Nissan Leaf Test Drive

| 2/15/2012 10:37:34 AM

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leaf test driveLast summer, I was invited to a showing of the Nissan Leaf electric car in east Boston. My wife, Connie, and another couple came along. We have extensive experience and training with cars, and we went with a jaundiced eye.  

As over-the-hill gearheads, we have simple needs: dependable commuter cars for the metro Boston area. The reality was far better than our wildest hopes. The Leaf is superb. It is extremely thought out and ready for market. The fit and finish are comparable to a luxury car. Interior space is generous, with room for five adults.  

The batteries are guaranteed for eight years, but Nissan expects them to last for 10 years, with minor reduction in recharge capability over time. Five layers of steel separate the cabin from the batteries for accident protection.  

The stated range is about 100 miles. If I can believe the in-car range meter (equivalent to gallons left in the tank), that is totally achievable. At 15 cents per kilowatt hour, Nissan says a full recharge should cost about $4.50, which is pretty darn inexpensive travel. As an incentive, our municipal utility is offering a 10-cent per kilowatt hour rate for electric cars, cutting the cost further.  

The Leaf provides a lot of value for the money. Climate control, rearview monitor (for assistance in backing up), Bluetooth and GPS are all standard. With the GPS, you can enter a destination and see the total miles, which provides an answer to the “Can I get there and back?” question. We all know Japan is an island, without much in the way of natural resources. Importing oil is a major headache for them, financially and otherwise, so they have made a major effort to get away from textiles and finishing materials that are petroleum-based. A major part of Leaf’s interior components come from plant-based materials, and a great percentage of the car is recyclable. This is a very “green” car. 

The battery pack contains the charging controls as well as the batteries themselves, which are contained in leaves of textbook size. I'd say there are about 20 to 30 of them. Each is addressable separately for diagnosing and can be individually replaced. The batteries are arranged in an “H” layout, with space under the seats and in the rear “hump” nicely utilized to contain them. It seems to work to raise the rear seat slightly, giving the passengers a slightly but noticeably better view. I don’t know why automakers don’t make that standard. Anyway, the battery pack serves as a full belly pan for the car, working to overcome parasitic drag and improve efficiency.  

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