2011 Nissan Leaf Long-Term Road Test

2011 Nissan Leaf SL: We Let a Reader Drive

July 05, 2011


You'll certainly recognize our 2011 Nissn Leaf SL above. The strange man making a move on her, however, requires a little more explanation. His name is Jeff Jaikumar and we met him on the internet. More specifically, we met him on Twitter when we asked, as we've done a few times now, "who wants to drive one of our test cars?"

Jeff tweeted back, said he's local and would love to spend some time in an electric car and that was that. What follows is his story....

The Nissan Leaf -- A cure for the caroholic?

Hello, my name is Jeffery Jaikumar and I am a caroholic. What is that you ask? I love cars, maybe a little more than I should. For instance, when I see friends, I ask them about their families, life, school, and then their car. A friend may ask me what I think about a particular car, and I end up telling him or her about 10 other cars. So why do I think the Nissan Leaf may be a cure? Well, it's not exactly a car that makes us caroholic's giddy with joy about its crazy horsepower specs or unbelievable 0-60 times, or its 0-100-0 time. Actually, it is a car that we fear. If this car catches on, what happens to the driving experience? I can't rev an electric motor up at the light. I can't put in a new exhaust system or air filter for more power. Now I have to learn how to code? Or use resistors and capacitors to get more horsepower? This may be the car for the stereo junkies, but will this car cure my caroholism?

Well, being the gearhead/caroholic that I am, here are some numbers. The engine, err, motor is an 80kW AC synchronous motor. Translated, that's about 110 horsepower out of a 0 liter motor. That's amazing! And torque is rated at 210 everywhere, even at 0 RPM. How, I don't know but it's there. Although I think a dyno is in order to see if that is really the case.
I was invited by Edmunds through Twitter to test drive the Nissan Leaf in Santa Monica, CA. Being the caroholic that I am, I jumped at the chance. Later, I found out that readers were also invited to drive the BMW 1 Series M Coupe, Fiat 500, and Lexus LFA on previous occasions. Perhaps I should have waited. Oh well, I was excited because this was a chance to drive the future and I wanted to see what it was like.

Mike Magrath was the writer who conducted the interview and rode along. When we walked up to the car, the first thing that caught my attention was the color. It was red. I was expecting the light blue color so common in the commercials for the Leaf. The car looked good. It looked like a car and not some futuristic machine that is driven by a robot. The rear had a futuristic look to it with the taillights that swooped down from near the roofline to just above the bumper and the lights were LEDs, of course. There was a small solar panel that apparently reduces any losses in the battery as the car sits parked as long as there is sunlight. It does not charge the car. As I walked around the car towards the front I noticed the headlights and they too had a futuristic feel to them. Beyond that, the car looked very similar to the Nissan Versa, which I don't think is a bad thing. This car is practical. It has a hatch back body style and 4 doors. There was plenty of room for the 3 of us (Scott Skurnik joined, too) 4 should be comfortable. 5 may be a little tight. The trunk was fairly roomy, however I don't think it has a flat surface for cargo and I am not sure if the seats fold down. (They do. -mm) Mike then showed me the charging port which is under a large flap on the front of the car. SAE has set a standard for the charging plug which the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt use. I unplugged the car from the wall, and we headed out. I like the idea of "refueling" at home. Bye bye gas station or petrol bunker for some of you.

When you sit in the driver seat of a Nissan Leaf, it feels exactly like any other car would on the road. GASP! You would think that this car would have a joystick controller and 3D glasses for the crazy 3-D display and an augmented reality windscreen showing you the weather report and the latest twitter posts. However, there is a steering wheel, a gas, actually, go pedal and a brake pedal. The gear shift lever does have a bit of game controller feel to it, though I think it's connected to the transmission through a wire and computer, and not an actually cable or rod like a manual transmission or older automatics. It was intimidating at first but after a quick look at the picture of how it works, it was very easy to use. It was especially easy to switch between ECO and DRIVE mode. I actually liked how it was designed. There is also a touch screen display that controls the radio and also gives you really good information about the energy use of the car. As opposed to gas powered vehicles, electricity is the only power source in the Leaf, not only for the radio and air conditioner, but for the motor too. The touch screen allowed us to see in real time our energy use of the motor and the air conditioning system. This helped us maximize our range.

