Nissan LEAF Test Drive & Review
Santa Monica, CA-
By: Nicholas Fitch
Green Energy News had the recent pleasure of test driving the brand spankin’ new, highly-anticipated zero emission vehicle (ZEV) developed by Nissan, dubbed LEAF – or Leading, Environmentally Friendly, Affordable, Family Car. The LEAF contains a 600 lb laminated lithium-ion battery that is mounted in the center of the vehicle which clearly boosted the handling performance and stability around corners and bends in the road. To boot, battery life will typically last around ten years – longer than conventional car batteries. Once the battery has outlived its purpose in the vehicle, it can be reused in a number of alternative energy applications from wind projects to energy backup/storage for up to 20 years! A depleted battery will take about 16-18 hours to fully charge in a standard 110V dedicated outlet, 8 hours at a 220V station, and 26 minutes to reach 80 percent capacity at a DC quick-charge station rated 62.5 kW (500V DC).
The car seems to emit no sound whatsoever, besides a slight buzz when accelerating or slowing down — a function to help pedestrians hear when the car is coming. The vehicle’s exterior design – even down to the antenna, headlights, side mirrors and belly – is completely aerodynamic to offer unsurpassed efficiency. Not only is the design functional, but its tastefully done as well. The interior accent/trim color is what Nissan calls “blue earth”, which is both stylish and appealing. Its body slightly resembles a cross between the Toyota Matrix and a smaller, more modern looking luxury SUV. Our personal favorite is the interior, as its seat fibers and front/back bumper are comprised of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) — recycled bottles in layman’s terms. The drivers seat is concaved and has somewhat of a “cockpit” feel, with ample leg room all around. Another noteworthy feature is the aerodynamic LED headlights, which not only help to save energy, but also saves valuable time (and cash) in the longrun.
One of the most valuable assets to the LEAF is its regenerative breaking capability. As the car coasts or rolls to a stop, the electric motor acts as an electric generator. Meaning, energy which is generated by breaking is then stored in the battery for later use. But Nissan doesn’t just stop there. The LEAF offers phenomenal technological perks with a navigation system that will locate EV charging stations wherever you may be found at the time; a trip computer which offers instant, average energy consumption, driving time and driving range; an automatic temperature control (ATC) system; a remote connection monitor which allows the owner to track the battery state of charge/charging status; a 3.3 kW onboard charger; as well as a handsfree phone system. The enhanced SL model actually has a solar panel on the spoiler and a backup camera in the rear much like a lot of newer, high-end vehicles. In fact, this five-person EV is very similar to that of a luxury car in its feel, handling capabilities, technology and security features. According to their website, total ownership costs are projected to be equal to or lower than comparably equipped gas-powered cars. A downside of EVs in general is that they may use up to about 25 percent of the battery’s energy when powering the HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) system, since the motor does not produce sufficient heat. This factor will reduce the overall battery efficiency for those who live in colder climates… however drivers will find that operating the AC is more efficient than using the heater. All things considered, the LEAF is affordable with federal and local government incentives, spacious, and efficient in almost every way. The only foreseen problem is due to its range capability, which is around 100 miles per charge based upon driving conditions and location. This could be a problem in areas with little or no charging stations. Although Nissan’s LEAF will be manufactured in Japan, the company expects to bring manufacturing to their Smyrna, GA plant in about two years.
Design- While the Nissan LEAF doesn’t turn heads like the Nissan GT-R, it boasts smooth lines and a modern feel. We think it looks like a mix between a luxury crossover SUV (think Lexus RX-350) and a Toyota Matrix… with a little Nissan Versa added in to round it out. The interior was spacious and the backseat had more than enough room for a photographer and cameraman with gear. The Nissan LEAF is a true 5-passenger vehicle with ample room for a compact car. Being a hatchback, the trunk space was deep and spacious. Looking into the trunk… it appeared as if the back seats would fold down as well. The design of the LEAF can be summed up quite simply… practical! The fact that the LEAF utilizes recycled materials/PET for the interior and bumpers scores extra points with the people at Green Energy News. Taking the extra steps to promote sustainability, despite cost, is what will set apart the next generation of green vehicles and electric cars.
Performance- Whoa… this car has some power! The 107 HP (80kw) motor puts out 206 lb-ft of torque which is available at 0 MPH. The flat torque curve means that this car MOVES right off the line. At moderate speeds (approx 45 MPH) the LEAF had NO problems passing other vehicles with minimal effort. Toward the end of the video, you can see the LEAF accelerating into a right turn, reaching almost 50 MPH from a creeping start with ease. The LEAF is responsive and fun to drive. Is it a sports car… no. Is it more fun to drive than a traditional compact… BY FAR! The lithium ion battery pack is center mounted under the vehicle creating even balance and sturdy handling. We had the chance to cruise down PCH, up Sunset Blvd (lots of hills and curves), and back down to Santa Monica to get a feel for the car in different driving environments. When the production models start to roll in late 2010, take a test drive and feel the future of modern electric vehicles.
Price- With an MSRP of a little over $32,780, the LEAF seems to edge out it’s competition (Chevy VOLT- expected MSRP around $40k) on affordability. Here in California, the LEAF will qualify $5,000 in CA State rebates on top of $7,500 in federal tax credits, bringing the net cost down to around $20k. At that price point, the LEAF is a steal for those living in areas with the charging infrastructure to support their driving habits.
Overall- The Nissan LEAF just might be the answer for an affordable, practical electric car. The average range of 100-miles on a full charge should be enough to get most Americans to and from work each day, re-charging in about 8-hours overnight via 220V power. With level 3 charging stations planned at many locations across the country, the ability to get an 80% charge in about 30 minutes seems like it will be a reality many places in 2011. That being said, the LEAF might not be a practical choice for everyone. Being realistic, not all cities in the U.S. have the infrastructure needed to support the daily driving of EV’s. While the LEAF might not be the right choice for everyone right now, the technology and design show a bright future for EV’s in the U.S. Congratulations to Nissan for taking a HUGE step in the right direction with the zero emission LEAF.
About the author: Nicholas Fitch acts as Director of Finance for WB FINANCIAL, a full service equipment leasing company. In addition, Nicholas serves as president of Way West Media and is recognized as an Internet marketing expert specializing in organic SEO and social media management. You can follow Nicholas on Google+.