Nissan Leaf: The electric car you never read about
The government is incredibly talented at making our lives miserable. Consider the DMV. Few places are closer to hell on earth than this sloth-filled state agency, where speed and efficiency are two words that mean nothing.
And while government agencies can’t run their own operations properly or profitably — compare the post office to FedEx or UPS — government officials have no problem telling private industry how to run theirs.
This is why the federal government placed onerous fuel economy measures on the auto industry that can only be met through the adoption of electric cars. However, there’s a problem. The bureaucrats in our state legislatures haven’t required that electric companies upgrade their aging lines, nor add new ones to meet the forthcoming demand from electric cars. The problem is real, as there will be many more electric cars for sale in just a couple years, but not many places to plug them in.
Recharging your vehicle might not be an issue if you live have a garage with a plug. But many houses, condos and apartments offer only on-street parking, or an open parking lot. And if the office has a charger or two, it will be tied up all day. When it comes to public chargers, expect to see what I have witnessed multiple times: inconsiderate, self-centered Tesla owners parked in electric charging spots but not using the charger.
Nevertheless, I found that for now, there are enough public charging options even if you don’t have a place to plug in at home. It just takes some forethought.
This makes the Nissan Leaf Plus, Nissan’s electrically powered sedan, the perfect second car. It’s a thoroughly modern Japanese compact that’s quiet, peppy, comfortable, and has room for four (or five if they’re friendly). And it’s well-designed, with an eye-catching exterior, an ergonomically friendly interior, comfy seats, an easy to use infotainment system and a driving experience you’d expect from any modern compact sedan. And its handling is as good as any mainstream sedan, although I wouldn’t call it sporty.
Yet it has some differences.
There’s no exhaust noise because there’s no exhaust. There’s no engine noise because there’s no controlled explosion going on under the hood, only electric motors. The instantaneous acceleration from a stop is exhilarating, mostly because all of an electric motor’s torque is available at any time, like flipping a light switch.
But then there’s the range meter, which tells you how far you have to drive before the power runs out. This is not usually much of a problem, as there are so few electric cars, and the few available charging stations are more than sufficient to keep you going. The car can help, as it has selectable driving modes that can help eke out a few more miles. In addition to Normal mode, Eco mode increases the regenerative braking, which captures energy while braking and uses it recharge the battery. It also limits motor output and reduces HVAC power output. There’s also B mode, which increases the regenerative braking more aggressively.
If you do have to recharge, it takes 45 minutes to recharge to 80% using a Quick Charge station according to Nissan. Fully charging a drained battery using 240 volts requires 11.5 hours — although that will be a rare occurrence.
But no matter how carefully or carelessly I drove, the Leaf consumed 30% more electric range than distance covered. If I drove 40 miles, the Leaf used 52 miles of electricity. It didn’t matter if I drove like Mario Andretti or his mother. The Leaf always used 30% more range than I drove, something not true of the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Nevertheless, it never proved to be a problem, as there was always enough juice to get me to where I needed to go, even on longer trips. According to the EPA, it will cost a mere $600 annually to fuel.
Even though the Leaf was the first contemporary mass-market electric car, it hasn’t garnered nearly the press Tesla has. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Leaf if you’re in the market for an electric car. Even if you’re not, it makes an ideal second car. It’s far more useful and economical than you’d ever expect.
It’s thoroughly modern, which more than I can say about the electric lines meant to charge it.
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.