More than half of the reviews of the new all-electric 2011 Nissan Leaf hatchback make the same statement: "It's not for everyone." The nation's first affordable mass-market, five-passenger electric car has a few drawbacks that make it impractical for tasks such as long-distance road trips. But for a large percentage of American car buyers, the Leaf could be a perfect commuting vehicle, reviewers say. Edmunds.com's Karl Brauer says, "Beyond its range limitation, the Leaf is as functional as any five-passenger, five-door hatchback on the market."
How far can the Leaf drive on a full charge? Nissan says up to 100 miles, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate on the window sticker says 73 miles. Reviews say under ideal conditions, without using the heater or air conditioning, 100 miles may be possible if the Leaf is driven conservatively. A typical driving stint, with city and highway driving, yields a distance ranging from 60 to 80 miles, according to most reviewers. Brauer says many drivers will alter their technique to stretch the miles: "While the Leaf can hit 90 mph and cruises easily at 75 mph, a foreboding sense of ever-dwindling travel range dominates the driving experience. This can make even aggressive drivers think twice about goosing the throttle."
A recent report by Jalopnik.com documents the problems some Leaf drivers are reportedly experiencing with regard to range calculations that plummet unexpectedly, leaving them stranded. The stories the website cites are posted to MyNissanLeaf.com, a forum dedicated to the car that's populated by owners and enthusiasts. Nissan says such reports are isolated incidents, according to Jalopnik. Regardless, they do illustrate some of the risks that early adopters of battery-only electric vehicles face, and MyNissanLeaf.com seems like a valuable resource for anyone considering the purchase of a Nissan Leaf, as it documents firsthand ownership experiences, both good and bad.
Recharging time is another drawback that makes living with the Leaf different from a conventional car. In an Autoblog.com review, John McElroy writes, "If you can only recharge from a 110-volt outlet, the Leaf is not for you" if you have only one car. That's because it can take as long as 20 hours to fully recharge the Leaf from a common household 110-volt outlet. But utilizing a 220-volt outlet cuts the recharging time by more than half, to seven or eight hours. A few commercial sites offer 480-volt "Quick Charge" stations that deliver an 80-percent charge in only 30 minutes.
Every Leaf comes with a 110-volt trickle charger, but having a 220-volt charger installed in a garage can cost between $2,000 and $2,500, according to reviews. However, rebates or incentives from local, state and federal governments or utility companies may reduce the cost.
The cost of the Nissan Leaf itself is also eligible for a federal tax credit up to $7,500 and possible state incentives up to $5,000. So, while $32,780 is an expensive base price for a midsize economy car, the actual price paid post-incentives could be much lower -- as low as $20,280 in a state like California, Motor Trend says. They further point out: "Consider that the Leaf has standard navigation with all its special tricks, LED headlights, will offer smartphone apps to remotely charge the car or activate the heat or AC, and is a mass-production EV, and it's a fantastic price."
Other standard features in the Nissan Leaf electric car include Bluetooth, an iPod interface, satellite radio, Carwings telematics system and 16-inch alloy wheels, as well as the power accessories most drivers expect, such as power windows, remote keyless entry, cruise control and more. The navigation system in the Leaf also illustrates the car's remaining operating range visually on a map, and contains public charging points in its database.
Safety features include antilock brakes, electronic stability control and six airbags. When we checked, crash test data for the Leaf was not yet available from either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Behind the wheel, reviewers say the Nissan Leaf drives remarkably normally, almost like a conventional car. Motor Trend's Scott Evans says the Leaf "felt completely normal, not unlike any other four-cylinder hatchback on the road." He views that as a positive attribute, commenting that Nissan has managed to build "a car that's just different enough to stand out, but not enough to alienate potential buyers."
Off-the-line acceleration is strong, thanks to the characteristics of the electric motor. ConsumerGuide.com explains: "Instantaneous torque from a stop means Leaf accelerates as well as some V-6-powered vehicles, up to about 30-35 mph. It runs out of steam very quickly above that." In a 0 to 60 mph track test, Road & Track clocked the Leaf at 9.4 seconds while Edmunds.com recorded 9.9 seconds.
Handling is pleasant, competent and predictable, reviews say. "The Leaf is no sports car. It slides about if driven hard, and I wouldn't call it agile," wrote Cars.com's Joe Wiesenfelder, "but it's surprisingly well-controlled, especially considering it has a non-independent torsion-beam rear axle."
