Long Term Review: Nissan LEAF

5 years ago by Jay Cole 20

This long term review of the 2011 Nissan LEAF has been, well, a long time coming.  But isn’t that sort of the point?

We actually have two cars to choose from to review here at InsideEVs with over 20,000 clicks on them.  The first being an early US model (delivered in January of 2011), and the other being the 2nd unit delivered into Canada (from October of 2011).  For this review, we are going with the Canadian SL edition, which is basically no different than the 2012 US model, as it was one of the earliest LEAFs to have included with it the Cold Weather Package, which is now standard for the vehicle.  For clarity’s sake, all figures will still be quoted in miles.

FACT: All Nissan LEAFs Optioned in Black Achieve Greater Range and Acceleration

The Delivery

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.

Sort of.

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 awhileI 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

The Humanity!

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.

Moving on.

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.

Positives

  • 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.

Here is Where You Can Choose to Harm Children and the Deaf By Deactivating the EV Sounds

Cons

  • 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.

I Can Not Express My Displeasure With This Enough

  • 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.

Hrm, So Many Choices In the Greater Toronto Area

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.

Battery life

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.

 

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20 responses to "Long Term Review: Nissan LEAF"

  1. RThomas says:

    When looking to purchase a Leaf I read many reviews and test drives ((I did get 1 but not in black)), but I enjoyed this one the most and learned something new even now ((why my wipers stink))

  2. Tom K says:

    Well, I’d like to hear about the other LEAF’s long term condition. I’ve had mine since May 11′ and have over 20k miles too (SoCal area). I’m experiencing some “confusing” battery loss. My “Gid meter” only charges to 88-90%, but my actual range seems to be only a 5% loss. Thanks for your usual good work…

    1. Jay Cole says:

      Marc Lee touched on this in another piece here at IEV, but it probably needs some expounding of the details on the loss of capacity, and what it means to range.

      I know Nissan has some mules that have done rigorous hot temperature testing/recharging with over 100,000 miles on them. I will see if I can run down someone at Nissan to maybe give a statement, or see if we can get some of those results. It would be handy to see how the loss curve works past the first year/20,000 mile mark for hot areas. I kind of doubt they will release it though, they seem to have ‘circled the wagons’ a little bit.

      I can tell you from talking to random Nissan execs over the last few years that the loss rate is significantly higher for the first 10-15% (due to temp issues) of the pack over time (10% for the mildly hot, and 15% for the extremely hot as I understood them), especially as compared to the last 85%. If you have 20K already and are currently at 90%, I don’t think you are going to experience a ton more loss over the next 40,000 clicks. I’d say you do end up right around 80%. Normalized, I believe your looking at 5% per 20K as a rule of thumb.

      That being said, I don’t think there is an answer/good news for those in 110f+ weather and seeing 7+ battery bars of temperature on their dash when they go to recharge 40 or 50 times a year.. They are going to be lower than 80% after 5 years/60K. By how much is really the only question.

      1. Josh says:

        Jay,

        First of all, great review!

        That for the info on the battery loss over time. I would be great to get more info from Nissan on their long term tests.

        I just lost my first “capacity bar” in the last few weeks. I also just passed 20k miles in one year of ownership here in Houston. I probably have the combination of the worst factors for battery wear: 66 mile round trip to work, so 100% charge every night, record heat last summer, and 1 – 2 DC quick charges per week.

        And that is why I leased…

        1. NRGTom says:

          Leasing in the hot hot hot places is a good thing to do. How long have you had your car tho? 20k is probably going over your maximum allowed lease rate isnt it

          1. Josh says:

            I bumped up the lease to 15k miles per year, and the penalty is 15 cents per mile that I go over. The way I see it, that is still cheaper than paying for gas + maintenance on an ICE.

            Assuming you work for NRG, I have to say I love the eVgo network. There would be no way to really use an EV with this short of a range in a city as big as Houston without it, even if it does stress the battery pack.

  3. Marc Lee says:

    “low 60s was my threshold to withstand the elements” Are you sure you are Canadian eh? Sounds to me you are more cut out for Florida 🙂

    1. Jay Cole says:

      I do spend an inordinate amount of time with my hospitable neighbors to the south…so I am going to go ahead and blame that, (=

  4. Tim says:

    I love my Leaf. One of the best engineered production driving machines ever. Love the:

    – Quiet
    – Power…Instantly…Like a jackrabbit
    – Comfort
    – Excellent sound system, in a low noise cabin, makes for a good listening experience
    – 132 MPGe in summer with the AC on.

    I built my own 240v charger and turned down the charge current down to 10 Amps. Experts say that this will extend battery life. The less electrons going in or going out of the battery, the longer the life.

    Pet peeve: Unable to program the GPS while in motion. This is a “first world” problem, but it is quite annoying and dangerous to be programming the GPS at each stop light. And pulling off the road can be just as dangerous as poking at the GPS while in motion. Nissan should give the option to override this annoying feature. Lawyers!

    If I need to replace the battery, I will gladly do it because this is the best ride I have ever owned.

    1. Brian says:

      I second the frustration with the GPS. Usually it my wife in the passenger seat who is trying to set a destination while we’re moving. Pulling over is always less safe than a passenger using the GPS!

