100 Mile Range Limits Leaf

The Nissan Leaf costs $743.45 to run monthly over 48 months, quite a bit higher than a conventional car, with gas cost included. With a limited range of 100 miles, the Leaf still is the ideal car for urbanites who commute short distances and who care sincerely about carbon emissions.

“Nissan LEAF” road test 2012

    By Justin Acri

Nissan Leaf makes sense for people who want to produce zero emissions on their commutes, and are willing to pay the monthly cost to do so. With a 100 mile range limit, depending on weather and driving style, this is a car for urbanites.

The Nissan Leaf has been called, by Nissan, the affordable, no-emission car. Granted it brings home the future-appeal, with swoopy 22nd century good-looks, and plenty of flash and gizmos inside. And, unlike hybrids and plug-in hybrids, this is pure electric car for the “masses”—assuming the masses live in the city, don’t travel too far per charge, and have some bucks to invest.

100 Mile Range Limits a Great Car
Nissan Leaf manages an excellent 100 miles range, although dependent on weather, and a maximum speed of 90 mph with an amazing 0 to 60 time of just about eight seconds—which is all the more breathtaking as scenery blurs by, almost eerily, without the accompanying roar of an engine. For those, choosing to go electric, there are limited choices at the moment. The Chevy volt still relies on gas backup. Some European electrics won’t make it to America any time soon. Mitsibushi’s i-MiEV and Mini’s little E aren’t readily had. The Tesla requires deep pockets. Given that, we tested this vehicle with it’s limitation in mind. We assume a buyer who is content with a 100 mile or less range, typically an urbanite with a conscience.

Nissan Leaf has the power and spunk and road manners to drive on the highway fast—but lacks the range for a jaunt out of the city.

Drives Like a Conventiona Car
Abscent of the roar that some non-green enthusiasts enjoy, the Leaf actually drives well enough to be called capable, but not necessarily enjoyable (unless you enjoy cool displays on your dashboard!). It tends to whine or whistle rather than roar, a futuristic sound that seems right out of a sci-fi movie. It’s a good car, putting aside range. It’s brisk, which is a relief after drives in the Toyota Prius, mostly due to massive torque typical of an electric motor. It feels V-6 ish, although it’s limited once up to speed on the top end.

For green enthusiasts, the lack of roar is no big thing, in fact it should be, and is, a selling point. The car feels serene and peaceful enough for yoga meditation. The throttled back air conditioning/heating might be an issue for some in extreme climates, designed to conserve battery power, but the source of many driver complaints. Together with range, this is my only other complaint on this lovely little car.

Mid-Size Electric

About the size of a Nissan Versa, the Leaf is powered by 107 horsepower electric motor which draws power from a heavy 24kW lithium-ion battery, built into the car chassis down and at the center of gravity to improve handing while driving. Technically, this is a mid-size car, based on it’s 90 cubic foot volume. Visually, it looks like a compact hatchback, with high headroom and plenty of legroom. It does have a nice feeling of balance, if weightiness. It feels more nimble, for example, and handles a little better than competitor Chevy Volt, which is built on a bigger frame.

Range Issues
Although the drive feels serene and safe, driver stress will arise from range issues. “Can I make it all the way?” will be a common question, especially in winter when driving range tends to decrease. The nervousness will translate into a gentle style of hyper milling, which preserves battery and annoys other drivers. Every try to hyper mill while being tailgated by a transport truck? This mars an otherwise elegant drive, as you find yourself nervously glancing at the range readouts on the elaborate displays. It also limits choice. Want to get away to the cottage for the weekend? Rent a car, maybe—because so far, with California exceptions, there aren’t many charging stations enroute.

Monthly Cost $742.74 to Run
The Nissan Leaf is not inexpensive, rightly so due to expensive battery packs. Starting at $35,700, and climbing from there, depending on options, the Leaf’s chief advantage—low cost travel by the kilowatt rather than litre—is reduced to an equation of price divided by range traveled. Cost of fuel (in this case electricity), according to EPA, is $600 or $50 per month.

