Road Test: Nissan Leaf

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I’m going to need a little therapy before I can own a Nissan Leaf.

2012 Nissan Leaf

The Leaf is a real electric car. There’s no hybrid motor and no gas tank. You plug it in every night and the next morning you have a charge that can take you around 100 miles depending on your driving. Most people never drive more than 100 miles in a day, so the Leaf will get them there and back with plenty of juice to spare.

So why would I need therapy? It’s the countdown on the instrument display. With every mile you drive, the number of available miles gets lower and lower. I’m one of those people who never cut it close on a gas tank. I rarely, if ever, see the “low fuel” light. I like to know that I always have an extra 50 or 60 miles of gas. Watching the remaining miles left on my electrical charge get down to 10 or 20 would bug me.

The Juice Machine?

And that’s the problem with the Leaf. While it may meet 95% of your driving needs, I want a car that fits me 100% of the time. Every now and then I have one of those days where I have some unexpected errand that takes me further afield than I planned. Running low on a charge might make me anxious, but running out of charge completely would truly annoy me. Especially since there’s no way to quickly recharge. You have to plug-in and wait. Charging it on household 110v will take more than 12 hours. A 220v hookup will cut that time in half but cost you a couple thousand dollars for the charging unit. So much for saving money. The Leaf does have an eco mode which will squeeze a few more miles out of the charge, but it causes a noticeable lack of power. Fine if you’re cruising along, annoying if you’re accelerating away from lights.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of an electric car. Heck, I have solar panels on my roof pumping out free electricity. I’d love nothing more than to use that juice to get me to and from work and all my other driving needs. I just want to know that on those days when I need more than 100 miles, I can still get home at night.

Cool looking taillights, but is that enough?

The Leaf might have won me over if it had other redeeming qualities, but I didn’t find them. Personally, I think  it’s kind of homely in an econobox kind of way. I understand that research shows that hybrid and electric owners like the idea of having a car that looks different. Different is good. Homeley is bad. I did, however, like the small solar panel mounted on the back of the roof. Unfortunately, all it charges is the accessory battery and not the drive batteries.

Nissan Leaf Dashboard

And then there’s the inside. It’s plain. Really plain. Except for the display, it reminded me of a stripped down rental car. It’s relatively comfortable and has a reasonable amount of room, even in the backseat. The most annoying thing was the sun visor. It’s the smallest I’ve ever seen. I’d flip it to the side to block the sun, and it never did the job. I know that sounds picky, but it’s an indication of how the car’s design didn’t finish the job. It may be an electrical marvel, but it’s a so-so car.

I will say that the Leaf drives just fine. It’s plenty peppy for a small car. It never felt underpowered pulling into traffic. That’s an incredible technological achievement when you realize how far we’ve come in the electric car world. It’s just not enough for me.

T-minus 108 miles and counting...

It’s also important to do the math. The Leaf I drove stickered at around $38,000. You’ll get a $7,500 tax credit, but that still means you’re spending upwards of $30,000 out-of-pocket. A friend who has more math skills than me (wouldn’t take much) calculated out that it should cost about $2 to charge it each night. While that’s a lot cheaper than a $50 tank of gas, it’s going to take a long time to overcome the more than $15,000 extra you would have spent for the Nissan Versa. If you’re bound and determined to go green (a worthy cause), buy the cheaper car and then install solar panels on your home with the cash you saved.

As for me, I’m going to skip the Leaf. I can’t afford the therapy.

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