  5. Pete says:

    I have had my Leaf now for a year. I have on the clock 14,138 miles and have not seen a loss of any bars or distances. I commute 44 miles a day 5 days a week. Cold weather sucks but summer is not so bad. The car has been wonderful. As for the loss of bars I am thinking a few things. Since I have lost no bars I wonder if the issue is the actual power coming into the car during charging. I have a meter on my power as we are fully grid tied solar and I have found some fluctuations in the power coming in from the grid. Some days my same commute will say I get so much distance while other days it is less. My road is flat and consistent. The same boring drive every day should result in the same readings on my Guess O Meter but it does not. So maybe the quality of the power you receive during charging or the quality of the EVSE is getting less. I am more suspecting the support equipment is a cause of such losses seen. I can’t imagine within one year loosing 2 bars if you are charging to 100% daily. I charge to 100% all the time. I drive in power mode and have an after market EVSE for my 220 charging. Weather and Temp play a big role in what the Guess O Meter is telling you. I rely upon the bars more than any other thing with the Guess O Meter. They seem the most reliable indication once I have driven about 2 miles.

    Pete 🙂

  6. Chuck says:

    The charge door release tab is shaped differently than the hood release. You can identify it by feel alone. I wish they made it so that you simply pushed in on the charge door and it would pop open from the outside.
    I agree about the fabric on the seats, for this much money it should have been leather.
    I agree about the spotty carwings service. I had the misfortune of starting the AC on a hot day, then deciding not to drive. I “thought” I had turned it off but the signal didn’t make the trip. By the time I did get to the car I had lost several miles of range. That is the one thing that does not live up to promise. I really love everything else. I can get at least 70 miles on the interstate, driving 70 mph with the AC blowing full. Have not experienced a winter with it yet.

  7. Mark says:

    Good review. My Leaf is also about a year old. The reviewer obviously does not have kids. All the 2011 Leafs have a light beige interior that suck the dirt right off the road. The interios seems to clean ok, but gets dirty the next day. I’ve heard the 1013/14 models will offer a darker interior colors, and I’d recommed it.

    1. Jay Cole says:

      I actually have a six year old, and I do agree with you that the light biege interior is not a wise choice, but one you are forced to make.

      To my knowledge (but only as unconfirmed rumors from what I would class as ‘decent’ sources) the dark interior options will be available in the US only after the Smyrna plant starts producing in 2013.

  8. Mike says:

    I hated the low range of my Leaf and traded it in after 10 months for a plug-in Prius. If you drive like an old lady at 55 MPH or slower on the freeway you can get an extra 10-15 miles of range per charge. However, I like to drive 65-70 mph which drains the battery so fast that my 40 mile round trip commute left me with only 10-15 miles of real driving range (not the fake 20-30 miles of range indicated on the gauge). The range anxiety was too much. Perhaps if Nissan would have been honest and put in an accurate range gauge I would not have been so pissed. BTW, the Prius plug-in range gauge is as accurate as can be.

    1. Fabian says:

      Now we just need a Factory built Prius plug-in which gets 100 or more EV miles to a charge.. Toyota could have sold more of these Prius plug-ins if they just would have beefed up their batteries to 16 kW·h for buyers to get the tax credit.. No tax credit, no sale.

      1. NRGTom says:

        I believe the PIP gets a part of the tax credit, like 2900 but not the full 7500

    2. Leaf Owner says:

      Mike,
      With the driving you’ve described, your range is unlike any other Leaf owner. The range displayed on the dash after a 65-70mph drive is most likely UNDER-stated, not overstated, reflecting a higher average speed. The range meter is obviously not the best, but from what you’re saying here, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. Pete, commenting above, drives 44 miles/day and has no complaints. Why not just be honest and say fully electric wasn’t for you?

  9. Tall Pete says:

    About Traction Control (TC). I’ve been told that you can disable TC in case you get stuck in a snow bank in winter. TC will make it impossible to try and get out since the free wheel will keep spinning and the other one will not move a bit. Disabling TC, it seems, will allow you to rock your way out more easily. Traction aids will help too.

    I didn’t try though. Anyone willing to get stuck next winter just for the science of it ?

    For all the readers down south, I know this is absolutely not a concern of yours 😉

  10. MAGiles19 says:

    Great article …. To add my experience as example:

    Leaf on road since June 2011
    22,000 miles up to July 2012 (about 20k per year)
    I commute 85 mile round trip 4-5 days per week in SF Bay Area … Which is also mainly freeway, but up/down good hills and in the HOV lane (at max+ speed, when no traffic) … I would not be able to make it back home without a top-up at work (I could it if I drive the whole distance in Eco and at 45mph max … Done a couple of times for testing)
    I charge 240 at home after trip AND top-up at work, often to full, using a 120 for first 6 months, then 240 since December ( as work installed chargers for EV users). I have never used a fast charge, and the car is general in a garage while parked, home and work, so not much heat.

    So far I have not seen any bar loss, or overall degradation to the range … I do find that with my driving style and usage means the guess o meter now starts at around 70 mile range …. But that is more accurate to actual range … And can be lower if there is little traffic, and so I go above the speed limit for long periods 😉

    With regard to the car – I too have been very pleased, it is a great car for commuting … Easy, comfortable, good at what I need … And I would highly recommend. I love the notifications of charging (or not) and this has saved me many a time!

    Peeves are in line with the review, including the charge cap release and door. In addition, I would prefer to be able to STOP charging at a defined % and on a per use basis (I know the 80% ability – but I don’t think that works for me, as sometimes I need a full charge and some time a mid charge)

    Still I would buy a new one, when I need to replace