A petrolhead (Me) test drives the Nissan Leaf....

A petrolhead test drives the Nissan Leaf…

My 10 year old nephew, Logan, is writing a school report on the past, present, and future of alternative fuel vehicles, and one of the present day vehicles in his report is the Plug-in electric Nissan Leaf, one he has been very curious about…

Oh sure, he’s driven it in Forza 4 on my Xbox 360, but that can’t compare to real-world experience in the real thing…

So, I get to play the Cool Uncle, and get him up close and personal with a Leaf, I call the local Nissan dealer (the one in Portsmouth NH) dreading the results, my previous experience there had not been good, a couple years back, I stopped in and they were the typical high-pressure dealer, to the point of wanting a deposit to test drive a car, no thanks, I steeled myself for an argument or at the least a hard core sales pitch

Needless to say I was stunned when the sales guy, Jim, was not pushy at all, and in fact was incredibly laid back, if he was any more laid back, he’d be comatose :wink:

I was up front and honest with him on the phone, this was purely informational for Logan’s sake, I am extremely happy with my car ('07 VW Rabbit 3 door MTX), and have NO plans to trade out, he will not make a sale from this, and in fact, will be wasting his time (I used to work car sales during the “Dark Times” of 2008-2009), and I was advising him of this as a common courtesy, and I would understand if he said no to a test drive…

Jim stunned me by responding enthusiastically “that’s cool, he’s writing a paper on alternative fuel vehicles? Bring him down, I’d love to let you take a test drive in the Leaf, and I’ll answer any questions he has about the car, It just might impress you too, even though you do have a really cool car already, I love the Rabbit, couple of freind’s have them, great cars”

So, I went home, and told Logan the good news, needless to say, he was excited

While waiting for him to get ready, I performed some impromptu research of my own, booted up my 360, and took the Leaf around the Nurburgring in 12:45…

Upon arrival at the Nissan dealer, we inspected the Leaf, Jim came out to greet us, and kindly and patiently answered all of Logan’s questions with an infectious enthusiasm of someone who just plain loves cars

Anyway, on to the road test…

Starting up the Leaf was a supremely bizarre experience for me, it felt more like booting up a computer than starting a car, if it wasn’t for the displays illuminating and the startup chime playing, you couldn’t tell the car was even on, at a dead stop it’s absolutely, 100% silent

Lifting off the brake pedal allowed the car to silently start to glide forward, again, completely silently, even at 15 MPH, the Leaf made no noise

I pulled up to the on ramp to the highway (the dealership is right on route 16), waited for a clear bit of road, and stomped on the gas…err…electric pedal

The Leaf leapt forward, while it is by no means a sports car, nor has any delusions of being one, the acceleration was acceptably brisk, enough to safely merge into traffic traveling at 55 MPH, but not “squash-you-back-in-your-seat” fast either, I wasn’t expecting tire-shredding acceleration, but I will admit, I found the acceleration a tad lacking, my humble little VW Rabbit would easily blow the doors off the Leaf in an out-and-out drag race, and the Rabbit, especially my bare-bones entry level 150 HP / 170 TQ model isn’t exactly a tire-melter either

So, acceleration rates a solid “Meh”, but that’s not the Leaf’s forté anyway, what about range/mileage, that’s the purpose of the Leaf after all…
well, we started off with a full charge, range indicator indicating we could go 110 miles, after about two miles on the highway, and a mile or so into the mall district of Portsmouth, down by the BJ’s Wholesale Club and Marshall’s plaza, the range indicator had dropped to 90 miles, all because I was driving it like a normal gasoline car, thanks to the regenerative braking though, by the time we exited the mall roads, the range had climbed back to 92 miles of range

While we were showing 91 miles of range, Jim quite honestly brought up what he considered a major drawback to the Leaf, he asked me to turn on the heater (it uses a small electric space heater to heat the cabin), as soon as I did, the range immediately dropped to 71 miles of range, combine that with cold weather, and the detrimental effect that has on batteries, and the leaf could in theory lose a pretty decent amount of range during the winter (Nissan recommends keeping the car garaged in the winter when it’s not in use, you can still use it in the winter, but it’s best to keep it in a garage)

Another drawback we discovered while on the test drive, the Leaf is so quiet that animals don’t notice it, as I was driving the mall roads, a small orange tabby cat leisurely strolled across the road, completely oblivious to us, I had to brake hard to avoid hitting it, even then, it never even looked our way… I shudder to think what would happen on our deer-infested back roads at home…

So far, this review seems to have a slight negative slant, but hey, I’m a petrolhead, what do you expect, that said, there’s one thing that DID impress me about the Leaf… Handling, I was expecting a horribly mushy, soggy ride with lots of body roll, but that wasn’t the case, the ride quality was nicely firm, the steering, albeit completely devoid of road feel, was pleasingly weighted and had the right amount of resistance.

