As much as I write about electric cars, I don't often get to drive them. The 30 or so miles I drove the 2011 Nissan Leaf in Nashville, Tenn., last week was the longest I've spent inside a pure electric vehicle. And despite my obsession with battery technology, not once on that trip did I wonder about the onboard charger, thermal management system, or degradation of its lifetime capacity. That's Nissan's problem, and I trust they've sorted all that out. I was too busy enjoying the driving experience and fiddling with the infotainment system.
Battery-electric motor aside, the Nissan Leaf is more or less like other conventional gas-engine-equipped compacts in its price range, albeit a bit roomier since it's a hatchback. The main difference is that the car is limited to a 100-mile range, give or take a few, as confirmed by the LA4 test cycle, and a top speed of 94 mph. The Nissan Leaf is available in two variants: SV (base) or SL. The only difference between the two is that the SL trim adds a solar panel on the spoiler to support some accessories, such as fog lights and headlights, and a backup camera.
On the outside, the Leaf appears small, but at 175 inches, it's almost as long as the Nissan Versa sedan. The EPA classes the Leaf as a midsize vehicle because of its interior volume. To put it in perspective, Nissan's marketing team says you can fit three car seats across the back row in any configuration. Although it's far from the perfect road-trip vehicle, it has all the essentials you need in a commuter car, a few creature comforts, and a couple of bells and whistles you don't expect. The interior is spare but comfortable (to me, it seemed more Honda than Nissan) with a few dashes of digital design. The main focus on the inside is the standard in-dash navigation system, the digital instrument panel, and the funky cue-ball-esque gear shift on the center console that contrasts against the pale-beige-and-gray interior, making everything else sort of fade away into the background. It's almost serene. … Read more