Having the opportunity to drive and experience the new all-electric car from Nissan was a pleasant change since gas prices soared past the $4.39 per gallon mark this month. For 2012 Nissan presents us with all their latest green technology wrapped up in their new Nissan LEAF. LEAF... although marketed as a politically correct image of a Green Leaf, is actually an acronym for Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable, Family car.
First let's look at all the engineering marvels of the LEAF, and then we'll examine the driving experience for our one week test drive.
Nissan is specific in their marketing "No Gas, No Tailpipe", no emissions...they don't want to be mistaken as a hybrid. Designed specifically for a lithium-ion battery-powered chassis, the Nissan LEAF is a medium-size hatchback that comfortably seats five adults and has a range of 105 miles on one full charge to satisfy real-world consumer requirements. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rated the Nissan LEAF as "best" in the mid-size vehicle class for fuel efficiency and "best" for the environment with a 99 miles-per-gallon (MPG) equivalency rating (combined city/highway), along with a rating of 106 MPG city and 92 MPG highway.
Nissan LEAF was also named “2011 World Car of the Year,” edging out the BMW 5-Series and the Audi A8 for the top spot. The award is just one of a string of accolades for the vehicle, which was also named “2011 European Car of the Year.”
Nissan LEAF’s standard regenerative braking system helps increase range. By applying the brakes or reducing speed by letting off the accelerator, the electric motor acts as an electric generator, converting energy that would otherwise be wasted into storage battery energy. To increase regenerative braking, there’s a driver-controlled Eco mode setting, which can also be used to reduce air conditioning and thus improve driving range when driving in urban areas.
Actually driving the Leaf for a week while incorporating all this green technology and altering your mind set on conserving energy in order to make sure you are using your electric charge efficiently takes a bit of patience and experimentation.
Once behind the wheel, the very first thing a person will want to put to the test is how fast does this electric car accelerate? Accelerating to cruising speed is quite impressive and a little surprising since you can't help equate your first all-electric vehicle response to a previous golf cart performance. The Nissan LEAF is powered by a lithium-ion battery composed of 48 compact modules and a high-response 80kW AC synchronous motor that generates 107 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, providing a highly responsive, fun-to-drive experience that is in keeping with what consumers have come to expect from traditional, gasoline-powered vehicles.
While driving, the Leaf features several different dash displays to instruct and remind the driver about the use of power and how well the driver is using all the regenerative opportunities to regain some on the expended power during your full charged cycle. I started off my first test drive day indicating a 105 mile range with a full charge. Since I really didn't have any long trips planned, all the local errands should present no problem and 105 mile range should be a piece of cake.
Like I said...let's see how fast this electric car can accelerate. After a few short test bursts, my range is now indicating 86 miles....I didn't travel 20 miles, just the electrical storage charge equivalent to 20 miles. After a few of my co-workers wanted a ride around the block and with a few more bursts of acceleration, by 3pm...I'm down to a 38 mile range. I have one stop to make before I head home...hmmm...can I make it?
Arriving home after dark meant that I had to connect the LEAF to a charging source for my first time...in the dark. The Leaf for test drive purposes uses an on board charging cable for 110 volts. Because my garage entry was blocked, meant I had to use an extension cord to the portable charge unit. I could not get the charge unit to give me a ready light because somehow the electrical outlets in my garage didn't indicate a proper ground. (Problems living in a home built in 1947.) Later in the evening, while hitting the fridge for a 9 o'clock snack...oops, the refrigerator light is out...no power. As it turns out the one outlet with a proper ground was on the same circuit as my kitchen refrigerator. Luckily, I have a very heavy duty electrical extension cord that is now hooked up delivering power directly from an exterior electrical circuit near my breaker panel in the back of the house. It's now very dark and the LEAF, with no light in the power point panel or on the power plug unit meant a trip back to locate a working flashlight. Charging with this portable car unit means a full charge will take 14 hours. When you have a permanent dedicated 220 volt service, after you are a LEAF owner, charging will only take about 4 hours. At a power service facility (Nissan Dealer), a fast charge can bring the LEAF back to full charge in 30 minutes.
Even with all the glitches of the first day charging cycle, the LEAF experience was fun and an eye opener into the world of Eco transportation. The LEAF while not a fast car passes all the gas service stations with ease...and again at $4.39 a gallon, this makes for a very satisfying automobile experience.