2011 Nissan Leaf: First Drive

The all-electric Nissan Leaf is one of the most revolutionary cars in a long time not just because it doesn't burn any gasoline, but also because it is being sold as a mainstream vehicle by a reputable brand with a slew of advertising. For something so unique, it's ironic that driving the Leaf is, on the whole, a very ordinary experience. However, it's this very normalness that will help potential customers become comfortable with the idea of owning and driving an electric car.
I took a short drive in the Leaf at the Midwest Automotive Media Association's fall rally with Brian Verprauskus, Nissan’s senior manager for corporate planning, riding shotgun.

The Leaf's cockpit has its share of special display screens, like the digital instrument panel with readouts for driving range and battery temperature, but those who have sat in newer conventional cars will recognize the push-button start, which brings the Leaf silently to life.
The Leaf's knob-like transmission selector reminds me of the shifter in the Toyota Prius; you just nudge it to a specific position to put the car in Drive or Reverse, for example. Controls for the side mirrors, power windows and locks, steering wheel and seats are where you'd expect them. The Leaf has a light-colored cabin with white and gray trim, but I wish a darker choice were available to hide the inevitable encounters with dirt.

One of my most lasting impressions from driving the Leaf is its seamless and quiet acceleration. Press the gas pedal, and the Leaf smoothly builds speed. It doesn't feel especially quick, but it also doesn't have trouble keeping pace with other cars on the road.
The Leaf doesn't have a traditional automatic transmission — it uses a single reduction gear to send power from the 80-kilowatt electric motor to the front wheels — so acceleration isn't interrupted by any shifting. The Leaf also has an Eco mode designed to increase driving range, but it makes the car feel sluggish when accelerating.
The Leaf, not surprisingly, has an electric power-steering system. The steering wheel turns with a very light touch; it's reminiscent of the highly assisted steering in many Lexus cars.
The Leaf is a little bigger than Nissan's Versa, and it rides quite a bit like that hatchback. The suspension isn't overly firm and brushes aside bumps in the road. It seems like the right kind of setup for this type of car. The Leaf also features regenerative braking, and although the pedal has a nice, firm feel, the brakes can be a little grabby.
There's good space for taller people in front — I'm 6-foot-1 and had plenty of room — but you immediately notice the raised floor in the second row, which compromises comfort by making passengers sit with their legs and knees in an elevated position. The floor height is due in part to the Leaf's lithium-ion battery pack, which extends underneath the floor from the front seats to the backseat.
Nissan expects the Leaf's range to be anywhere from 60 to 140 miles, depending on driving conditions, and the automaker will offer owners ways to maximize the number of miles it can travel.
Verprauskus says a smart phone application will let you set a timer to begin warming the Leaf's interior on cold days while it's still plugged in so that this significant energy draw doesn't occur when you're on the move, decreasing range. A dash-mounted screen also gives you a detailed view of how much power is being used by vehicle accessories and indicates how many more miles you could travel by turning off, say, the air conditioning. If the battery is really running low, you can also use the navigation system to search for the closest charging station.
While a car like the Leaf obviously won't make sense for every driver, for the masses who commute a set distance day in and day out, returning to a place to plug-in each night, becoming a Leaf driver wouldn't require much change in routine. That, combined with the Leaf’s familiar driving characteristics and a relatively affordable price, should go a long way toward giving it a shot at appealing to U.S. drivers.



Wonder how much range reduction the air conditioner at medium fan speed will account for?


i like the simplicity of the interior, and the 5-door hatchback body style will be great for around town utility. that range fluctuation could be a bit scary though.

i've read a few reviews of mitsubishi's electric car, the iMiEV. i'm curious as to why it doesn't get nearly as much press as this car, since it seems quite comparable in capabilities.

what is the word on the price of this car? you state that it has a relatively affordable price.

Doug G

I have a 70 mile total daily drive on nights that I have class after work. A minimum range of 60 miles would make me very nervous. I wonder how many are going to buy one and then realize that it leaves them just short of their daily driving requirements? That'd be an expensive mistake...

the Nissan folks were much more concerned about using the heater than the A/C. I think they said the heat takes 3x the power of the a/c that's why you can preheat it while it's still plugged in to save battery life.

Doug G,
I think the buyers of this have to know their maximum commute distance falls within this range for sure. Also remember many folks will be buying this in california, with near perfect driving weather year round.

The real question will be how it holds up in the cold states.



Amuro Ray

Nissan's microsite for LEAF has detail explanation as to how u'll get 60 mi, how u'll get 140 mi. If you are living in a states that is warm, and drive on flat road most of the time, the mileage should not be a concern. Moreover, if you have class / work time that are several hours long, then u can essentially plug ur vehicle in just in case during those "parking time." U see, it takes 8 hours for a 240V / <20 hrs for a 110 V to charge the battery when it is 100% depleted. But if u've driven it for, say ~30 mi only, and have plenty of charge left (as per the onboard display), it only takes 4-5 hr to recharge it to full 100%. This was responded by Nissan's LEAF CSR. Thus, this can actually be the vehicle for you, without using a drop of gas and absolutely 0 emission for your daily trip.


definitely a city car but sure looks like a good step in the right direction. hope it and others like it replace as many gasoline powered vehicles as feasible. has nissan published any warranty info for the batteries?


I like this interior color as black shows all the dust and gets to hot. I live in the burbs so this car would be perfect as my commute is less than 50 miles.


Just obtained an answer from Nissan wrt battery pack warranty; 8 years or 100,000 miles. Looks like Nissan is betting the batteries will last through at least 2000 re-charge cycles. Appears Nissan is still working on an environmentally friendly solution for future discarded batteries.


it is not LOW price relative to other compacts. Not even close. I think it's up over 30K. That's a ton of money for this class of car. I still applaud Nissan for doing this car. Once the EV thing get's rolling, it will be hard to stop, but getting it rolling is another story.


* EVs : A Game Changer with massive Potential.

1. The wave of plug-in cars might be a big boon to electrical utilities so they can afford to broaden smart grid & renewable energy base.
2. Better still, they will charge mostly overnight with the untapped, or mostly WASTED electricity without having to build another power plant, as hydro & Wind & nuclear power plants keep operating around the clock.
3. Wind energy & e-cars charging overnight would be a perfect paring.

4. Used Batteries Can Be Used In Smart Grids.

To the best of my knowledge, the battery in EVs manages to power houses for upwards of 3 days or so. Also, for a majority of motorists, their driving time is claimed to stand at around 1 hour.
By storing power from cheaper off-peak periods, the battery in EVs is able to power a house during expensive peak periods, even better, sell excess power back to the grid simultaneously, EVEN AFTER its automotive life.

6. Batteries will become more efficient on the whole and their price will drop, whereas the oil will simply go up and up as it becomes more scarce. As simple as that.


yeah, $32780 is not exactly cheap, and a tax rebate does not equal a direct discount from the msrp. if the govt did anothe cash4clunkers type thing for ev's this would be an honest explanation of the cost, but listing the tax rebate is a little misleading.

i understand that most of the cost is the battery, so hopefully those costs go down as product ramps up and economies of scale bring costs down. we'll have to wait and see.


If Nissan is betting on the batteries lasting at least 2000 charges - that's < 6 years at charging it daily. With an 8 year warranty you would hope that it lasts at least for 3000 charges.

Must say the most best looking car not only from our site but also from inside also. sure this will be the again most famous car of the world in 2011 also

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