Long Term Review: Nissan LEAF
Initially receiving the car was a bit of a pain. The online reservation process isn’t for everyone, but it was made far worse in Canada. Nissan had announced they were only going to release 40 cars to the public for all of 2011, and then to add a special torture, they announced the exact time the reservations would be open at, 12PM on a particular Saturday afternoon last summer. Naturally, with over 1,000 people attacking the site, chaos ensued, and the site crashed. Thankfully, our ticket got punched at 12:03, and with transaction #0000016 in hand, we were good to go.
Apparently no one at Nissan Canada was made aware of the LEAF’s existence, nor did they know who or how anyone would receive the car. As the time to start receiving deliveries came close, my own local dealer’s manager (Avenue Nissan in Toronto), even called to personally inform me that my reservation was “no good, all the cars where gone” and to “scrap my reservation, and to get back in the reservation line (whenever it re-opens) for next year’s model.”
I am not ashamed to say at this point, after banging my head against “the system” for quite awhile, I leveraged the contacts I had made at Nissan North America over the years, and had the whole messed straightened out within a couple hours, and 48 hours later, that same dealership’s manger was calling back (a moment I cherish) to say that they had a shiny black Nissan LEAF (does it come in any other colors?) ready to be picked up. /shout out to Nissan Senior Manager Didier Marsaud
Owning the LEAF
After the LEAF’s maiden voyage of 60 miles from the dealership to my company’s parking lot, the car was mercilessly defiled. Within moments after exiting the car, the sky darkened with birds akin to a Hitchcock thriller, and without word of a lie (and I have a cell phone camera evidence), I counted no fewer than 50 direct hits to the car from our local (and apparently rampant) seagull population! To this day, I have yet to encounter a salvo so intense.
Having personally already been well acquainted with the car, there were no surprises of ownership. Despite the EPA’s 73 mile estimated range for the pure EV, our LEAF almost daily goes between 70-80 miles. The almost part accounts for all the days that don’t involve winter. From early December to mid March, temperatures routinely are below freezing, and the LEAF was not up to the task of 80 mile runs anymore. And not by a long shot. Any round trips over 60-65 miles were either going to be a nail-biter, or done without aid of the heating controls, which can suck up to 6 kWh on a long journey. That is almost 30% of the packs usable capacity.
Fortunately, the “cold weather package” or CWP became standard on the 2011.5 and later LEAFs. As was mentioned earlier, the CWP was not fully engineered when the car went on sale earlier that year in the US, and so was not available.
Having driven both versions extensively in Canadian winters, I can tell you that life with the CWP is worth living. Without it, you find yourself all to often, sitting in a freezing cabin hoping both the range of the car will hold out just long enough to not leave you stranded somewhere, and when you get there none of your fingers will have fallen off. I find with the heated steering wheel and seats activated I have no desire to even turn on the energy sapping heat controls until the temperature dips down deep into the 40s, without the CWP, low 60s was my threshold to withstand the elements.
Performance. Relative to expectations, the car is quick and peppy at low speeds, and decently nimble enough to still do some “gray hair” passing over 60 mph. I did do a 0-60 run when I first got the car and that came in at 9.1 seconds. Today, in an admittedly uncontrolled test, the car achieved virtually the same result at 9.2 seconds, so output doesn’t seem to have changed.
Seating. While the interior is not all that luxurious for its price point, and the seats do not appear to be anything special, they are about the most comfortable, in terms of support, that I have ever ridden in…which is ironic, because no trip in a LEAF is really much longer than 45 minutes or so. I wish the Volt and the LEAF’s seats where interchangeable, because I find the Volt’s especially comfy for short trips, but not so much for longer ones.
- Climate pre-conditioning and charge state app. Its only a little thing, but coming out of work when it is 20 degrees below freezing to a warm car just makes one feel good. This is provided of course that Nissan’s mobile app is functioning…which is not assured day to day.
- Rear hatch/boot. Thanks to the elimination of the gas tank, when you open the rear hatch of the LEAF you are met with a cavernous depth of a boot unlike any other car in the market.
- Cold Weather Package. It is like a cozy blanket on a cold morning. 95% of your daily trips won’t include range anxiety, but it is still nice to get instant heat gratification when the weather is a little frigid. For the steering wheel, this is especially true.
- Economy. I don’ t think this requires much explanation, other than my corporate credit card gas bill went from $650 a month to nothing (gas is about $4.50 gallon atm), while my electricity meter shows about 500 kWh increase in electrical usage every month on about 2,000 miles driven (which is billed at 6 cents a kWh + about 4 cents in fees and taxes), so $50 give or take a month to fuel the LEAF.
