2011 Nissan Leaf Long-Term Road Test


2011 Nissan Leaf SL: Outside Opinions

May 25, 2011

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My brother-in-law Steve has been considering purchasing a Leaf. He's serious enough that he put his name down on the wait list a while back and it seems like it's finally his turn. But the Nissan dealers won't allow him to test drive one. When the sign-out clipboard arrived at my desk, I made sure to grab the Leaf and head over to his house.

I asked him to email me some thoughts on the car and also what is going into his decision. He sent me the very insightful response that follows:

Thoughts on going electric:

Though I know switching one ICE for an EV won't solve the problems of climate change, national security, and pollution, electrification of mobility is inevitable and the sooner that happens, the better off we'll be environmentally, financially, and national security-wise. So much has to change before switching makes sense to a lot of people. For some, it's longer driving range or more vehicle types to choose from, and for others it doesn't make sense to trade one fossil fuel - gasoline - for another one to generate the electricity - coal. All these things have to change and are changing. A dozen or more EVs of all types are in development, the next generation of battery and control technologies are already being perfected in labs all over the world, and existing renewable energy sources are being added to the grid at a record pace.

So is it time to make the switch? Certainly the range, performance and selection will improve if I wait another year or two, and by then there's a better chance that plugging into the wall won't cause 24 lbs of coal to be burned to replace 24 lbs of gasoline.* But waiting until the situation is ideal is one way to make sure that time never comes. Which isn't too say that the thousands of Nissan Leafs coming into the nation's fleet aren't doing much to help the environment right now- they are. Even if coal is used to generate electricity for the grid, if the car is charged at night, it's not increasing demand for electricity generation, and chances are in many places, it's probably using electricity generated by wind turbines that do most of their generation at night. And in the worst case scenario, where you plug your Leaf directly into a coal burning power plant, we're still better off because even though the amount of coal burned to power an EV to go 100 miles is equivalent to the amount of gas that would be burned if it were an ICE, we're still saving the other 24 lbs of coal that were already burned to refine the oil into 3.7 gallons of gasoline (not to mention the fuel burned to get the gas to the gas station).

So environmentally, it's time, and society should start making the move, but what about me personally? Am I ready to give up my turbocharged 2.5l Subaru XT (with SPT cold air intake) and it's muscular growl for a silent, smooth, and boring actually, ride? Being driven in the Leaf felt like a ride on the monorail at Disneyland. It's cool but no excitement. It moves and it stops. I think even when you're driving it, you're really just riding in it. It doesn't rev, it doesn't skid - thank god there's still a steering wheel. But, despite all that, it is kind of cool. On this point I'm still undecided.

Aesthetically it's not a look I go for, but after driving any car for a few months, I don't really see it anymore so I don't think that concerns me. I didn't get to play with all the fun electronics but just the idea of being able to play music and audiobooks off my iPhone without taking it out of my pocket makes me very happy. (He's new to Bluetooth streaming -ed.)

Now the deciding factor, money. I'm looking at the SL model with the fast charge option for $34,420. With tax and registration, $37,900. Take out the $7,500 federal tax credit, and the $2,500 California Rebate and I'm at $27,900 all in. If I can get $18k trade-in on my Subaru, I'm in it for just under $10,000 which is about how much I'll save on gas the first 3 years. I know the CA rebate is $5,000, but it's due to run out and they're talking about bringing it back at $2,500.

I think I decided to get it.

*Rough assumptions based on 24kWh to charge a Leaf to go 100 miles, 3.7 g of gas running an ICE at 26 mpg, and 1 lb of coal to generate 1 kWh of electricity.

I posted this pretty much unaltered (makes me feel like someone else did my homework for me). What do you think? Got any advice for him?

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

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