With three provisos, the Leaf is a great car. One, is range, limited to 100 miles. Second is monthly running costs, running at over $700 per month (amortized on 48 months) versus $400-500 for other choices such as Hyundai Sonata (conventional mid-size) or Toyota Prius (hybrid mid-size). The third proviso, charging takes a long time on household current.

Amortized monthly cost of the car over four years (even without interest) is $743.75. About $800 a month to drive. Compared to the most popular green choice, the Toyota Prius—which runs $1000 EPA yearly cost to run, plus an amortized $500 monthly (based on base price of $24,000, no interest over 48 months)—costs $583.33 per month to run. A conventional low cost mid-size car, such as the Hyundai Sonata costs $2050 in gas per year (EPA average), and amortises to $500 per month (like the Prius, base is $24,000), for $670.83 per month.

A high-end comparison with the Tesla S, a stunning Jaguar-esque electric car with a potential range of 300 miles, the Leaf is more economical for urbanites. The monthly cost of a Tesla, with the high range battery, comes down at $1456, although for that you gain speed and luxury.

Tesla beats Leaf on extended range, depending on model getting up to 300 miles, but costs $1400 plus per month to run based on the cost amortized over 48 months. The Leaf costs half this per month, but is limited to urban settings. Of course, for that cost, you buy a ultra-luxury electric vehicle with Tesla, or a reasonably comfortable Leaf.

Based on this analysis, if the choice is economical, the Prius comes in first, the Sonata next, and the Leaf last. Prius gives the feeling of enviro-goodness and saves plenty of gas at 50 miles per gallon. The Sonata gives a traditional, peppy drive. The Leaf beats them all in terms of environmental footprint, but at a price in terms of low range, and higher relative monthly cost.

The Leaf enjoys, currently, up to $7500 government incentive, which makes the effective net lower $28,200 (not exactly true, due to taxes and limitations on rebate, but let’s assume). The monthly amortization cost then becomes $587.50 over 48 months, plus the $50 per month running cost, bringing it in at $637.50, less than the Prius. In some jurisdictions, the Prius also has rebates, so check before deciding. All other things being equal, the main issue with the Leaf then becomes range.

Charging Convenience

With a standard, three-pronged 110-120v household current, charging takes about twenty hours, not exactly ideal. DC Fast Chargers, available from Nissan, require a minim 480v and take only 30 minutes to add about 80 miles range to your charge. These require industrial rated power supplies, so it is difficult find them in the average home or business around.

Over time, the infrastructure for DC Fast Chargers will grow, depending on adoption rates of electric vehicles like the new Nissan Leaf. For now, assume you either need to re-wire your home (and office if it’s far enough away from home) or wait twenty or so hours to charge with old household current.

Range Impacted by Style
The Leaf’s official 100 mile range is just an estimate, and we were never able to achieve it, managing 60-95 miles in our tests. It will depend on your driving style—brisker acceleration reduces range—temperature conditions, use of air condition/heat, road conditions and ambient conditions. Some other factors, such as using the heat and cool for the cabin or the head lights use, will have a minimal impact on mile range. This really means the driver must adjust to conditions, unlike, for example, with a Chevy Volt which is an extended range EV, thanks to a conventional gas engine which charges the pack when depleted. This Leaf also uses regenerative braking, similar to a Prius, which allows the brakes to charge the batteries when slowing the car.

Leaf Sales
Although Leaf has done well in sales, anticipated to sell 16,000 in 2012, it’s overall target was 20,000. Adopters have been wowed by the technology, a genuinely solid car that drives quietly and beautifully, and a distinctive look that tells the world you’re an environmentally concerned citizen.

Also adding to appeal, Nissan loads the Leaf with electronic wonders, beautiful displays and calculators, a GPS system similar to that used in mobile phones (which, by the way, can locate and track nearby charging stations) and other goodies. You feel good driving the car. If you live, round trip, no further than 60 miles from work (80 if you want to take chances) this is a lovely car, quiet, beautiful, and makes you feel good about your contribution to society. Just don’t plan on any road trips.

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