Technology is a big part of this car and it shows throughout. There are no dials, just digital readouts. The speedometer is easy to ready. I had some trouble seeing the dash because of the steering wheel, but I think part of the problem was that I didn't know what all the readouts were on the dash. After the test drive, I felt much more comfortable.

So how does it drive? Well, I think it drives very well actually. I was expecting a very disconnected feel and more of a game controller type of experience, or something like piloting a hot air balloon, you just go where the wind takes you. The fact is, the car felt very good. The brakes were firm and effective. There is some regeneration going on with the motor which can feel like you are braking when it is actually the motor but I never felt it unnatural. I think it is because my BMW can feel like that because of the engine braking I get from it. The steering felt really good too. It is light and perhaps not the best for a track day, but that's not what this car is for. For a nice relaxed drive to take care of an errand or fight through traffic to work, the steering wheel is excellent. The turning radius was really good too, as we experienced when avoiding traffic on PCH.

The accelerator is interesting in the Leaf. There are 2 modes that the car can be in, DRIVE and ECO. I started the test in DRIVE mode. In this mode, the accelerator worked as expected. The more that I pushed on it, the more power I felt from the motor. Mike then suggested I switch to ECO mode. In doing so the car took a very relaxed approach to motoring. When accelerating from a light, the car did not jump of the line or feel jerky, instead it was very smooth and calm as it steadily moved from a stop. And the effectiveness of the accelerator pedal was changed. I noticed that I could give it more "gas" but it would not translate instantly into more acceleration or power from the motor. At first, this was unnerving, especially when leaving a light. I felt that I was holding up my fellow commuters behind me. But as I continued to drive in ECO mode, I became more relaxed and actually enjoyed the drive, even though we were driving through Santa Monica and traffic was starting to build up. After a little while, I forgot that I was in ECO mode. When I did switch back to drive, the Leaf suddenly felt very alive and alert. It almost felt like a sport mode. I managed to get a little bit of wheel spin when turning right and pressing the go pedal to the floor. The rush of torque reminded me of my 2002 GTI 1.8t. The torque kicks in early and gives a nice feel of power. I think that in normal driving, ECO mode is the way to go and Drive should be used when more power is needed or wanted.

There is a little display next to the speedometer. It is a graphic that tells you how economically you are driving. At first it didn't make sense to me but as we went along, I noticed that it formed a tree. Mike then said that I was actually way off from being economical. Apparently, 5 trees can be grown. I managed to get 2 in the hour I drove the Leaf. Not too bad.

The Nissan Leaf is a very relaxing car to drive. And it's very easy to drive. There is just a little bit of a learning curve in terms of understanding the controls but it drives like any other economy car on the road with one huge advantage, it doesn't use a drop of gas. I would definitely own one of these if I had my own house. But it would not be my primary car. It would be my commuter car or secondary car. It's a great car for short trips and to get to work and back as long as work is around 40 miles away or less.

After driving the Nissan Leaf for just over an hour, I no longer fear the future. Sure I won't be able to hear the sound of an engine revving over 7000 RPM or the sound of the exhaust as I get off the gas and try to rev match for the next turn. But what I gain is a new type of power. One that is instant, and quiet and smooth. The idea for the electric is not to wipe out the gasoline powered cars but to reduce the frantic pace in which we are using oil. If we all were able to use an electric car to commute, I think our drives would be much more relaxed especially if the drive was in a Nissan Leaf.

My name is Jeffery Jaikumar, and I am still a caroholic.

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