use it as a down payment.

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            Another factor is depreciation. Used LEAFs haven’t depreciated much below their post-incentive price.

            If cars didn’t depreciate, you could lease one almost for free.

            Also, the $200/no lease requires a $2k down payment.

            The terms for the Volt are similar, and for mostly the same reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      “My random surveying of one 14 yr old says no they’d rather have a proper car (the Fit)”

      You found a 14-year old that wants a car?!? Stop the presses! Call Road and Track!

  • avatar
    cargogh

    It was a big day for car watching in Louisville a couple of hours ago. I saw a black Volt AND a Lexus CT200h in the same hour.
    Both appeared to be driven by 20-30 yr old males.
    I’ve still never witnessed a LEAF, unless I’m blocking.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I drove a Fit once, as a loaner when my Accord was in for new seat track – after a friend broke it, and it felt like a mini-minivan. It had tons of space, but was loud as smell. Also, the mileage isn’t all that great considering that mileage is its secondary reason for existence. My current car, 13 Focus SE, is rated 26/26, and I’ve gotten 34 and change in mixed driving.

  • avatar
    protomech

    “This one is important, so listen up. The Honda Fit gets 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. The Nissan LEAF, which does not use fuel, gets 106 mpg city and 92 mpg highway based on a calculation understood solely by the EPA and a TTAC commenter who will now make me feel like an idiot. (“You just divide the amperes by the kilowatts and subtract the electropositivity, DUH. It’s like Physics 101. What were you, a history major?”)”

    I guess I’ll be That Guy.

    The EPA compares the chemical energy in a gallon of gasoline (33.7 kWh) to the electrical energy an electric car uses at the wall. This is overly simplified and uses units that make no sense for electric vehicles, but it does illustrate the innate efficiency advantages of the cars in question.

    The Nissan Leaf consumes 32 kWh (electrical energy at the wall socket) / 100 miles in city driving and 37 kWh / 100 miles in highway driving.

    The EPA calculates the MPGe metric for electric vehicles by converting the wall electricity used to the equivalent chemical energy of gasoline. 32 / 33.7 = 0.95 gallon-equivalent for 100 city miles, 37 / 33.7 = 1.10 gallon-equivalent for 100 highway miles.

    Works out to 105 city MPGe, 91 highway MPGe.

    ***

    This is a very lopsided comparison in one respect: combustion losses are accounted for in the gasoline car (internal combustion), where they’re ignored for a grid-charged EV (can partly be considered an external combustion vehicle with the combustion taking place a very long way away). When you account for the combustion losses for the national grid, the Nissan Leaf is closer to 40-50 mpg.

    We *could* charge the Nissan Leaf solely from a gasoline generator. Honda’s EM4000S is very close to the right size, 3.5 kW rated output. 6.2 gallons provide 10.1 hour runtime at rated load, which works out to 5.7 kWh electrical energy produced per 1 gallon of gasoline.

    5.7 kWh / gallon * (100 miles / 32 kWh city) = wait for it .. 18 mpg city. 15 mpg highway.

    This is lopsided in the opposite direction: small generators are not particularly efficient (Honda’s is 17% efficient @ 100% load, ~10% efficient at 50% load), and we use gasoline to fuel far less than 1% of the national grid because it’s so expensive (ie, works better for transport applications). Hydro, nuclear, and combustion power plants (natural gas, coal, very rarely oil) are all substantially more efficient than a small gas generator.

    It does illustrate energy lost through conversion. Compare:

    1. chemical energy (gas)
    2. mechanical energy (generator engine crankshaft, ~20%)
    3. AC electrical energy (generator inverter output, ~70%?)
    4. DC electrical energy (Leaf charger, ~90%)
    5. chemical energy (stored in the battery, ~98%)
    6. DC energy (discharging battery, ~98%)
    7. “AC” energy (motor controller output, ~95%)
    8. mechanical energy (motor output shaft, ~92%)
    9. wheels (reduction gearing, ~95%)

    versus a typical combustion car:

    1. chemical energy (gas)
    2. mechanical energy (engine output shaft, ~20% typ, ~25% prius)
    3. wheels (transmission, ~85%)

    When you charge an EV from a gas generator, steps 3 – 8 all represent losses that add up (to about 50% energy lost). This is part of why the Volt has only “decent” gas-only operation; GM is certainly selecting more efficient components than Honda’s generator, and has some flexibility to operate the gas engine at its most efficient point (which they decline to do because they think their customers want to hear it “rev” in lock with the wheels).. but it’s still an uphill struggle.