- EV Pedestrian Warning Sounds. Great not because it has it, but because you can turn it off. A feature only available on 2011 model LEAFs. Soon all EVs will be forced to have a irritating sound of some sort, and this button will be the defining characteristic of a collector’s item for electric car vehicle auctions at Barrett Jackson in 50 years. I do recognize why the sound is there. I know all about the children and the hard of hearing, but I really don’t care, I want to be able to turn it off. My garage doesn’t have any children or blind people frolicking in it. My first experience with a Fisker Karma was a indoor closed course in a parking garage, and the constant drone of the warning system, took away one of the true pleasure of the electric vehicle. Complete quiet.
- Dashboard Range Estimator. As in, it is useless. Every time you start the LEAF, it really wants to maintain the ruse of the advertised 100 miles of range, which means you will spend the first dozen or so miles of your journey watching the range rapidly deteriorate. Then once it has found its equilibrium, any distance greater than half of a mile increasing in elevation will cause your estimated range to decrease by an easy 5-10 miles. Conversely, a downhill descend of any measure, will cause your range to shoot up astronomically. Eye contact with the dash is to be avoided at all costs.
- Paint. I am pretty sure this is an overall failing of the brand, as my Nissan Juke has the same issues. The quality is poor, and I swear they must think they are electroplating the car in gold by how sparingly it is applied.
Charge cap release. Holy! Who the heck designed this? It is conveniently located beside the hood release…under the dash. I’m a fairly tall fellow, and I am straining to get to that thing all the time! Also, because it is out of sight, I often forget to pull it at all before exiting the car, so I have to re-enter the car and ferret around under the dash to get to it. Advice to Nissan: how about something a little more ergonomic with this on the upcoming model refresh.
- Wipers/windshield wash. The car was originally designed for use on Japanese roads, and that means right hand drive. That also means the windshield wiper sprayers are all aligned improperly, and shoot low and weak on the left side. Also, on both LEAFs we have owned, neither stock rear window wiper blade has the ability to fully clean off the back glass. Both have since been replaced.
- Charging Infrastructure. This really isn’t a knock on the LEAF, but if you don’t live in on the ‘left coast’ of the United States, then you probably don’t have it, or know what a charging infrastructure is. A year and a half driving around since the LEAF was first delivered in North America, and there is still very, very limited L2 charging locations, let alone a quick charge…and Nissan’s in-dash “find a station application” is really not current (or updated as to whether the station is operational) at all.
As a personal observation, the LEAF also comes with a traction control button, located to the left of the steering wheel (where the front charger hatch release should be), and as far as we can tell, this feature is useless. At one time I believed this added the ability to eek out a little more oompf off the line, but our own speed tests have invalidated that theory, and the car naturally behaves just as well in all conditions with it disabled. If anything, we feel more comfortable with it off at all times.
There is a lot of discussion of late on the retained capacity of the LEAF’s battery over time, and how heat, fast charging, and state of charge can adversely affect its ability to hold a charge. Nissan themselves state the car should still have an 80% capacity after 5 years or 60,000km. Still, due to extreme heat in the southern United States (mostly in Arizona), some drivers have already lost 1 (or 2) of 12 “bars” of capacity on their digital readout of battery life. A loss of the first bar equates to 15% loss of capacity. Clearly, your results may vary.
For our long term test, we attempted on this particular LEAF to maximize its lifespan by always housing it inside, never letting it receive a fast charge, or even a level 2/240v charge (which we admittedly have failed to do on occasion), and never letting it sit with a 100% charge. A bit extreme to be sure, but after 20k, we can report less than 5% capacity loss. Look for future reports on this experiment as distance milestones are achieved.
Overall, while the car has all the limitations you would expect from the very first mass produced electric car on North American roads, it also has quietly run flawlessly, never needing a trip back to the dealer for a recall or repair, while delivering a pleasurable driving experience. If we gave out imaginary stars on road tests here, I would rate it 13 out of 16 InsideEVs stars.
Finally, I’d like to speak to the wives of LEAF owners. If your husband’s LEAF comes with a “World Car of the Year” decal on the back (even though he requested it not too), and you ask him if you can take it off, and he tells you “not to remove it” because it will “look like the devil” if you try. Do not wait for him to go to bed, then do it anyway. Especially, if your not willing to spend the rest of the next day picking the gummy crud off the back window.