2022 Nissan LEAF Review – Horse Firmly In Front Of Cart, But Path Not Yet Determined
2022 Nissan LEAF SL Plus
While I’m nobody’s idea of an environmentalist, I do my best to make an effort here and there to reduce my impact on the world at large. I recycle what I can. I try to choose products that are reusable where possible. I try to leave my thermostat reasonably cool during the winter and encourage my kids to follow President Carter’s advice to put on a damned sweater.
I live, however, almost exactly two hundred miles from Detroit – the font from which all of my media loan vehicles spew forth. Until quite recently, I was thus unable to sample electric cars such as this 2022 Nissan Leaf, since the advertised range wasn’t quite enough to get such a car to me. As such, the following shall be both an assessment of Nissan’s EV and of the state of charging infrastructure in non-coastal areas.
Let’s start with the car, as Nissan has managed to make an EV look not weird. You know how once you’ve bought something, you start seeing it everywhere? After having driven a Leaf for a week, I began to see them around a fair bit – and I wonder if I’d imagined they were simply an old Versa and thus immediately dismissed them as uninteresting. Nope, the Leaf blends into everyday traffic marvelously – which may be both a blessing and a curse.
After all, what’s the fun in doing something good without the ability to be smugly self-righteous about it? Recall the craze among celebrities who would flaunt their Prius back when they were new? The distinctive styling broadcasted a willingness to unironically humble themselves in the name of a cause. Other electric vehicle makers have flaunted this same instinct – but not the Nissan Leaf. It’s attractive enough but doesn’t stand out.
For such a small hatchback, the interior comfort is quite good. Nissan makes some of the best front seats this side of Volvo, and the chairs in the Leaf do not disappoint. It’s too bad it’s an EV with a relatively-limited range – my family of four could otherwise be happy in the Leaf for a long, multi-state cruise.
Cargo space isn’t huge, but it’s enough for most needs. You’ll see a bag here for the included 120v charging cable – you’ll likely pull that out and leave it in the garage unless you’re taking an overnight trip to grandma’s house for the holidays where you’ll want to plug in.
Ride quality is quite good – likely helped by the low center of gravity and 3,934 lb curb weight keeping secondary suspension motions in check. The car isn’t completely silent – wind and tire noise are much more noticeable here since the electric drivetrain is so quiet – but the relative lack of noise makes for a serene driving experience. Handling is fine for a commuter car meant to see city streets and the freeway – it’s not at all fun to drive, nor is it meant to be.
The 250 lb-ft of torque will get the Leaf moving off the line with authority, though acceleration is blunted a bit as the car reaches freeway speeds and beyond. The quiet drivetrain means you don’t necessarily notice your ground speed until you look down and see the needle approaching ninety – a recalibration of one’s butt dyno is in order when switching to an EV from a traditional internal-combustion engine.
In all, I could see myself easily living with the Leaf as a second/third car for my family – with some strong caveats, only one of which is caused by the car.
First, this Leaf Plus model is equipped with a 62 kWh battery – giving an advertised range of “up to” 215 miles. The thing is – that 215 miles of range is under ideal conditions with a 100 percent charge. Most charging stations will shut off charging at 80 percent of charge, which nets a listing of 180 miles. The reasons for the 80 percent charging cutoff are numerous and probably too in the weeds for a discussion here, but understand that is not a Leaf problem – it’s a problem that affects every electric vehicle today.
Note that 180 miles of realistic range and remember that I live 200 miles from Detroit. Indeed, the delivery of my Leaf was quite delayed as the driver needed to stop and top up – delivering the car with around 50 miles of range right before I needed to rush out of my office to get to my kid’s sporting event. That evening, I spent an hour of my time reading a book in the parking lot of a supermarket while the Leaf charged. I’d have walked to a restaurant or a bar to kill time, but it was after 10 pm and everything is closed on a late Wednesday night in the suburbs.
I had a flight early the next morning, and the Columbus airport lists a few fast-charging stations on a certain level of the long-term parking garage. I couldn’t find them – though the area where they might have been seemed to be under construction. Thank goodness I’d charged the night before.
The weekend came, which meant the weekly grocery shop. I convinced my bride to change up our routine for this week only – shopping at Meijers’ instead of Krogers’ – as the Meijer had the aforementioned fast-charging station. Seven bucks and 45 minutes later, we had our 180 miles of range once more.
Sure, I could have charged at home – and, indeed, I tried. But my home, built during the Carter administration, has wiring in the garage that isn’t the best. As I’ve run into before, plugging in a high-load device such as a car into a circuit in my garage means that circuit is pretty much tapped out. My microwave is on the same circuit – which plunged half of my house into darkness when my daughter wanted some popcorn one evening.
Charging stations are few around here, and they aren’t conveniently placed. My colleague Kevin Williams documented his struggles with charging here in Columbus in a series over at The Drive/Car Bibles – his issues were exacerbated by renting, so he can’t even put in a 240v outlet for charging.
I could, should I decide to pull the trigger on an EV someday, spend a fair bit of cash in running a fifty amp circuit from my basement panel to the garage – if copper prices ever plunge, I’ll be stocking up on six gauge wire – but those who must street park or otherwise don’t have reliable access to at least two hundred forty volts of alternating current must weigh their mobility with their ability to trust that some random charging station sorta near their destination hopefully will actually work this time.
We aren’t there yet. California has probably done the best in managing charging infrastructure – and, admittedly, Tesla has done pretty well with their proprietary network – but for the rest of us in the hinterlands, we can’t quite rely on charging stations should we need to go beyond our usual commute.
I’m genuinely intrigued by the possibilities presented by this Nissan Leaf, however. For now, it would have to remain a second car for my family, as our frequent long-distance needs are best met by internal combustion. If we collectively can manage a better infrastructure – especially if we can serve that infrastructure with cleaner, renewable energy sources – then we can potentially make a dent in our petroleum dependence.
[Images © 2022 Chris Tonn/TTAC]
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Well, just to note, the leaf is one of the lowest range EVs available. Most EVs are a lot of fun to drive - sounds like this one isn't, but it is an anomaly. In general the Leaf is the odd man out in terms of modern EVs. Nissan now has the Arayia which is on par with modern tech. If you have a commute longer than the range of your EV, with few charging stations, yes, it may not be the right choice. In general, they do require more thought and planning at this point, but for usual day to day they have plenty of range. Having access to 110 or 220 makes a big difference.