's Nissan Leaf Passes One-Year Mark

Today marks one year since bought its long-term 2011 Nissan Leaf. We've racked up just over 7,000 miles, which is below average for a normal car but appropriate for a battery-electric model with a limited range intended for commuting and short trips.

Owning the Leaf has been uneventful to the point of mundaneness. Having avoided any mammal-induced drama like our Chevy Volt's rodent attack and collision, the Leaf's tenure has been marked by just three service appointments: two for software updates and one to repair a faulty Carwings cellular system. (We'll report on the Leaf's and Volt's maintenance histories and costs in a future post.)

After a year of sharing the Leaf, our editors have some likes and dislikes — but mostly likes.

We like its quick acceleration and nimble feel. Never having to stop at a gas station just doesn't get old. Unlike the Volt, the Leaf has a three-passenger backseat. Though filling this seat is rare, the lack of a center console is more accommodating for child-safety seats.

While we don't object to the drive motor's high-pitched whine, as some owners do, the Leaf allows a lot of ambient noise to penetrate the cabin, definitely more than the Volt does.

But we have one major complaint, and it's an old one: The car doesn't reliably predict its range. As we reported, the first software update seemed to improve the computer's accuracy as intended, but even so it averaged merely 86%accuracy over the ensuing month. Its best performance during the test period was 100%, and the worst was 49%.

Our second software update, conducted last week, wasn't specifically intended to address the trip computer's accuracy. However, the Random Range Generator, as we call the dashboard readout, seems to have changed its behavior a bit. Rather than dropping disproportionately after just a few miles of driving, in some recent trips it has increased instead. We'll keep an eye on its accuracy in the coming weeks.

We don't know if this degree of variability will be an unavoidable aspect of EV ownership. On one hand, the car can't predict how fast you'll drive, what the terrain will be like or how much you'll use the climate control. On the other hand, our Volt has proved to be highly accurate at gauging its electric range under the same conditions. We can theorize that the Volt's thermal management of the battery pack is the key because the Leaf lacks this provision, but we'll probably have a better idea once the BMW Active-E and Ford Focus Electric get some time on the road. Like the Leaf, these two are battery-electrics with comparable ranges, and their battery packs use thermal management similar to the Volt's.

Of the 11 editors who have shared the Leaf, seven live within 20 miles of our office in Chicago, and four of those live within 10 miles. The farthest is 43 miles, and only this editor has suffered range anxiety. Should he have, in a car with an EPA-estimated 73 miles of range? The problem is we don't know. The Random Range Generator could be misrepresenting the remaining range, but not knowing is as much cause for anxiety as anything.

What we've proved is that the Leaf is viable for people living well within the expected range. We charge it fully at the office every day, so a lack of home charging isn't a problem for most. However, editors who live more than 30 miles away wouldn't feel comfortable if they couldn't charge on both ends of the journey. The car has an estimated range of 73 miles, and once you throw in cold weather, highway driving and an unreliable range estimator, the anxiety eclipses any of the advantages of electric motoring.


Amuro Ray

One of the problems with RRG comparison with the Volt is that, Volt has such a short EV range, so any statistics, in either % or actual #, will fluctuate much less than the LEAF. For example, a 20% difference on a LEAF, if you get a 100 mi RRG, will become 80 mi. BIG difference. If Volt is reading 40 mi, then it will become 32 mi. 8 mi. Not too much of a difference.

Add that to the fact that if you plan your trip entirely on electric range, a 8 mi difference doesn't make or break your trip. A 20 mi range, otoh, does.

In short, it's really all in your head ;)

Both gas and electric need some sort of range probability visualized graphically or simply with two numbers. The probability would be based on the current driver's driving style, maybe even take GPS queues from the type of road you're on, recent MPG(e), current load, etc. It should also alert you when the probability changes based on recent and drastic load changes to the engine/motor. I know these systems are already quite sophisticated, but the single number thing is just a big joke. There are just too many variables to boil it down to one number that can possibly make any sense.

It's a lot like predicting file transfer speeds on the internet. There's no way to know exactly how long a download will take because there are just too many factors to consider, and those factors changes constantly.

Wendy Wartes

As a happy Leaf owner, our local owners have called the RRG GOM, or Guess-O-Meter. But we've learned not to look at the number range as much as the bars left. They seem accurate. I've 6500 miles on my Leaf and have still to use any charging station other than home. I sometimes charge up again when I return home and then leave for an evening meeting. I'm older so my days are very predictable and the car is fine for almost all of my driving needs. We already were renting a big SUV for camping trips and there is no reason to drive one of those daily just to have the vacation covered.

Jeff R.

We have over 10,000 miles on our Leaf and have yet to see the battery temp. gauge move.

The "Guessometer" needs to be replaced with a state of charge percentage display. A numerical value showing what percentage of energy is still in the battery pack would be a big step forward vs. the bars.

Many owners have already done this themselves with an external display connected to the diagnostic port in the Leaf.

It would be very simple for Nissan to utilize the center of the dashboard display for this via firmware.

Amuro Ray

I disagree with many of those on and similar on replacing GOM / RRG with SOC. The bars themselves already serve as a way to reflect SOC. A choice on either one of those on the display, however, would have been neat.

Remember, there are many markets for the LEAFs. Some with hilly terrain, whereas some are just flat plain for hundreds of miles. Myself for example, has no hilly terrain commute at all, or anywhere I go to with my LEAF. The GOM for me actually is quite accurate, especially since I know the way I drive. I can say, roughly, that the accuracy is within 10 mi at most from 100% to 0% charge. My GOM/RRG reflects roughly 120-130 mi on ECO, and I usually ends up with 30 mi remaining or 2 bars left (or sometime 20 mi with 1 bar left), b4 I puck in. Granted, I have only 6K on my LEAF.

Amuro Ray

Oh, I forgot to state the reason - I need that range reading to actually see how far I can go, w/o checking CarWings. Since the accuracy of my LEAF is pretty good, 100% of my trip for the last 8 months were determined by the range read out from dash and no where else.

Jeff R.

@Amuro Ray,

I have no problem with Nissan leaving the Guessometer in place, just want them to add state of charge in numerical percentage. The Guessometer has caused more trouble than good for my wife. I've always looked at the state of charge bars and did the math, but this is more than should be require.

We drive in mainly flat areas and still see big drops in range that do not track mileage driven and my wife drives efficiently, always at around 4.7 miles per Kwh.

Nissan has to do better for ordinary drivers to feel comfortable.


Great comments and write up.
Few things give me hope these days but EVs are one of them.

How is handling and performance? Does it drive more like a Versa or more like a Maxima or maybe even a Z?

What is Carwings??

Max Reid

Leaf's sales increased until they bumped up the price by 2K to 35K. Now Prius Plugin @32K could compete with it. Will be better if Nissan can bring down the price back to 33K.

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