The electrically controlled steering gets more criticism for its overall lack of feel. Car and Driver's Michael Austin claims that the steering "offers so little feedback, the front wheels might as well be casters operated by remote control."
In the cabin, the quietness impresses almost all the reviewers. Edmunds Inside Line's Jason Kavanagh calls the silence in the cabin "exceptional" and "serene," explaining that "there's a faint whir from the electric motor, a bit of wind rustle and road hum at freeway speeds, and that's about it."
In another Edmunds.com article, editor Karl Brauer explains, "The company utilized specific air management techniques in the design of the Leaf's headlights, mirrors and antenna, resulting in luxury sedan serenity at highway speeds." Other reviews say the loudest noise is tire roar from other cars on the road.
The Leaf is so quiet that Nissan has engineered an artificial gear-like whine that projects forward at low speeds to help alert pedestrians. Dan Neil at The Wall Street Journal suggests that the noise could be even louder, as two pedestrians still managed to step out in front of the moving Leaf while he was driving. The car makes a beeping noise when in reverse.
The dashboard and two-tiered instrument panel are fairly conventional, aside from a unique computer-mouse-like gear selector (similar to the one you'll find in the Toyota Prius). Kavanagh notes that although the Leaf "clearly is not trimmed like a luxury car, it's a step up from penalty-box econocars." The cabin is roomy, he says, "and the front seats are road-trip worthy even if the driving range isn't."
The Leaf's exterior design brings out the boo-birds, though, and they hammer it. Kavanagh says some folks may mistake the Leaf "for little more than an economy car styled like an aquatic creature." Other critics are much more blunt; Dan Neil says, "Ooftah, what a beast! Snouty, frumpy, with a rear end like a soused diaper." James Healey calls the Leaf's design "uggggggly" and "stinko" in USA Today.
Rear cargo space of only 14.5 cubic feet is smaller than some reviewers expected for an upright hatchback, and the liftover is high. Motor Trend's Evans explains that while the rear seats fold flat, "they aren't even with the cargo floor. Instead, they fold level with the on-board charger located directly behind them, which is some 8 inches higher than the cargo floor, making for an awkwardly shaped cargo area."
The Nissan Leaf's 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack delivers power through an 80-kW electric motor that produces the equivalent of 107 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Two Leaf models are available: the Leaf SV and Leaf SL. The Leaf SL adds a rearview camera, fog lights, HomeLink transmitter, cargo cover and solar panels on a rear spoiler that help maintain the battery charge.
The zero-emissions Nissan Leaf's day-to-day driving costs are remarkably low, reviewers emphasize, depending on the price of electricity. EPA has devised a new "mpg-equivalent" energy consumption estimate, in which the Leaf achieves 106 mpg-equivalent in the city and 92 mpg-equivalent on the highway. Nissan says that a Leaf would cost a total of $396 to operate over 15,000 miles at an average cost of $0.11 per kilowatt-hour. A conventionally powered, 25-mpg car would consume $1,800 in fuel over the same distance with gas priced at $3 per gallon.
Currently, the only other 100 percent electric passenger cars on the market are the limited-production, high-performance 2011 Tesla Roadster, which is clearly not a Leaf competitor, and the limited-availability 2011 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive (Lease: $599 per month). Reviewers say practical alternatives to the Leaf include the more expensive 2011 Chevrolet Volt (Base MSRP: $40,280), which GM calls an "extended range electric vehicle" because it relies on gasoline when its 40-mile electric range is depleted. Also listed among Leaf rivals are the hybrid 2011 Toyota Prius (Base MSRP: $21,650 to $28,790), which will be joined in the lineup by a plug-in version in 2012.
While there are scores of Nissan Leaf articles, we sought out test-drive reviews that include plenty of driving impressions and behind-the-wheel opinions of how this vehicle works as a daily driver. Motor Trend and Edmunds Inside Line have some of the more comprehensive reviews (and Edmunds Inside Line maintains a long-term test blog on the Leaf). Another summary review on Edmunds.com includes additional valuable information. The New York Times and Cars.com's write-ups are quite thorough, as is ConsumerSearch's own first-drive review.
1. Motor Trend
Motor Trend's Scott Evans gives a lengthy evaluation with detailed description and excellent information. He claims that after a day of "lead-footing and real-world driving," the Nissan Leaf still managed a range of 76 miles on its battery charge.