    Bottom line: if you have a plug-in hybrid (prius or volt) and a gas generator, you’ll get more miles dumping a gallon of gas into the car’s fuel tank than you will by dumping the same gallon of gas into the generator.

    ***

    On a grid powered by hydro, nuclear, wind, or photovoltaics .. the Leaf is a good bit more efficient than gas vehicles (and near-zero carbon as well). Once you start to introduce coal, natural gas, or oil (really only for Hawaii), then the efficiency of the Leaf (and other EVs) decreases and can even drop below a comparable gas-powered vehicle (ex: Mazda 3 5-door).

    • 0 avatar

      I will bookmark this, so that if I’m ever asked, I can check back later and try to make sense of it.

      And for the record, I was an Economics major.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        At 10 cents per kilowatt-hour and assuming 90% charging efficiency, a gallon of electricity costs $3.74. Just adjust the cost proportionally to your own electricity price and it’s easy to compare EPA-estimated operating costs.

        • 0 avatar

          The posts on the Fiat 500e got me interested.
          I live in LA,rent an apartment and have street parking,so electric cars were a non-starter for me.
          But the parking garage where I work has recently installed some electric car chargers from Blink.
          They have a membership deal and the rates are $1/hour for premium members,$2/hour for non-members.
          An online review had the 500e taking 4 hours to fully charge w/a quick-charger.
          Mileage is alleged to be 100 miles,I’d expect closer to 80 miles or so,real world.
          So it breaks out to @ $4 for 40 miles or so,and gas is @$4/gallon locally.(Membership would obviously raise it to an equivalent 80 mpg,depending on membership fees,$40 now I believe and they’re supposed to be waiving the fees for the first yr.)

          • 0 avatar
            protomech

            Pretty fair analysis. EVs work best when charged overnight @ offpeak, but workplace charging can be a good substitute provided that charging infrastructure is also convenient for weekend trips.

            Blink membership fees are $30/year (waived for 2013).

            LA electricity prices are all over the place. Time-of-use rates vary from $0.108/kWh at night up to $0.222/kWh during the day. LADWP offers a $0.025/kWh discount for charging an EV off-peak, which would reduce overnight/weekend rates to $0.083/kWh (June-Sept, 160 MPG $ equivalent) and $0.105/kWh (Oct-May, 120 MPG $ equivalent).

            Charging at 6 kW with Blink at $1/hour you’re effectively paying $0.17/kWh (80 MPG $ equivalent). Not too bad, considering you’ll be charging at least partly during peak time.

            The 4 hour charge for the Fiat 500e isn’t a quick charge, it’s just the standard 6 kW level 2 charge at any J1772 plug.

        • 0 avatar
          protomech

          Calculating cost by the chemical energy content of the fuel makes about as much sense as reporting a miles-per-gallon(equivalent) metric for a battery electric vehicle.

          Which is to say, none. Damn you EPA!

          My Zero uses 126 Wh/mile. At $0.085/kWh, that’s $0.01/mile.

          Charging it is like buying gas at $0.60/gal (rough equivalent to a 60 mpg gas bike).

    • 0 avatar

      I was a chemistry major, and I do not understand it.

    • 0 avatar
      PCP

      ‘This is a very lopsided comparison in one respect’ – While you are of course right, from an economical point of view this is correct, as you actually get charged the delivered kWh, not those lost to get there. Sure, the price could be lower without loses – but then the same accounts for gasoline. After all, it’s been a long way full of losses for that patch of crude oil deep under an ocean to become that gallon of gasoline in your tank…

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        Pardon me for breaking in here but this has all been done. At least to the extent that you can take trips or stay local with about 75mpg and a top speed of 90mph. The volt is the closest approximation unless you want to hook up a small trailer with a generator and charger. I ran across this back about 1970 and wanted to try:
        http://www.motherearthnews.com/green-transportation/electric-car-conversion-zmaz79jazraw.aspx#axzz2Ra1sJFHs

        This guy used a car with a shot engine and surplus stuff. When I was actively teaching I gave it a try with my kids and wrote a brief article for curbside classic titled: classroom EV author Lee Wilcox. I’ve reached the age where cognitive impairment means I won’t be doing it again and I was not a smashing success the first time. However, it’s obvious that there is enough engineering knowledge in the B&B to have a ball with something like this. A person could even go LPG on the charging gas and be even cheaper.