Body roll in the corners was minimal, it actually took corners reasonably flat, and although the steering response wasn’t particularly crisp, it did go where you pointed it without complaint, understeer was less than I expected, and the overall chassis felt nicely balanced, it felt heavy, but that weight felt properly distributed, thanks to Nissan putting the heavy battery module over the rear wheels, it gave it a balance nearer to that of a rear wheel drive car

Overall, not a bad city/commuter car, I came away from it rather impressed, not enough to buy one, mind you, as I’m a petrolhead, and prefer my cars to be simple, powerful and make fun vrooomy noises

Things I liked about the Leaf;
The gadget factor, felt like I was at the helm of a Federation Shuttlecraft, all it needs to complete the image would be warp nacelles, front and rear phaser banks (great for getting rid of tailgaters)’ and a replicator that could make me some Advanced Tea, Earl Gray, hot, substitute
Handling was acceptably decent for such a heavy car
Minimal routine maintenance, no oil changes, just rotate the tires and replace brake pads when they wear out
Not having to stop at gas stations, giving the middle finger to OPEC
hatchback design

Things that just didn’t “feel right”;
It’s too quiet, especially at low speeds, and traveling at highway speeds with no engine noise, just silence, minimal wind noise, just feels wrong somehow
Felt like I was sitting in a computer, not a car, just hope there’s no Microsoft code anywhere in this thing…

Things I didn’t like
Automatic transmission (I know, pure electrics have a completely different power delivery system, a conventional manual just wouldn’t work with a pure electric powertrain)
Range limitations, drive it like a normal car (I know, not the point, but bear with me, old habits die hard) and you get nowhere near the rated range, which was derived under best-case conditions anyway
Massive drop in range when you use the heater, and since winters here in New England can be pretty nasty…
Long recharge times (18 hours off 110v, 6 hours off 40w 220v power, 30 minutes off industrial chargers (with the optional industrial charge connector port)
Overall acceleration and performance, it’s just “adequate”, and if I’m going to drop $38,000+ ($2000 extra for an installed 220v “rapid” charger) on a car, I want more than “adequate” acceleration, if I was given 40k to buy a car, the Leaf wouldn’t even be on my list, for that price, I could get a decent older used Porsche 911…

As far as performance goes, my humble $10,000 used '07 VW Rabbit has light-years better performance, better acceleration, and has a proper, real manual transmission, for a fraction of what the Leaf costs, even at $3.85/gal (at it’s highest point) it’s still cheaper than financing a Leaf

So, to sum up, the Leaf is a decent enough electric car, as long as you’re in the target market, but the price is still far too bloody expensive for what you’re getting

Great review! I’d never buy one myself (because I’m broke), but the features as you describe them sound pretty cool. I would assume their target demographic is 30- to 40-somethings who are well-off and feel guilty about contributing to global warming.

One question I have, because the fact that it’s noiseless is definitely an interesting issue. Does it have a normal-sounding horn you can use if a deer ambles in front of you without seeing the car?

Great review!

You mention that you’re not supposed to ‘drive it like a normal car’ to maximize range. What do you mean by this?

Rachel, I never used the horn, I’d imagine it’s a standard “cutesy” horn, personally, I’d love to see one of these fitted with a tri-horn train horn :wink:

emAnJ, the Leaf has an arc of circles over the main instrument cluster, the leftmost four indicate regenerative braking, the ones to the right indicate how much power is being used, white dots appear in these circles, the more to the right they light up, the more power you’re using, the object is to keep as few as possible white dots lit, also, to the left of the speedometer, there is a “tree”, the more leaves on the tree, the less power and greener you’re driving, iirc, there are around 20 “leaves” on the tree…

When I drove it, I tried to get all the white dots as far to the right as possible (max. Power usage)…

