2011 Nissan Leaf Long-Term Road Test

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2011 Nissan Leaf SL: High Tech, Low Tech

July 13, 2011

leaf display.jpg Finally drove the Leaf and was quite impressed, like others staffers, mostly by the car's natural driving demeanor. Even in Eco mode, the Leaf's regenerative braking is not overt, unlike the Mini E we had. In that electric Mini you could drive the car at great lengths without ever touching the brake pedal (except of course for quicker stops), so strong was its re-gen braking when you lifted your foot off the umm, "gas" pedal.

Nor does the Leaf's instrument panel hit you over the head with flamboyant, distracting displays. Yes it does have the "Make a small forest" game/function to show how efficiently you're driving, but that's actually kind of cool. But I was surprised to see this cutting edge car lacking synchronized clocks. I noticed an eight minute discrepancy between the instrument panel and center stack monitor displays. My OCD wouldn't allow this so I grabbed the manual and reset the instrument clock (which was fast by my cell phone and PC clocks).

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor

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2011 Nissan Leaf SL: We Let a Reader Drive

July 05, 2011

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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....

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2011 Nissan Leaf: First Time

June 30, 2011

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This was my first time driving the Nissan Leaf. I'm not sure what took me so long to try it. I liked our electric Mini E very much but for some reason I've been avoiding the Leaf and the Chevy Volt.

Driving the Leaf is very similar to driving the Mini E. Full torque as you put your foot down. The same whirring noise. The range per charge is similar at 100 miles. The regenerative braking is less aggressive in feel but it recoups a lot of power on the fly.

At first I was a little concerned. When I got into the Leaf the range stated 100 miles. Before I even pulled out of our lot it was at 98. And by the time I exited our parking garage and stopped at the red light on our corner, I was down to 93. But as soon as I got on the freeway and was coasting along at around 45 mph in mild traffic, I started to gain back estimated range. At one point I was almost near my exit and the range meter read 101 miles. I thought I might make it home with more than I started. But as soon as I got into stop-and-go traffic, the range started dropping. By the time I got home (total trip 20.5 miles) the range meter read 83.

The Leaf had plenty of juice enough for me to drive home, drive to dinner last night, run some errands this morning, and get me back to the office with about half its charge left.

I'm not crazy about the Leaf's interior. It's pleasant enough but I wish Nissan had designed it to be more normal looking. The Mini E looked just like a regular Mini Cooper except for the lack of a back seat. But it had pretty much the same gauges. Nissan seemed to go the Toyota Prius route with the Leaf. It has a special little shifter and a layered dash that feels miles away. I'd rather it look and feel like a normal car.

I had to consult the manual to figure out some of the cryptic icons. Some of them seem repetitive. I was concerned about a red triangle warning light. But it was just telling me that the parking brake was set. There is also a parking brake light. Plus, there's the range meter, the power meter, and in the top section of the dash another meter that calculates your usage on the fly. Seems like overkill.

All in all, I liked driving the Nissan Leaf. I would have signed it out for the weekend but it's a holiday and who knows how far I might want to go.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 2,714 miles

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2011 Nissan Leaf: Peering Through Porthole Windows

May 18, 2011

nissan leaf porthole.jpg The Nissan Leaf has porthole windows up in front I'm a fan of the little things. They expand your view of the road which makes them a good idea from a safety perspective. They also add a nice, airy ambiance to the cabin.

The Prius also has porthole windows, in front and in back, so maybe this design cue is a favorite of those who design green cars.

Of course, the downside is that, from an appearance perspective, they don't exactly up the "cool" factor. In fact, I'm guessing that many would probably say these windows look kinda dorky. Like the automotive equivalent of a pocket protector or something.

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2011 Nissan Leaf: Grounded Spaceship

May 18, 2011

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Driving the Leaf is a bizarre experience. Besides the slight whine from the electric engine, this thing is basically silent. It's like floating around on an enclosed magic carpet with a steering wheel. The thing you notice most is the wind noise, which is just weird to me.

After I got over my initial electric drive heebie jeebies, I actually started to relax and enjoy driving this oddity. After another 20 or so miles around town, my initial skepticism faded as the Leaf started to make sense to me as a capable commuter and errand runner. I even liked the airy interior. The center stack reminds me of a tablet.

So what's the deal with the photo?

The image is an Anaglyph. Yes, the 1950's style 3D. You'll need the red and blue glasses to get the 3D effect. I'm experimenting with this kind of image it to show off the clean, light feeling you get inside this futuristic cruiser. If you don't have the glasses, then it's just annoying to look at. Sorry 'bout that.

During my morning dog walk, I bumped into my neighbor from down the street who is an electronics engineer. He was fascinated with the Leaf. He's so into this kind of technology that he regularly attends lectures on the future of alternative fuel vehicles. As I stood there holding a bag of dog poo, he asked me technical questions that were beyond my knowledge. It just made me realize how much thought and engineering went into this car. That or I don't know jack about this car. Probably somewhere in between, trending towards jack.

This was my first real overnight driving experience in our Leaf, and I'm a believer. Nissan was able to combine a massive amount of technology into seemingly effortless package. I'm looking forward to many more days on the road in our Leaf, provided I'm near a charging station.

