Green Car Report: Nissan Leaf

A MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader reports on her green car, the Nissan Leaf.
By Alice Cantelow
GUIDE TO GREEN CARS, Summer 2012
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The Nissan Leaf has exceptionally good handling — because the batteries are down low on the car — and really fast pickup.
PHOTO: ALICE CANTELOW


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My husband and I bought a Nissan Leaf a little over two months ago. We absolutely love it, and use it for 95 percent of our driving or more, even though we live in a hilly, rural area. The closest charging station is 10 miles away, but we plug it in every night in our garage. The range has not been a problem, as a city about 25 miles away is putting in more and more charging stations — one at a grocery store, another at a movie theater, one near a bike trail, etc.

It is incredibly cheap to drive. We average about 3 cents per mile when we do all the charging at our house (even less when we use outside charging stations, which are still mostly free). The maintenance is considerably less than other cars too, supposedly, though we have not had it long enough to know. After we have a year of use history, we plan to install solar panels to cover our house and car together. (We have already greatly reduced the energy needs of our house.)

Green Car Report: Charging Stations

We have had to be careful about charging stations. The older ones do not work for a Nissan Leaf. Fortunately the new technology J1772 stations have now become standard and do accommodate Leafs and Volts. Many of the old ones are being replaced with the new technology, at least here in California, but it is taking a little time. The best place by far to find new technology charging stations in our area is Recargo.

Most stores with charging stations are marking the parking spaces in front of the station as being for EV users only. But some don’t — we’ve had to be vocal about asking them to do that, because a charging station with no parking in front is useless! Only once have I had a car plugged in where I wanted to plug in, but this will presumably happen more as the supply of charging stations and electric cars seesaws ahead. The lights showed the car was full — so I simply unplugged them, plugged myself in for an hour, and then plugged them back in. There is actually an emerging etiquette where EV owners can put a card on their dash saying when they can be unplugged.

Electric Car Benefits and Drawbacks

Our grown kids like the back seat much better than that of our previous Prius or Subaru. The seat is more comfortable, and they can see out better. We find the trunk space quite adequate. Overall, the car is comfortable, feels solid and “good” and like a “real car” — not at all like an oversized golf cart! It has all the amenities we’ve all come to expect like air bags, navigation, cruise control, etc.

The Nissan Leaf has exceptionally good handling, because the batteries are low down on the car, and really fast pickup. This is really fun, especially if you zoom around in “drive” mode. I usually prefer the more staid “eco” mode, though, because it is more environmental.

One problem we did not anticipate is that there is no bike carrier made for the Leaf except one that puts the bike upright on the roof. That is too hard for us, so instead, we found a way to put it in back by folding down the seats, and then putting a fitted piece of plywood in to cover the “hole” of the trunk. It works, but we have to take one wheel off. We hope there will be an easier way to transport bikes soon!

Ours is a 2011 and does not have the heated seats. It does take longer for the heater to start working, since there is no internal combustion engine making heat. We have put driving gloves, hats, and even blankets for passengers in the car for those first cold minutes of winter drives. We find that only a minor inconvenience, but it is harder on my 87-year-old mom.

Green Car Report: Dealing With Range Anxiety

As for range, we often do get 100 miles if going downhill or flat. Going up hills reduces that significantly, especially if the lights and heater are on, or if it’s very cold outside. But even so, it’s not a problem.

Our first drive to a place is sometimes a little worrisome (“range anxiety”), but then we get it down. We know exactly how much juice we need to get from various points home, and if we don’t have it, we know good places to charge up for an hour or so to give the little boost we need. An hour is a fine time to do some reading or go for a walk. It’s nice to slow life down a bit.  In general, our range anxiety is getting less and less as we realize range just isn’t a problem for us.

We are planning some longer trips to visit our kids, but have not tried it yet. We will have to charge for about five hours midway to one daughter’s house, that will be a bit more of a challenge, but we love our Leaf and its cheap, environmental ways so much, we plan to try it soon. We will bring our computer and use Wi-Fi, or find a place where we can take a hike, go to a restaurant and then come back or something like that. Eventually we’d like to be able to stop at RV parks for those long charges. This is assuming we will only have access to the 240 volt stations in place now. If they really do put in 480s in central California, we would only have to charge for half an hour they say!

We are disappointed that Yosemite National Park does not have a charging station.

So that’s it. We hate driving our second, ICE, car now and hardly ever do. It’s great to be rid of gas stations, and a truly wonderful feeling to know your pollution has dropped significantly — once our solar panels are up, it will be practically nothing.

These green cars may seem expensive at first, but they’re not much different than the average cost of a new American car, even before rebates, and are significantly cheaper to operate year after year.

What we don’t understand is why everyone isn’t driving one!

Want to read more green car reports? Read Electric Car Review: Nissan Leaf for another review of the Nissan Leaf, or check out Real-World Green Car Reports to get the scoop on green vehicles from real MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers like you.


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