I had all but two lit at max acceleration, and my “tree” had about three “leaves” on it, frankly, I was disappointed…

…I was going for none. :wink:

Do you feel these electric cars should have artificial noise added to them (not just for dumb orange tabby cats but for pedestrians)?

here’s a YouTube vid of the Leaf dash

As far as artificial pedestrian warning noises, yes and no, it should be ab driver selectable feature that can be turned on and off, also, it should allow the driver to upload warning tones, like a ringtone on a cellphone

I’d upload the following “drive tones”;
PAC-Man’s “wakka-wakka” noise
The “vworp” of the TARDIS
The thrumming of the Enterprise-D warp core
The theme from Jaws
The Imperial March
The rumble of a big V8
The “transforming” sound of the Transformers

…I could go on and on, the comedy potential would be vast…

When I finish my DeLorean conversion*, I have a notion to rig it with the “lightning” sound effects from the movies.

*Don’t laugh too much–if my calculations are correct, it will have more power than it ever did with the internal combustion engine…not that that’s saying much. It’ll be better balanced, too.

I’ve heard some of these electric cars have fake “engine” noises running when in motion or idling, not like a real “rumble” but whirring sounds or something that alert, say, blind people that you’re there. Not to mention animals and the like… though from growing up in a heavily rural/farm/wooded area, I don’t think deer react to anything except headlights - and always the wrong reaction. :eek:

I wouldn’t be surprised it it had more power. Electric motors have gonzo torque. That’s my it’s nearly impossible to build transmissions for them.

In my opinion, the two main barriers for electric cars are the transmission (if you could cruise at highway speed with lower RPMs, range would be extended greatly) and battery technology.

I’m curious how the brake pedal felt both during routine traffic stops and your OMG-cat! stop.

There is no vacuum booster, obviously, so I assume the Leaf either uses an external vacuum pump (unlikely, or else you probably would have heard it) or a hydraulic booster. The hydraulic boosters have a tendancy to give an awkward brake pedal feeling, especially during normal stopping. If you’ve driven a Prius you know what I’m talking about. However, newer versions have a brake pedal feeling simulator to make it feel more natural. I think the Leaf has this, hence my question about the brake feeling.

When I was recently looking for a car I breifly talked to the salesman about the Nissan Leaf that was sitting there. I am totally not interested in buying, I was just curious. He basically said they don’t sell them. You have to go farther up the corporate ladder to get permission to buy one. It includes an assessment on your residence to see if its suitable for the recharging station. I got the impression that at the salesman level they have very little incentive to sell the cars so no reason for a hard sell.

Interesting topic. I think all-electric cars could do well in warm-climate areas-provided that charging stations are available.
That is what sank the GM EV-1. GM built an all-electric car, because the State of California mandated that a certain percentage of car sales had to be electric. GM invested over $4 billion, but California never lived up to its end of the bargain-the charging stations never got built.
GM would up destroying the cars-the whole thing was a complete flop.
I doubt that all-electric cars will sell, north of about S. Caroline-winter cold wreaks havoc with battery performance (range and life).

I know the NC Highway Department, Nissan, and Progress Energy are working on a project to get gas stations along the I-40 corridor between Raleigh and Wilmington to install 440V charging stations.

Most service stations like the idea of people having to wait 15-20 minutes, while their cars are charging, even if they are not allowed to resell the electricity.

I look forward to the day (after I win the lottery) when I can drive my Tesla Model S to the beach.

Well, I’m a fan.

Boo, hiss!


Already been done by Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame. He likes the concept but didn’t think it was suitable in it’s current incarnation.

It’s current incarnation is good for commuting. If you just use it to drive thirty miles to work, then home, it’s perfect. If you want to drive it to the beach, it’s far from perfect.

It still beats the G-wiz, though.

Not that I’m interested in buying this car, but if I were this would be a deal-killer. I need your permission to buy your product? Can you say “pretentious,” boys and girls?

Give me the necessary specs and I’ll determine for myself whether my residence is suitable, thankyouverymuch.

They still make VW Rabbits? Cool.

Seems reasonable to me. What if you bought it and then discovered you didn’t have the necessary infrastructure at home?

“I’d like my money back for this car please. I can’t use it at home and no one informed me otherwise.” After it’s a month old and has a thousand miles on it. :frowning: