Capsule Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf at the 2010 Alt Car Expo

David Moore
by David Moore
capsule review 2011 nissan leaf at the 2010 alt car expo

I should have known from the breathless senior in long shorts and fancy jewelry: “AC Propulsion is over there. They won the X-Prize!” I should have known from the Long Curly Hair Middle-Aged Dad with Toddler and Pregnant Hippie Wife. I should have known from the fact that this first day of the national “Drive Electric Tour Sponsored by Nissan Leaf” was in Santa Monica. But I didn’t, and so

color moi tres surpris when the little Leaf driving demo was actually the biggest part of the 2010 Alt Car Expo. Petrolheads beware.

Coda was there with t-shirts reading “End Dependence Day” over a pumpjack and a crude pre-production model. GM was there with a Volt and an Equinox Fuel Cell. Mercedes-Benz was there with two F-Cell B-classes, MINI had a MINI E and Honda had it’s Clarity. Think!, JEM and even something called a Wheego was there to tout the bennies of fossil-free transportation. There wasn’t a clutch

around, and I was out of place.

The drive of the Leaf started by waiting in the lounge with Nissan’s famous polar bear commercial on endless repeat. Then it was out to three other huts to talk about the battery, telematics and range, respectively. The product specialist gave us the grist as the lady in the “Santa Monica Mountains Conservatory” cap grilled her about warranty, battery replacement cost and the affect of a/c use and age on the battery pack.

We were led outside to two stationary Leafs(-ves?) and allow to poke around. The interior was a cream-colored sitting room with Nissan’s typical mouse fur upholstery and soft, cushy seats. Interior plastics were above average and the ambiance was more loaded Altima than Prius pretend spaceship. The steering wheel should be more than plastic at this price point, though. Back seat space was adequate, but drivers with longer legs than my 6ft frame might wish for more front leg room. The trunk is small, but no smaller than a Versa’s.

On to the drive, which I soon found out was chaperoned by a teenager named Ken. Ken was concerned that I didn’t have more questions for him. I was more concerned that the driving section consisted of several turns through small cone course in the parking lot before a quick round-the-block test drive. No other excursions or experiences with the Leaf were permitted.

I managed the parking lot course without taking out a cone while an electric Baruth ahead of me used all the grunt from the 24/kw powerplant in the 30 yards between turns. Out on the surface streets, the Leaf was cushy and quiet. Though the 48 lithium-ion batteries were positioned low in the chassis for a low center of gravity and thus “seriously fun handling,” the 16-inch Bridgestone Ecopias laughed at the idea. Bodyroll was fully present and accounted for while steering feel was not; the zero-effort wheel seemed it would spin around for hours one was not careful. The ride was soft but well-damped, and the structure of the car felt solid.

Nissan’s product literature talked about “the new Torque,” meaning ‘instant.’ The shove started to fade after about 40 mph or so, which was fine because we were already to the next stoplight. Ken kept encouraging me to floor it whenever I could. Yes, Ken; that is torque—let’s move on.

The Leaf has all the tricks and tech that you would want: navigation with a range overlay, a dedicated fueling station finder button on the steering wheel, telematics from your cell phone, Bluetooth and all that. The charging features include a 220-volt station that will charge fully in 8 hours or a 110-volt charger that will do 5 miles of range every hour. (Great marketing there; it’s much more convincing to say 5 miles of range every hour than “20 hours to full charge.”) Either way, 100 mile charge is supposed to cost just under three dollars at the current currency-rate of current.

More interesting is the “fast charge” feature at public charging stations expected to come online nationwide: Thirty minutes gives you an 80 percent charge with an implied penalty to battery life if repeated too often over the cars lifetime. The Leaf has a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty with an 8-year/100,000 mile warranty on the battery. When Santa Monica Mountains Conservatory Hat Lady asked about replacement cost, the answer came back, “Cheaper or maybe even something different or better.”

The price of the Leaf is roughly $32k before a federal $7500 tax break; Ken said that after all the rebates are gathered it could be down to the low $20s. Right, Ken.

The Leaf was the star of the Alt Car Expo and I could see why. The best part of the event was the guy with the bullhorn warning oblivious show attendees when an electric and thus silent car was moving through the parking lot. Apologies to the Coda rep I talked to; a short ride in the car revealed it to be a time machine to the early 1990s. No one else at the event was even offering a fuel cell, electric or hybrid car for sale—all demos and pipe dreams. With the possible exception of the Clarity, the Leaf was the most polished of any car there. It seems more useful than the Volt, gives a comfortable, stress-free driving experience with enough tech toys to make it easy to show off. I can’t see how anyone would choose a

Prius over a Leaf unless price or the desire for long road trips were issues. Here in gridlocked Santa Monica, where it takes three hours to get out of the city and real estate is exorbitant, neither problem is really a problem at all.

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  • Mcs Mcs on Oct 07, 2010

    There is a huge problem with both the Volt and the Leaf when it comes to urban use. For an electric to be successful in a city, it has to have the ability to charge itself. Plugging in is not a choice for many urban dwellers. Plug-ins are going to be primarily for suburban commuters with off-street parking. If you live in places like Cambridge MA or Boston's Back Bay, chances are you have on-street parking and will not be able to run a 1000 foot extension cord to wherever your car is parked. Those cute little charging stations GE shows on TV won't survive in the city either. Architectural commissions and vandals will keep them out of most neighborhoods. Apartment complex dwellers will have problems plugging in as well. I think conventional hybrids with extended EV modes will be the bulk of the market. You get EV benefits, but you don't have to depend on finding an outlet or remembering to plug the vehicle in. They work for city dwellers, apartment complex residents, and suburbanites with long distance commutes. What I'd like to see is a conventional hybrid with a 5 to 10 mile EV mode capability. Something like that would sell much better than any plug-in.

  • Mirko Reinhardt Mirko Reinhardt on Oct 07, 2010
    "...used all the grunt from the 24/kw powerplant..." 24 kW sounds wrong - the Leaf's motor makes 80 kW. Battery capacity is 24 kWh. kWh is a uit of energy, kW is a unit of power. If you confuse the two, I can borrow you a physics book.

  • FreedMike I don't know why this dash shocks anyone - the whole "touchscreen uber alles" thing is pure Tesla.
  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.