Electric Car Review: Nissan Leaf

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Electric car benefits are plentiful! The Nissan Leaf has better gas mileage, regenerative engine breaking and a quick pick-up.

I first heard about the Nissan Leaf a couple years ago. I was intrigued by the new technology and even more interested in having a vehicle that didn’t need any gas. For about a year now, Nissan has been introducing the electric car to the public with “drive events,” which is exactly what it sounds like. They have a display area set up, explaining the mechanics of the car, the features and answer any questions people may have. After taking the tour, they let you drive a Leaf. Getting behind the wheel completely sold me on this vehicle.

Electric Car Review: Buying an Electric Car

Just before this drive event happened, I had added up our fuel receipts for just over two weeks and it amounted to over $400. This tour came along at the right time; I was motivated to do something about getting our gas bill down. At the time, my husband had a Nissan Titan with a 36-gallon tank, and I had a Honda S2000 that required premium fuel. Within weeks of attending the drive event at Nissan headquarters in Smyrna, Tenn., the reservations opened up and I put my $99 reservation fee in without hesitation.

The buying process was interesting. Instead of going to a car dealership, a buyer puts the $99 reservation fee in, “builds” their electric car online, picking the color, features, trim line, etc. and, also, picking the dealership that the purchaser wishes to deal with. The buyer is kept apprised of the progress via email from Nissan. My wait wasn’t too long. I put my reservation money in of May 2011 and received my Nissan Leaf in early September 2011. There are many people that have put in reservation money over a year ago and they are still waiting. Nissan is rolling out the electric car in “tiers” of states, a few at a time. The infrastructure needs to be in place in order for this to succeed.

The EV Project

When I purchased the car, I also signed up to be a part of the EV Project which is through the federal government. I got a free home charging unit and an L2, in exchange for them monitoring my electrical usage. I cannot tell you how nice it is to roll the car into the garage and just plug it in. A charge takes about four to five hours, depending on how much of a charge it needs. It is so convenient to plug in and forget about it. There is the option to put the car on a timer, but I don’t drive the car consistently enough to warrant that. It is a great feature to have for those that do the 9 to 5 gig, Monday through Friday.

I charge it, on average, about four times a week. If I run errands around town, it doesn’t need to be charged daily. A hard habit to break is paying attention to the ups and downs of gas prices as I drive past gas stations. I have to keep telling myself that I don’t have to worry about that anymore with this electric car. Currently, we are paying $0.06/kWh to our utility company. (My hope is to have solar implemented, although with the current cost of solar, I think I need to find a previously unknown rich relative to help out or win the lottery.) We leased the car Sept. 4, 2011 and the electric costs, thus far, total about $58. (September 2011: $20.04, October 2011: $16.36, November 2011: $13.26 and, as of Dec. 20, 2011: $9.20). The average nightly charge runs about 70 cents. It works out to about 4 miles/kWh. We have about 3,300 miles on the car. As an aside, we installed an electric hybrid water heater (our whole house is electric) this past spring that saves, on average, about $30 per month on our electric bill. Even with the cost of charging the Nissan Leaf since September, our monthly electric bills have been less each month this year than last year.

Other Electric Car Benefits

The Nissan Leaf also has a feature where you can preheat or precool the car while it is still plugged in, thereby not draining any electricity to get it warm or cool. I have only used the preheat feature once and it was nice getting into a toasty, warm car on a day in the 20s. Our weather here is just changing and getting colder, but I haven’t noticed a significant loss of energy to keep the car heated so far.

My husband takes the electric car two to three times a week. His commute is 44 miles round trip. He will also use it during the day while at work to run errands and go to lunch. His company also signed up for the EV Project and has two L2 charging units installed that are also available to the public. There are more and more public chargers being installed in the Nashville area, including L3s along both I-65 and I-40. The farthest in one day that our Nissan Leaf has been driven was two round trips to downtown Nashville, roughly 88 miles. That was the only time I suffered “range anxiety” as we were coming home, uphill, on the freeway and my husband was doing 80-plus mph. I think we made it home with about 8 miles to spare.

I can tell you, in the past, I have made it to a gas station with less gas in the tank than that. We have a new Nissan Titan, albeit with a much smaller gas tank for longer trips, but the current range on the Leaf is more than sufficient for both my husband and I on a daily basis. Truthfully, I think my husband would take the Leaf every day to work if we had purchased rather than leased it. He is worried about going over the mileage, but with the impending snowy time of the year coming up, he will be taking his truck more and I will be driving even less. (Hey, I’m a native SoCal girl, so I don’t “do” snow driving!) I think after a few months he will see that he can take it more frequently. He calls it the “conversation piece” because people are curious about it and ask lots of questions and he has taken more than one client for a drive in it.

Electric Car Review: Pros and Cons

These are the things that I like the most about the Nissan Leaf:

• No gas needed!
• Love the convenience and no appreciable difference in home energy consumption due to charging.
• Love how fast it is. At red lights, it’s embarrassing how quick off the line it is. I dust everyone and I’m not even trying to.
• It is roomy and has great headroom. For someone who is 6 feet tall, I appreciate that. I have sat in the rear seat with two others and two up front and it was totally comfortable. I have experienced much tighter seating arrangements in back seats. The leg room is definitely sufficient.
• It has a complete set of features in it: iPod-compatible, disc, Sirius XM Radio, back up camera, Bluetooth, navigation, plus the above mentioned timer for both charge and temperature.
• I love, love, love, the intelligent key. I cannot tell you how annoying it is to dig around in my purse for keys. With this key you simply have to be within a couple feet of the car in order to unlock the door. Also, there is no ignition key; just a push-button to turn it on.
• The weight of the batteries mid-body makes for a very stable, comfortable ride. It also takes turns quite nicely.
• The styling is the most palatable of any hybrid and alternative fuel car so far on the market (without having to win the lottery or find aforementioned previously unknown rich relative.) Yes, we all love and dream about the Tesla, but come on.)
• The regenerative engine braking is an interesting feature. I can leave the house, travel 12 miles and have more range than when I left the house. It’s all about the hills and coasting.
• Negligible maintenance; just check the brake fluid and tire pressure. That’s pretty much it.

The things I like least about the Nissan Leaf:

• People in giant SUVs and trucks parking in the public charging spots at businesses. We call it “getting ICE’d” (internal combustion engine). I think once uniform signage is utilized, the spaces marked a little better, and more electric vehicles are on the road, people will start to pay attention.
• The very light-colored interior is just waiting to look filthy.
• The fact that I have to fight my husband to drive my own car because he is having so much fun driving it.

Electric Car Review Update

Just an update, with six months of ownership under my belt, I now have about 5,500 miles on the Nissan Leaf and it has cost a total of about $170 so far … nice! (I was spending $100 to $120 per month on premium fuel for my S2000.)

The fun doesn’t stop here! Check out another reader report in Green Car Report: Nissan Leaf or read reviews on other green car models in Real-World Green Car Reports.