Nissan Leaf Range Gets More Predictable

2011 Nissan Leaf
Using an entire month of data from the Cars.com long-term Nissan Leaf, we found that the electric-powered car was about 86% correct in gauging its remaining range.

When we first got the Leaf last winter — one of the snowiest on record in Chicago — we discovered that the EV’s range was totally unpredictable. In February, in mostly below-freezing temperatures, the Leaf would show erratic range numbers. In one instance, the range was only 24% accurate from the beginning to the end of the trip. No distance, condition or driver correlated definitively with the range results, according to Cars.com Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder.

2011 Nissan Leaf
After 5,000 miles of driving the Leaf since then, we are pleased with the way it performs as a daily driver. But the Leaf isn’t a normal car; it’s an electric car with a finite range before it needs to be charged back up, which can take up the better part of a day. It's that range number that the driver immediately fixates on when getting in. That's how you know just how far you have to go before … well, before you're stuck on the side of the road waiting for a charge.

The variations all the editors experienced were anecdotal, so we decided to study the numbers more. How does the Leaf fare under warmer, more welcoming conditions? And, more importantly, how does it fare after installing the Vehicle Control Module update, which was supposed to help better predict range?

The results were surprising. After going through a month’s worth of driving data (29 trips, totaling more than 350 miles in Chicago’s balmy September) we found that the computer’s predicted range was about 86% accurate on average.

We use the stated range at the trip's start, on average a predicted range of 91.06 miles. Then we looked at the length of the trip. Our trips averaged 12.25 miles, and the average remainder was 68.65 miles.  That means — somewhere, somehow — we’re losing about 10 miles of predicted range.

2011 Nissan LeafThat’s bad, but livable for most of the Cars.com editorial staff, who live relatively close (typically within 10 to 12 miles) to our offices in downtown Chicago.

Of course, the farther away you live, the more anxiety the predictions can cause. On one of our most inaccurate trips in September, we started with a 105-mile range, drove an unusually long 47.7 miles and were left with a 28-mile predicted range. The computer’s predicted range was off by about 30 miles, giving it just below 49% accuracy. That long trip was driven mostly on the highway, and we know that highway speeds tend to diminish the Leaf’s predicted range rapidly.

Despite the inaccuracies, when push came to shove and we drove the Leaf until it completely died, we were able to get 72 miles out of the EV, which is only a mile less than the EPA’s 73-mile range estimate.

Our recommendation is to watch the battery level gauge (the bars on the far right in the middle photo) rather than the LED mileage readout. That gauge will tell you the actual state of battery charge, which you can use to adjust your driving accordingly to get where you need to go.

NissanLeaf

Comments 

skinner

Leaf: the car for people who like to walk.

Amuro Ray

Will it be possible if cars.com can get a hold of the MY12 - the one with battery thermal control - and do a similar test to see the effectiveness of such system (temperature control battery)?

From what I've seen in various Volt's forums, as well as cars.com own test #s, the battery control does almost NOTHING at all when trying to "save" range/battery capacity in cold weather...or it does work by preventing r/bc to go even worse.

The comparison b/n cars.com own LEAF (MY11) vs MY12 will be an excellent test since you will be comparing apples to apples in this case.

gotmyleaf

4,800 miles and haven't had to walk once. The battery bars are the tool that I use the most. Speed and grade are the main variables on energy use. The estimated miles can't predict speed and grade changes, but tries to, based on what it's doing at the moment thus giving varying estimates.
Knowing your route is the key. If the car could include grade changes for pre-programmed routes (GPS), it would help. No more gasoline for me!

Robert Jay

I could not be more pleased with my 2011 LEAF. It took about a week to get used to the realistic range capacity.

My daily round trip commute is 66 miles. I typically add another 8-13 for bank runs, lunch, etc., and usually arrive home with 25 miles left plus or minus 5. About 1/3 is highway speed and the remaining slower.

As others have noted, speed kills range. I've larned to top off around 62mph in the 60 and 65 locations, which is an acceptable trade-off between time and range.

Inconvenience is minimal. On one trip to the airport, I traded cars with my wife because the distance was too far and too much of the distance was high speed. Oterwise, I've used the LEAF for all trips.

Initially, I shifted into the extended range option quite a bit, but after becomoing comfortable, I haven't kicked that in for a month.

My first car was a '47 Ford and my recent trade-in a '99 Caddy with probably two dozen in between. I can truthfully say this is the first car that I actually love.

For a second car, the LEAF is a delight.

I've no experience with it in cold weather as I am a Floridian now.

Amuro:

As we reported here when it was announced, the 2012 Leaf's battery isn't thermally managed. It just has additional insulation and a provision whereby the battery uses its power to warm itself -- only in sub-freezing conditions when the car is not plugged in -- to prevent a no-start condition.

http://blogs.cars.com/kickingtires/2011/06/2012-nissan-leaf-battery-warmer-more-details.html

Ranged

I would like to see a comparison to a normal gas powered car with a trip computer that has a range indication. It may not be any more acurate than the Leaf. Range depends on charge AND driving style and conditions. As you have many different drivers you probably have less accuracy due to driving style than a customer would experience. If half the tank (or charge) is used in traffic by a gentle driver and then the other half is used on the highway by a lead foot the range is going to be inaccurate. The same will happen if the circumstances are the other way around. I think you need to check the range throughout the charge and not only at the beginning and end of each trip. My last 6 vehicles have had a range indicator and all vary wildly in acuracy especially as the amount of fuel left in the tank gets low.

Robert

After getting stranded in Oakland, California, I traded in my Leaf and got a Volt. It's not worth my life.

Eric

The car is not the problem it is your planning skills. One has to be completely ready to plan their trips and know the limitations of the car. So those that do get stranded in O-town with a Leaf, and loose their life, conform to the ones being removed from society via Darwin's natural selection. Bottom line is lacking the mental skillset and owning a Leaf dont go well together. At least you are aware of enough to stay away.

danwat1234

The 2013 Leaf has a heatpump option so it takes very little energy to heat up the cabin in the winter months, not to mention seat and steering wheel warmers.
There is a level 3 charging option that can charge the car from 0-80% charge in about 35 minutes.

It gets great MPGe, about 115. Far better than a Volt, Prius plug-in, Model-S or fusion/c-max Energi.

I also appreciate the simpler design of not having a liquid cooled and heated battery pack, though it limits durability of the cells.

Now if only they could increase the range a bit.

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