By Cheryl Jensen, Special to Tribune newspapers
December 23, 2010
Although the all-electric Nissan Leaf went on sale in December in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Tennessee, the rest of the country will have to wait until late in 2011 to see how well-suited it is for colder climes.
But I got a sneak preview recently when I borrowed a Leaf for a drive around Pinckney, Mich.
The Leaf never uses gasoline and can go for up to 100 miles on a single charge. However, right now it is a bit ahead of the infrastructure needed to easily make it someone's only vehicle, unless you live a life free from spontaneity.
Nissan contends range anxiety may not be a real issue, based on U.S. Census data that 95 percent of Americans drive less than 100 miles a day, and 75 percent drive less than 40 miles.
The Leaf comes in two trims. The SV starts at $32,780 or leases for $349 per month for 36 months with $1,999 down. Owners are eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500.
Standard equipment includes 16-inch wheels; push-button start; trip computer; cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls; Bluetooth; navigation system; automatic temperature control; power mirrors, door locks and windows; six airbags; electronic stability control; and anti-lock brakes.
The SL costs $940 more and adds a rearview monitor, solar panel spoiler, fog lights and automatic headlights.
The Leaf comes with a charging cord that plugs into standard 110/120 volt outlets and takes 20 hours to recharge a fully depleted battery. With a 220/240 volt charging dock hard-wired in a garage, a full charge takes eight hours. Nissan estimates the cost of purchasing and installing home-charging stations at $2,200 on average. A tax credit is available.
Nissan also estimates that recharging will cost about $2.60 for 100 miles of range.
Electric vehicles require a whole new vocabulary, like talking about getting the most miles per kilowatt-hour instead of per gallon of gas. The Leaf has an 80 kilowatt electric motor that provides 107 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque. There is a lithium-ion battery and regenerative braking, which partially recharges the battery when the driver slows or brakes.
The battery sits low and centered, giving the Leaf a 50-50 weight distribution that enhances handling and stability, said Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman.
Aside from accelerating, heating and air conditioning use the most energy. But going without heat during winter is not appealing, so I asked Brockman how heavy traffic and cold affect range.
The worst thing for range is driving slowly with the heat cranked up, Brockman said. So on a 15-degree day, with the heater running and the Leaf creeping along at 15 mph, drivers would be able to drive for about 60 miles or four hours, he said.
The Leaf's platform is not shared with any other Nissan vehicles. In overall length, this four-door hatchback is between the Versa and Sentra and almost exactly matches that of the Toyota Prius.