Scott Jacobs, Sr. Mgr, Photography

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2011 Nissan Leaf: The Sound of Silence

May 13, 2011

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I need to get my head checked. I'm beginning to really like electric vehicles. I'm not saying that I'll give up internal combustion any time soon (you can have my V8 when you pry it from my cold, dead hand), but I can see (and hear) the future -- and I like it.

Last night, as I drove down a tree-lined street in my neighborhood, I rolled down the window and heard nothing, and everything. Obviously there was no exhaust rumble, but I was treated to the sounds of the birds chirping and conversations of people on the street. I could still hear the artificial whine that the Nissan broadcasts to warn blind people of its approach, but there's a cancel button for that.

Personally, I like the noise it generates. It's what I thought a 21st-century car would sound like when I was a kid. Coincidentally, I also think it's what Dart Vader's dustbuster would sound like.

I turned off the sound and, wow, a zen-like driving experience. The last time I encountered this was in a Tesla Roadster. Taking a corner, I could hear what each tire was doing. It was as though I gained some sort of extra sensory power. Now all I want is a true electric sports car so I can push this newfound super power further. I also have been mesmerized by the trailer for Charge, a documentary about running electric racebikes at the Isle of Man.

I will always love the roar of a race engine, but the whine of electricity is the future. We'll always have the roar, I suppose, at historic motorsports gatherings. A week ago I would have considered this blasphemy, but I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of a top-tier all-electric race series.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

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2011 Nissan Leaf: Nice Big Greenhouse

May 12, 2011

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The Leaf bucks the unfortunate trend toward teeny tiny greenhouses (the byproduct of high beltlines) by giving us one that's for the most part, very functional and relatively big. It's only appropriate, really, for a green car to feature a greenhouse that lets the outside in. On sunny days like the ones we've been having, the Leaf's airy cabin makes cruising around town all the more pleasant.

Still, when it comes to green cars with large greenhouses, the Leaf has nothing on this white-hot hunk of automotive sex appeal...

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2011 Nissan Leaf: Feels Good In Eco Mode

May 11, 2011

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In most cars, Eco mode is something I avoid like the plague, since as I see it, the improved fuel efficiency just isn't worth the performance sacrifice. A zippy Lexus CT 200h that I once drove got so sluggish in this mode, it felt like I was sloshing through a vat of hot fudge.

Fortunately, though, the Leaf doesn't have this affliction. Shift that odd round shifter down to the Eco setting and responsiveness is dulled, but not to the point where the car's reflexes feel mired in quicksand.

To discourage aggressive inputs, throttle response is softened, but the effect is more subtle than it is in other models. Eco mode also amps up the efficiency of the Leaf's regenerative brakes and cuts back on power sent to the HVAC system. According to Nissan, driving in this mode can improve the car's range by up to 10 percent.

Does your car have an Eco mode? Do you use it pretty often?

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

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2011 Nissan Leaf: Could Use Some Flippers

May 05, 2011

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The more time I spend with our Leaf, the more I like it. There are only a few things I could complain about, and those items are admittedly negligible. Case in point: the rear headrests.

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2011 Nissan Leaf: A Natural

April 21, 2011

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I wind up picking the Leaf a lot as my ride for the night and the reason for this is simple: The little green-natured Nissan is pretty enjoyable to drive.

Other electric cars I've piloted require you to alter your expectations when it comes to driving dynamics. Our Mini E, for example, had aggressive regenerative braking that took some getting used to, serving as a constant reminder that you were driving something markedly different from the typical gas-powered hauler.

But there's none of that with the Leaf. In general, its reflexes are pretty sharp, even relative to those of rival gas-powered models. The electric motor offers ample torque down low and it's delivered immediately; punch the pedal and the Nissan goes with no hesitation. Even though the Leaf has electric power steering, steering feel is natural and never overboosted. And those brakes? They feel certain and firm.

Many think that dull handling is part of the package with electric cars but the Leaf proves that this doesn't have to be the case.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 1,880 miles

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2011 Nissan Leaf: Prius-Like Upholstery?

April 20, 2011

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The upholstery in our Leaf kinda reminds of that seen in our departed Prius. The fabric in both vehicles is light-colored and very soft -- almost velour-like -- to the touch.

So that means it feels great -- way to go, Leaf -- but it could also mean that, like the Prius, the Leaf's upholstery may not exactly be a champ when it comes to keeping dirt and grime at bay.

Nothing yucky to report just yet. We'll see how it holds up.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 1,860 miles

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2011 Nissan Leaf: Potential Start Button Failure

April 11, 2011

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(Photo by Mark Takahashi)

Nissan is investigating complaints in the U.S. and Japan that the Leaf fails to start on occasion. "Nissan has recently become aware of an issue on a small number of Nissan Leafs with a sensor in the air conditioning system," said Nissan Americas statement on Monday.

"If the sensor is activated, it will illuminate a warning light on the instrument panel and may cause the vehicle to not restart once it has been turned off. We are actively investigating to determine the root cause and what action is necessary to address the issue. This is not a safety issue as the vehicle will not stop running while being driven, but may not restart after being turned off."

At this time we have not experienced any such problem with our Leaf.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager

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