Review: Full Drive: 2011 Nissan Leaf, Scott Evans, Oct. 27, 2010
2. Edmunds Inside Line
Edmunds Inside Line covers the Nissan Leaf thoroughly, including track testing and detailed driving impressions. Jason Kavanagh concludes, "A Leaf can make sense financially and practically if you're willing to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate it."
Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf Full Test, Jason Kavanagh, Dec. 9, 2010
This extensive review by Cars.com writer Joe Wiesenfelder gives plenty of details and driving impressions of the Nissan Leaf. He calls the Leaf "a compellingly real, refined and satisfying car."
Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf, Joe Wiesenfelder, Oct. 27, 2010
4. The New York Times
This lengthy review provides good coverage of the Nissan Leaf and how it is to drive. Jerry Garrett says the Leaf "seems best suited for short commutes, as a second car or as a thrifty errand-runner."
Review: The People's Electric, Ready to Claim Power, Jerry Garrett, Jan. 21, 2011
With a list of pros and cons, along with a thorough description, Edmunds.com's Karl Brauer gives an excellent overview of the Nissan Leaf. Despite some drawbacks, he says that environmentally minded buyers "should revel in the car's perky performance, high-tech features and silent operation."
Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf Road Test, Karl Brauer
This review is not as long as some others, but it gives plenty of driving impressions of the Nissan Leaf. G. E. Anderson is impressed with the "surprisingly strong" acceleration and also the powertrain's "exceptionally linear and smooth" power delivery.
Review: Nissan Leaf: One Impressively Uneventful Test Drive, G. E. Anderson, Oct. 22, 2010
7. The Wall Street Journal
As either an article or four-minute video, Dan Neil delivers his opinions and thoughtful insight into the Nissan Leaf. He says the Leaf is "not so much a game changer as a game starter," as the "world's first mass-market all-electric automobile."
Review: Getting a Charge From Nissan's New Leaf, Dan Neil, Sept. 3, 2010
8. Road & Track
Road & Track's veteran editor Dennis Simanaitis gives a unique and thoughtful perspective on driving the Nissan Leaf. He is pleased with its handling, and notes that track testing reveals respectable skidpad and slalom figures. This review links to a 1.5-minute video summary of the Leaf as well.
Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf SL-E -- Road Test, Dennis Simanaitis, Dec. 9, 2010
9. USA Today Magazine
Adhering to his standard road-test evaluation format, auto writer James Healey itemizes the positive and negative aspects of the Nissan Leaf, with good behind-the-wheel description. He feels the Leaf is best as a "second or third car for most Americans because of unexpected demands, unplanned trips that could exceed range."
Review: Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf Electric Car Is a Treat to Drive, James R. Healey, Sept. 17, 2010
Weekly contributor John McElroy is also the host of the TV program, "Autoline Detroit." McElroy runs into a few issues with the Nissan Leaf that he describes in this rather brief, but insightful column.
Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf: Pros and Cons of Living with an Electric Car, John McElroy, Dec. 17, 2010
11. Car and Driver
Car and Driver writer Michael Austin gives his "Short Take" perspective of the Nissan Leaf. He comments, "The Leaf's limitations remind us that gas- and diesel-powered vehicles aren't doomed to history's dustbin just yet."
Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf SL -- Short Take Road Test, Michael Austin, Oct. 2010
ConsumerGuide.com summarizes the Nissan Leaf in its standardized evaluation, rating the test vehicle in a variety of categories. They rate it highly for value, and comment, "If this is what we can expect from the electrification of the automobile, its future looks very bright indeed."
Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf: Road Test, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com
Jalopnik.com highlights reports posted by some Nissan Leaf owners to a dedicated Leaf web forum that focus on occurrences of the Leaf drastically and unexpectedly showing a sudden drop in available range, followed by the car running out of juice and stranding drivers. Nissan says such incidents are isolated, according to the article.
Review: Nissan Electric Car Stranding Owners, Justin Hyde, March 10, 2011
An online forum dedicated to Nissan's new electric hatchback, MyNissanLeaf.com hosts a community of Leaf owners and enthusiasts sharing stories about the car. If you're considering a Leaf, this website can be a valuable source of firsthand information from people who have already taken the EV plunge.
Review: The Nissan Leaf Forum, Contributors to MyNissanLeaf.com
ConsumerSearch automotive editor Alex Nunez test drives the Nissan Leaf and gives an excellent description of its driving characteristics and features. He calls it "a rewarding, fully-realized car with the sort of techno-cachet usually reserved for the latest must-have gadget."
Review: 2011 Nissan Leaf: First Drive, Alex Nunez, Oct. 5, 2010