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2012 Nissan Leaf review

I should probably start by level setting with my norms. My car is a 5.7L Camaro. So green is not really in my vocabulary. And I have for the last 4 years always carried a spare battery for my phone to insure I am never without. Sadly you can’t do that with the leaf. So nervousness about running out of battery is kind of part of my mantra πŸ™‚ I digress 😦

I got a chance to play with a Nissan Leaf for a three days from our fleet service. It’s a battery only car, no gas engine. The car is based on the Nissan Versa platform. And this is something worth noting. If in buying this you are trying to make a statement look elsewhere. In the three days I had it only 1 person knew it was a leaf. It got zero attention for it’s Zero Emissions πŸ™‚

I could talk extensively about the electronics in the car, they are quite good, but I won’t I will focus on the electric side of the car itself. It is a well appointed economy car. It’s a hatch with lots of room in it. Side visibility is good but the back window is quite small. That’s all I will say about the car.

It is rated at 100 miles or 160 KM but there are lots of things that effect that range. Everything from hills, to wind, to use of the heating and cooling etc. Even when sitting still the Leaf draws power to run systems as well as day time running lights and the like. The Leaf can be charged using a normal 110 volt outlet or with a fast 220 volt charger. Charge times are ~ 20 hours and 5 hours from dead. So as you can see for any kind of real use the 110V is impractical. It becomes an every other day car. On my first ride it took roughly an hour to get home and over 8 hours on 110 just to charge it back up. My drive in the morning was 60KM roughly door to door. I left with a full charge 170km and I figured doubled 120 ought to give me just enough to get home. I was delusional. By the time got to my destination instead of having 90 left I had 50. I did my best to be gentle on the accelerator and left the heat off. It turns out the trip is all up hill on the way there. If you want to see the range drop step on the accelerator. At full power the battery drains quickly and you see the range drop down. As the car brakes or coasts it recharges the battery similar to a hybrid using regenerative braking. You actually see the miles go up! The displays are great at keeping you informed of what is taking you power. There are two modes regular and eco. In Eco mode the regenerative braking is more aggressive and the acceleration is quite limited.

I checked with the facilities guy at the place I was going and was assured there was power at the light standards. What he forgot to mention was there was power but no receptacles to plug into. Ooops.

I had everything calculated out for day one, we found a place to plug it in. The GPS has a map of locations with charge stations. Almost none near me. So I made it to work, from work and home with 19 km to spare. And then I saw 20 hours to charge. Ooops number two. Guess I ain’t driving it the next day. Didn’t quite calculate that one right. This is so not a car you can get lost in, or miss an on ramp. It can mean the difference between getting there and … walking πŸ™‚ Fortunately the charge time ended up much lower than that. 13 hours later it was back up to 139KM so 120KM ranged added in 13 hours or about 9.2KM in ranged every hour of 110 volt charge.

The gauges are nicely lade out but poorly colored. Across the top is the amount of power being drawn or returned back to the battery. But with no color coding it’s less informative than it could be as to how you are driving.

The car keeps a running number for the km to walking. On the way home I was comparing the GPS KMs to the destination with the KMs to walking biting my nails. It does however encourage one to drive more efficiently. The threat of having to walk is motivating. Fortunately the trip home is mostly down hill so that really helped actual KMs = range KMs.

Day 2 with it took 100KM in range to travel an actual 60KM trip. This route is largely up hill.
Day 3 with it took only 80KM of range on the same trip. The difference was using the ECO mode, reducing speed and reducing acceleration. As usual the difference is in the driver. Look up Hyper milling.

Performance of the car is quite good. I would put it above a comparable 4 cyl Versa. One of the things that takes some getting use to is the smooth power band. On a gas engine when you are aggressive with the accelerator the car down shifts and you get a boost of power. No such thing on the leaf. It’s just a smooth strong pull. Not a bad thing, but different.

At $38395 to start this isn’t a cheap car. There are government incentives if you purchase one. No I may be skeptical but I see a double hit on these cars. Not only is the gov subsidizing them they are are also loosing the taxes paid on gas. It seems to me that is a situation the gov will eventually remedy in the form of taxation on the electricity used to charge but who really knows.

There’s an Android ap to communicate with the Lead but it seems to be US only. Nothing for Canada. So no ability to tell where the Leaf is at relative to charge without going to it and checking. This totally sucks.

Driving one of these for even a short bit means doing math and planning ahead. And planning ahead is all well and good but expected things happen. And my luck they sure did. I had a need to unexpectedly go help my daughter which I couldn’t do because the battery was being charged and was enough to come and go.

Under the hood you could almost think there is a gas engine in there πŸ™‚

The design of the power plug is dead stupid. It has a dongle so close to the end of the cord it pulls the plug out of the socket. It’s reasonably heavy.

There are two chargeports under a little door. The 220 on the left and the 110 on the right. They have made sure you can’t drive away without unplugging. The display doesn’t do a good job of displaying how charged it is, but there is a flashing light on the dash so you can at least see that it’s charging without getting in the car.

This is all you get:

Here’s the display warning you the battery is almost dead 😦

So at the end of the day I have a complete appreciation for range anxiety. Planning can help, but as they say life happens. And if you run out of power your calling a tow truck. I have no idea if Nissa has a service for this, but no matter what it’s going to be an inconvenience if you run out of battery. So would I buy one? Not a chance. It’s not practical given the state of today’s infrastructure. The car itself is fine and even a pleasure to drive. Quiet. Roomy. But unless you know you have a 220V charger at both your home and destination it does not seem practical for my life style. I think a vehicle like a volt which at least has a fall back to gas.

I have to say I have give great credit and admiration to Nissan for designing this. There was so much design work that went into developing this car and they are unlikely to ever recoup that given how few they will make.

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September 26, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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