        Can one of you engineers read this and still tell me that a manufacturer couldn’t do better with a new dedicated chassis and running gear?

        • 0 avatar
          protomech

          Most lead acid likes a 10 hour charge (0.1C), though the final lead acid pack in GM’s EV1 car could be charged in 2-3 hours. I don’t know what he’s using that can be charged from 25% to full in 15 minutes without dying.

          5 hp lawnmower engine puts out 2.8 kW of electrical power (28V @ 100A). Sounds reasonable, I’ll buy that.

          I’m assuming he connects his 12V batteries two in series, two in parallel (2s 2p). 100A for a 75% charge in 15 minutes means the batteries are around 20 Ah apiece.

          Total energy storage is less than a non-plugin model year 2000 Prius (1.3 kWh).

          “And unlike many electric vehicles, the little Opel’ really has some get-up-and-go due to the fact that the converted car is only about 50 pounds heavier than its original 2,100-pound weight.”

          Probably true for 1979 – concept EVs were pretty far from production.

          400 amps into the 28V traction motor – 100 from the generator, up to 300 from the batteries – would be around 11 kW or 15 hp.

          Even for a 2000 pound vehicle, that’s not going to be very fast.

          “In short, Dave has succeeded in doing for a lot less money what countless government-funded researchers have failed to accomplish: building a passenger car that uses a minimum of energy. Now all he has to do is burn “homegrown” alcohol fuel in his generator engine and Mr. Arthurs will have the most economical set of wheels in town!”

          It is a pretty cool project, and I’d love to see it in person. But I don’t think it would be satisfactory for a modern driving pace, nor would it achieve 75 mpg doing so.

          Very interesting project, though. Particularly for 1979.

          • 0 avatar
            wstarvingteacher

            I’m glad you took a look at that. In the one that I worked on the lawnmower ran twice the rpm of the generator so mechanical advantage (gearing) essentially made it twice as powerful.

            I don’t think the guy ever intended to cruise at 90. The power consumption was a lot less at lower speeds so the batteries could be used for around town or the extra boost when passing.

            I had a shunt wound motor so I didn’t have so much speed control as you would really want. A rheostat wired in series with the start winding. It meant though that I needed gearing. An adapter hooked that up to a transaxle and clutch from a 63 vw.

            Was going pretty good and ready to hook up the generator and get serious when it was over. Have given away most of that stuff now. Don’t expect to go there again.

            Thanks for checking it out and I agree with your assessment of the limitations. Thing to remember is that this was used in small town arkansas.

  • avatar
    Cubista

    “in a LEAF, this four-hour trip would never be completed, because rural north Georgians do not have electricity. But how often do you make trips like that? For most Americans, the answer is virtually never.”

    I live in Atlanta (for you foreigners out there, it is the largest city in the state of Georgia and host city of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games), and I visit my dad who lives on the other side of Chattanooga, TN fairly regularly, meaning that I drive through the very rural north Georgia region to get there. It’s less than 200 miles, which is not a long drive by anyone’s definition, unless they happen to own one of these ridiculous electric cars.

    Seriously, a new car that can’t go even 150 miles before requiring replenishment of its fuel source isn’t a revolution; it’s a liability. And knowing that rechargable batteries tend to develop memories resulting in diminishing charge lives over time means that that range is actually going to decrease, not improve.

    P.J. O’Rourke summed up the value of the automobile when he wrote:

    “Cars fulfilled the Americans’ founding fathers’ dream and ideal. “Of all the truths that we hold to be self evident, of all the unalienable rights with which we are endowed, what is the most important to the American dream? It is right there, front and center…freedom to leave…freedom to get the hell out of town.”

    And if you’ve got a car that has but a 100-mile range, you’re not even able to get from one side of the suburban sprawl to the other without needing a whole ‘nother day to re-charge the b@st@rd. You’re ceding your freedom to the charging station. Happiness in slavery, so long as you feel good about what you’re doing for the planet and as long as you don’t care about ever seeing loved ones who love more than a hundred miles away. Small price to pay, right?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      You live in a one car family?

      • 0 avatar
        Cubista

        I don’t. Some might.

        • 0 avatar
          jmo

          Well, that kinda underminds your point. No?

          • 0 avatar
            Cubista

            I can’t imagine how. You are the one who introduced the variant of owning multiple cars, not me. If this is the one car you or your family unit own, you’d better be REALLY happy with the area where you bought it, ’cause you’re pretty much anchored there for as long as you own that car. I suppose you could still travel interstate if you need to by plane or by bus, but then of course you’d have to arrange for a rental car once you arrived at your destination…that’s a lot of extra money to pay as a result of owning a car that you can’t use in the same way you would use a conventional vehicle.

            I’m not saying that the internal combustion engine is the end-all, be-all of automotive travel…I am a big fan of what Honda is doing in SoCal, the UK, and at home in Japan with their hydrogen-powered Clarity…as James May said in the “Top Gear” segment dedicated to that model, “the car of tomorrow is a lot like the car of today”.

            Electric cars are a good idea. So are track-spec cars. But you can’t own one and expect to use it as an all-purpose vehicle. Until they get the range issue dramatically improved, they are never going to be practical alternatives to even the most inefficiently economic internal combustion engine-driven vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        Even if you’re in a one car family, there are more alternatives coming on-line. Hertz is starting to deploy their Zip-Car competing service to neighborhood Hertz locations. They give you a yellow and black RFID key fob that you can use to get a car 24×7. If that service expands nationwide, it could make Leaf ownership for a single vehicle family a bit more palatable.

        • 0 avatar
          Cubista

          It’s a viable option, but it’s a cost option. Why pay for the use of two cars when you should really pay for just one? You’re already paying a premium for an EV in comparison to the cost of the note for a regular car; you’re adding to the energy use for which you’re alreay paying when you re-charge it. Now you’re going to pay a rental fee for use of another car to do what your EV won’t?

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      “You’re ceding your freedom to the charging station. Happiness in slavery…”

      People told me I was ceding my freedom when I bought a two-seater with little storage space. I wouldn’t be able to move house easily, or make Home Depot runs. I’d be dependent on other people, or rentals. Basically, they felt that any car that didn’t work for 100% of people 100% of the time was a car not worth having. I feel the opposite way – if a car works for everyone all the time, it’s probably bad at everything.

      Moreover, someone who doesn’t do long drives might argue that being tied to the charger in their own garage is more free than being tied to gas stations.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        When you buy gasoline, you literally hand power over to the oil company.

        Whether or not you think that is a.good thing probably depends on what you think of oil companies. The people I’ve met on site visits to an oil company were competent, pleasant, and overall decent folks. But their interests don’t completely line up with mine, I don’t like to see so much power in one place.

        So, I’d rather buy an EV and some PV panels and keep the power at home, so to speak. But it does take a lot of cash to do that.

        • 0 avatar
          Thinkin...

          Actually, depending on where you live, it really doesn’t cost all that much. I’ve been researching this for an impending move, and the payback time for a basic solar system is roughly ~12-18 years, while the system will typically come with a 25-30 year warranty, where they guarantee output. So you are guaranteed to make money on the deal if you keep the house. (If not a solar array greatly adds to resale value.)

          And that’s not even mentioning the current incentives involved, or the lease deals now available for solar.

          In my area, investing about $15k in a good solar system means that I will likely never have to pay an electric bill again, and that the utility will pay me for any excess electricity my house produces. With a Leaf for commuting and errands, that gets running costs pretty darn low.

          So sure, $15k is a lot of money, but in the realm of buying a house it isn’t – it’s a less than a kitchen remodel or adding a bathroom. Money well spent in my book.

        • 0 avatar
          Cubista

          “When you buy gasoline, you literally hand power over to the oil company.”

          That is true. It is one reason why I have owned an electric lawn mower since moving into our house some four years ago. The only consequence for the mower running out of juice is that I’m stuck with uneven grass for the overnight period it takes the lawn mower to recharge. If this happens to you in an EV on a drive outside your range footprint, the circumstances can be a bit more dire in nature.

      • 0 avatar
        Cubista

        “…someone who doesn’t do long drives might argue that being tied to the charger in their own garage is more free than being tied to gas stations.”

        For someone who doesn’t EVER do long drives, an electric car is a good solution; I agree with this. I suppose the gray area comes with what one considers “a long drive” to be. Living where I do, 200 miles isn’t considered a long drive.

  • avatar
    replica

    I live in an apartment so I pretty much can’t own an EV. Well, unless I own a massive extension cord and leave my bedroom window open.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      or convince the property owners to install outlets next to a couple spots

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      EVs aren’t all things to all people,and that’s OK!

      Fascinating new technology can have a limited application. Sometimes niche technologies become mainstream after a while, sometimes they just serve the needs of the niche. Either way is cool with me.

      Turns out that I’m in a situation where a.lead would work for me, as soon as I’m ready to spend new-car money on anything….

  • avatar
    James2

    I actually know someone whose husband thought a Honda Fit was a gas guzzler and decided to replace it with a Leaf. She hasn’t filed for divorce yet, as far as I know.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      It’s all about your reference frame. The Prius is a gas guzzler compared to my bicycle.

      They even make a bumper stickers for the Prius that says “this is my gas guzzler”.

      My Sienna is the gas guzzler in my driveway. 29.4MPG highway, and low 20s in town is *my* gas guzzler. Bloody useful, though!

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    This was so much fun that I read it twice.

    One minor nit to pick: The LEAF has a 6.6kW charger, not kWh. The rate of charge is kW (flow rate equivalent) and kWh is a unit of measurement (gallon).

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      kWh = energy (ability to do a certain amount of work, like drive a given distance)
      kW = power (how fast you can do that work, such as recharge the battery)

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Saying it that way reminds people who’ve taken physics.

        Maybe this will help clear it up?

        One kWh is a bucket of energy.

        One kW is the size of the pipe used to fill the bucket.

        A 1 kW pipe will take an hour to fill a 1 kWh bucket. By definition. Seriously, a hour is just the amount of energy you use if you turn on a 1kw device for an hour. Hair dryers and microwave ovens often pull a bit more than a.kilowatt, and a kilowatt is about 1.3 horsepower. So, a.kWh is roughly the amount of energy required to power a microwave, a hair dryer, or a big power tool for an hour. Its actually pretty intuitive in context

        It’s unfortunate for the uninitiated that the terms kW and kWh are so similar. But the terminology makes the math easier to keep everything straight when you’re down doing the math, so I’m sticking with it.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “Anyway, the LEAF and Fit accelerate exactly the same: very slowly. I have no idea what the actual 0-to-60 times are, but if I had to provide a general guess, it would probably be somewhere in the ten-second to 45-minute range. You will lose stoplight races to landscaping crews.”

    Amusing, but the internet says they both do 60 in less than 9 seconds – a fraction slower than a Camcord.

    *Ten seconds faster* than my Mercedes, so don’t get me started on “very slowly”, whippersnapper.

    (And I am totally in that group of evidently-not-the-average-american, because I drive more than 100 miles more than once a year! Hell, I’ve been known to do it several times a month.

    More power to someone who thinks a Leaf is a good idea for them – I won’t be holding my breath for a pure EV that’s of any use to me.)

    • 0 avatar

      Jeez, this guy ACTUALLY did the research!

      What MB do you have that’s doing 0-60 in 19 seconds? Unless it’s a Fintail or a 300SD with about two inactive cylinders, I think there’s a problem. Or maybe you drive the Patent-Motorwagen?

      Admittedly, both the LEAF and the Fit are probably quicker than my SUV.

      • 0 avatar
        blowfish

        with a 300sd one can cheat a bit by adding 10-20% of benzene to da mix.
        Just monitor the bit of pre-ignition sound, the benzenes bring the timing sooner.
        if u do really own a LEAF or EV it wouldn’t hurt to pack a 4kw gas or dsl genset in the back. My dsl 6500 genset is loud & noisy, just incase u did ran out of juice in the God forsaken place.
        Just like packing an extra jerry can.

  • avatar
    jruhi4

    Doug, you’ve been reading too much Dave Barry…

    Actually, that’s the funniest, LOL review I’ve read on here since Bertel’s “back seat” review of the Toyota GT 86. Mad props to you…

  • avatar
    blowfish

    if u do really own a LEAF or EV it wouldn’t hurt to pack a 4kw gas or dsl genset in the back. My dsl 6500 genset is loud & noisy, just incase u did ran out of juice in the God forsaken place.
    Just like packing an extra jerry can.

  • avatar
    xantia10000

    Thanks for the great comparo Doug. It probably goes without saying, but the section on wipers was the most informative and engrossing. Reminds me how cool those 80s Benzes were: like the 300E (whoops, W124) or the 190: they had that single-arm front wiper that did a little spastic articulation from one side of the windscreen to the other. That was cool.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. Back when MB used to really over-engineer everything. The W210′s wipers were actually the same way. The W124′s really bizarre feat of over-engineering was that the side mirrors were different sizes. Driver’s side was more vertical and passenger was horizontal, to provide the best vision possible.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Heck, I could get a used one for about $20K with only 4 figures worth of mileage. No gummint tax credit, but I still save on the sales tax (zero) and I can still get a credit for the 220 V charging station that will charge the car overnight, even if I use it in the evening.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Doug’s bio might be the best one on TTAC ever

    And that super verbose engineer made the good point about source energy (i.e. the efficiency of whatever generated the electricity for the Leaf).

