If ever there was a place suitable for an electric car, Edmunds headquarters in Santa Monica, California, is the place. In addition to its near continually congested streets, the climate here rarely dips below or above the Goldilocks zone for battery efficiency. The fact that the majority of our editors live within 20 miles makes it all the more practical.
Plus, before the recent Middle East shakeup, we were already staring down the barrel of $5/gallon for gas. It's anybody's guess how high fuel costs will climb by the time summer rolls around. The million-dollar question is, "Is an electric car the solution?"
In an attempt to answer that question, we just added a 2011 Nissan Leaf to our long-term fleet. Think of it as our Raptor's carbon offset.
What We Got
The 2011 Nissan Leaf is currently the most affordable all-electric car you can buy. It's powered by 48 compact lithium-ion battery modules that feed an 80kW AC motor, producing 107 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Nissan optimistically touts the Leaf's driving range at 100 miles between full charges, but the EPA estimates only 73 miles. That's still plenty of range for our average commute and perhaps even a light weekend of running errands.
The Leaf is offered in two trim levels, starting with the base SV that includes 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, keyless ignition/entry, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery made from recycled materials, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
Ours is the higher-grade SL-trimmed model, which adds a spoiler-mounted solar panel, automatic headlamps, foglamps and a rearview camera. Also included is the optional quick-charge port for $700 plus floor and cargo mats.
That quick-charge port certainly sounds promising, charging the batteries to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes. The average consumer will rarely, if ever make use of this feature, though, since the DC charging stations are prohibitively expensive and its connections are unique to the Leaf. We'll be using the 220-volt charger instead, which takes a minimum of 8 hours to get a full charge. Using a standard wall outlet will take 21 hours. What about the spoiler-mounted solar panel? That only charges the 12-volt battery for accessories.
Why We Got It
The 2011 Nissan Leaf is the first widely available electric car for sale from a mainstream manufacturer. Chevy's EV-1 was an interesting attempt, but it was only available for lease. Our Mini E was part of a field trial in a few cities and was also lease only. You can actually purchase the Leaf, although only from a select number of dealers for now. Nationwide sales are slated to begin by the end of this year.
Our particular Leaf carried a sticker price of $35,440, including the aforementioned options and destination charges. In our case, however, Nissan sent it to us for a six-month loan. Had we purchased it, we would've been eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit plus another $5,000 courtesy of the state of California. Together the incentives would have reduced the price to a pretty reasonable $22,940.
It's a practical car, too. Unlike our two-door, two-passenger Mini E, the Nissan Leaf has four doors and can seat five passengers. Initial reports also note that these passengers can be adult-size and will be fairly comfortable. The trunk is on the small side, but the rear seats fold forward (but not flat).
On paper, the 2011 Nissan Leaf seems to be hitting all of its marks in terms of usability and affordability. How will it do when it comes to range and operating costs? We'll be working to answer those over the next six months.
Current Odometer: 552
Best Fuel Economy: 25.3 kWh/100 miles
Worst Fuel Economy: 62.1 kWh/100 miles
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 32.8 kWh/100 miles
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.