The Nissan Leaf — Review

The Leaf is the first mass-market electric car by a major automaker. It can travel about 80 miles on a single charge. The car can go from 0-60 mph in about 8 seconds with a top speed of 90 mph. Interior space is close to a compact car with seating for five.

What is it like to drive?

The lack of an internal combustion engine and transmission make it quieter than many traditional luxury cars. Most of the weight comes from the battery pack which is placed low in the car, between the front and rear axles. This gives the vehicle unusually good handling characteristics for a green vehicle.

An eco mode increases accelerator pedal resistance and cycles the air conditioner on and off to help improve range. Otherwise, the Leaf drives and functions like a regular car.

How long does it take to charge?

The Leaf can be charged using a regular 110v outlet, but this is intended for use only in emergencies. This method takes twenty-four hours or more to fully recharge the battery.

Buyers can have a 220v electric car charger installed in their homes. Instead of the 220v socket used for large appliances like electric stoves, it uses a computerized system which safely cuts power when the plug is removed or the car is fully charged. This is an SAE Level 2 charging system which should work with all other electric cars coming to market.

The Leaf also offers fast charging, but only with the ChaDeMo system. 80% charge can be reached in a half hour. It’s highly unlikely this Japanese standard will become widespread in the U.S. as there is already a competing SAE standard in development.

How much does it cost and where can I buy one?

The base price is just under $33,000, but the car is eligible for a $7,500 Federal tax credit. A 36-month lease is also available for $2,000 plus $349 a month. The home charger costs $2,000, but it may qualify for a tax credit in some states. Nissan has partnered with AeroVironment to install Level 2 chargers. This cost can be rolled into the car’s finance plan.

Although there are currently Leafs out on the road, the car won’t be available nationwide until fall of this year at the earliest. The Yokahama plant where the Leaf is built suffered damage in the recent earthquake and it is currently unclear when production will resume. Nissan plans to move some of this production to their plant in Smyrna, TN by the beginning of 2012. Meanwhile, deposits have already been placed on the planned 14,000 cars that were projected to be sent to the states this year.