So we secured a LEAF SL Plus on media loan, fully charged it up, and headed out to the test loop on the New Jersey Turnpike that we recently used for our MINI Cooper SE highway range test. The MINI Cooper SE made it 108.2 miles, nearly matching its EPA rated range of 110 miles per charge.
We understand that there is no perfect range test, and even when you do your best to control as many variables as possible, there will still be some out of control. However, we think real-world driving range tests like this are valuable to potential future owners of these EVs. It won't tell you everything, but it does give another data point to consider.
We'll be driving our EVs on the same course when we do highway tests, and they will all be done at a steady 70 mph. That way we have a basis to compare the vehicles, although not perfect, it will give a good indication of how the vehicles compare to each other at a constant 70 mph.
We set the tires to the manufacturer's recommended pressure, which, in the case of the LEAF was 36 psi in the morning before driving. We noticed that they did heat up to 38 psi while we were driving. The NJ Turnpike does have some minor elevation changes of about 100 feet which is why we drive in a loop and finish very close to where we begin.
There was a crosswind coming from the west for pretty much the entire drive at about 8 to 10 mph and the temperature fluctuated between 70 and 75 degrees. I had the air conditioning on 68º F and the low fan setting the entire trip. Had the car in Eco Mode and the e-pedal turned on, although I didn't need to use braking much as the highways were clear and I only had to slow down to exit the highway and turn around.
I used Nissan's ProPILOT which is similar to Tesla's basic autopilot. It's an adaptive cruise control system that also steers to keep you in the center of your lane and will brake to slow down and speed up when needed. It worked very well and definitely made the long drive more relaxing.
Which brings us to the question at hand, how long was the drive? 185.4 miles. The LEAF came up 30 miles short of its EPA range rating, but I did plug in with 1% state of charge remaining, so the car probably had a couple of miles left in it. Even if we give it 4.6 more miles and call it an even 190 miles, (which I think is fair) it still missed the EPA Range by 25 miles. I wasn't expecting to match the EPA rating on a highway-speed range test, but I did think I'd get closer to it.
Personally I expected the LEAF to do a little better and get closer to 200 miles. The efficiency was definitely a surprise, as the LEAF only managed to average 3.4 mi/kWh. The MINI Cooper SE we tested last week averaged 3.7 mi/kWh. The LEAF does weigh 900lbs more than the Cooper SE, but it's also more slippery, with a drag coefficient of .28, compared to .30 for the MINI.
We also had a little snafu when topping off the LEAF to begin the test. The Electrify America station I was charging at shut off at 98% and wouldn't charge the LEAF any higher. So I moved the car over to the level 2 charger there to top it off. It took 52 minutes to get from 98% to 100%, and initially, the car wouldn't display 100%, so I thought I'd have to do the test from 98%. After cycling the LEAF on and off, it finally displayed a 100% state of charge.
I contacted a friend of mine that is an engineer for BTC Power, the company that made the Electrify America charging station I was using and he was able to pull the charging logs for my session to see why the LEAF wouldn't charge to 100% on the DC fast charger. He said the station shuts off once the power drawn from the car is not more than 3 amps. The logs showed the car wouldn't pull more than 3 amps once the SOC reached 98% which is why it shut off.
I also should mention how painfully slow the LEAF charges. Although it may be capable of accepting 100 kW, there aren't any 100 kW CHAdeMO stations in New Jersey that I'm aware of, as they are all restricted to 50 kW. Plus, the LEAF's charging rate ramps down to a dreadfully slow pace once it's more than 85% charged. It's probably the slowest charging EV that I've tested at the upper end of the charging profile. Charging from zero takes more than an hour to get to 80% on a 50 kW charging station, and in 2020, that's just way too long in our opinion.
We'll have our full 2020 LEAF SL Plus driving impressions together in a post later in the week.