2011 Nissan Leaf Long-Term Road Test


2011 Nissan Leaf: Running On Empty (Nearly)

March 28, 2011

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I spent the last few days in our 2011 Nissan Leaf in order to restore the balance of nature after driving a Ferrari FF in Italy. Also because I wanted to. I drove it to and from work a couple of times and wheeled it all around Orange County over the weekend, racking up some 350 all-electric miles or so in the process.

Since I live 49.5 miles from the office -- a 99-mile round trip -- the availability of a charging at work is essential. There's no way I could regularly pull this off without the ability to top up the battery at both ends, even when driving conservatively.

Why? The EPA lists the Leaf's electric range at 73 miles. Not nearly enough for me. Furthermore, our testing so far indicates the EPA estimate is pretty accurate. Of 28 total battery charges to date, my 76.7-mile run is the best range any staffer has yet managed.

In so doing I went about as far into the low battery warnings as I'd ever want to on a regular basis. Here's how those warnings play out...

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Note: the following odometer and trip meter readouts do not apply. These shots were taken at different times, but they still illustrate the point.

Four things happen at once when the fuel gauge first touches red. In my case, this happened when the range dropped into the neighborhood of 14 to 16 remaining miles.

A low battery text message comes up in the center of the dash, while a yellow plug-in icon illuminates nearby. More obvious is the range display (distance-to-empty readout) which begins blinking. Here the numeral "16" is a bit dim because my camera caught it mid-blink. Finally, the nice nav lady chimes in with "your battery is low".

In a gasoline car, you'd simply stop right now, anywhere. But here in an e-car you have no choice but to press on (or make a u-turn) to the nearest station, which in this case is my own house. I timed my trip properly, so I was already pointed toward home when this happened.

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Warning level 2 is triggered when the fuel gauge retreats to one red bar, at which point the DTE gauge winks out and stops telling you anything at all. I'm not sure if this is worse than knowing the actual number or not. I think I'd prefer the bad news to this hidden surprise.

In the end it doesn't matter either way because you can't make it very far. You'd better be quite close to your destination at this point.

For me, the last reading I saw just before "- - -" was 8 or 9 miles. In both cases I was just around the corner from my driveway. It was no sweat.

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But the simple change to "- - -" miles isn't the whole enchilada. Warning level 2 also includes another polite verbal from the nav lady. This time she says "very low" instead of low, as do the written messages on the nav and main message center screens. It's all very hard to miss.

If the HVAC is on, it'll automatically tell you how many extra miles you'll get by shutting it off. Don't expect much. A button also appears; it leads to a map of nearby charging stations. In my case there was but one station -- my own house. The Leaf, you see, remembers the GPS coordinates of every place it was ever plugged in.

Interestingly, my best range of 76.7 miles came without descending into warning level 2 -- not quite. That's not really an ultimate range, of course; it's more of a useful range.

The true range of the Leaf is ultimately the point at which you start to feel quite nervous about running out. So far, our experience indicates the EPA's official published range rating of 73 miles is just about right.

Don't plan on driving the Leaf to it's ultimate range unless you have your own tow truck. We'll do that in due time so you don't have to. We're curious what the subsequent warnings look and sound like, too.

Maybe the nice nav lady starts screaming and yelling, or something.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 1,399 miles

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