    Another big problem is distribution. In a big city like NYC for example, where these cars make sense, electric distribution is already at its wits end. There’s cable in the ground that’s 100 years old. Throwing a couple thousand electric cars onto the grid, even at night, would accelerate whatever wear and tear the distribution system has. In many cases there is also not enough generation on hand for added load either. So just getting the power into the cars is a major hurdle.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    “The most important category for any car enthusiast is, of course, acceleration.”

    Prithee, young Master, but I beg to differ.

    It’s whether a car is available in Botticelli Blue.

    The Leaf’s “Blue Ocean” is close enough = advantage.

  • avatar
    jcisne

    I’ll take the Fit without a doubt.

    What is the resale value of the Leaf after 3 years? After 5 years?

    And try taking the Leaf to your neighborhood mechanic for repairs once the warranty expires.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      So far, used Leafs have been holding their value really well. The last time I checked, used 2011 Leafs had lost the value of the tax credit and not much more. The low depreciation probably accounts for the low-priced leasing deals. And, of course, if the resale value does.plummet, let me know so I can snap one up for cheap!

      Of course, the car that makes sense for you depends on what your driving patterns are and what you intend to accomplish with the car.

      For instance, the Fit is a big win if you have a single-car household, because it’s more flexible. But in a multi car family, the Leaf can be a win because it starts out every day with a battery filled with cheap energy that may (or may not) have come from a clean source.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Styling . . .
    Why didn’t Nissan extend the rear greenhouse to fill out the foot print of the car to get more interior capacity. In any case the bulbous protruding lower half of the rear end is (subjective,I know) unsightly.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      ttacgreg …..

      Nissan has been known to be a little strange in the styling department: look at the Juke and the GT-R. The former looks a like a frog-eyed wart; the latter, a gaping-mouthed driving appliance, best seen in white to compete with my dishwasher.

      The Leaf follows a similar tradition. Maybe Nissan could suck up their pride and contract one of the dozen or so Italian design houses to do the esthetic work next time. Actually, the Prius V looks quite decent, and is selling about 3 times as many vehicles. (Yes, I know it’s a hybrid.)

      ————-

  • avatar
    SN123

    And meanwhile in Australia, from the nissan.com.au website for the Leaf:

    Recommended drive away price of $49,990 (inclusive of dealer, statutory charges). $10,000 deposit required. 36 monthly payments in arrears of $499, plus a final balloon payment of $24,995. Total amount payable $52,943.17.

    And 1 AUD = 1.03 USD. Guess no Leaf’s then.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    And in 10 years the Fit will be worth 20-50% of its initial cost and the Leaf will be scrapped or worth nothing. You also forgot utility, where the Fit has no peer.

    • 0 avatar
      Thinkin...

      Hundai Elantra GT; Mazda3 Skyactiv – both will offer as much or better room inside, an equally compelling ride, and considerably better gas mileage on the highway.

      In 10 years: Yes, the Fit will still be on the road, probably on its very last legs. The Leaf will likely be in the same boat. The Fit will have required several thousand of dollars of maintenance to get there, whereas the Leaf will still be on its first set of brake pads. Both powertrains will be tired. You can replace the battery in the Leaf for (by then) probably $2k, and have a like-new car; most people will do this. Replacing the engine and tranny in the Fit won’t be a viable option, it’ll be scrapped.

  • avatar
    daiheadjai

    Toronto loves the Leafs.
    Overpriced, and lacking the ability to go the distance.

    Go Leafs Go!

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    “windshield wiper normalcy” game-changer

    Your writing always manages to make me laugh. Hard. Well done sir.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Does not the Honda Fit come as both a hybrid and an e-version too?
    ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Fit

    ———————————–

  • avatar
    mvoss

    Super funny article. This will apply well to my girlfriend (a friend of ours was a Nissan salesman and he tried to sell her a Leaf while she drives a Fit).

    Honda the Shit!

  • avatar
    Maintainer

    Wow.. Some of these replies are pretty Insightful.
    Puns aside.

    I’d like to see how the Leaf stacks up against the Spark “EV” or how many V6 Mustangs/FRBRZ 86s you could get for the money.


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