WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: This 2014 Nissan Leaf SL is killing my enthusiasm for my own personal Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car. Faithful readers know that I paid my own hard-earned cash to purchase an i-MiEV in December of 2011 and have put 24,000 or so real-world miles on it since then. At the time, I was impressed by the Mitsubishi's lower cost and fully equipped, relatively large cabin. But now, after getting back into a Leaf for the first time in quite a while, I am doubting my frugality. Compared to the minimalist Mitsubishi, the Leaf is a luxury liner. It has sound insulation galore, a seriously car-like ride, and it's loaded with features you'd find in a real car. Indeed, the Leaf may be the most fully finished electric vehicle on the market short of a $100,000-plus Tesla Model S. OK, maybe the Ford Focus Electric is pretty well finished, too. And theHonda Fit EV. But if I had life to live all over again I'd have spent the extra seven grand and bought myself a Leaf. Maybe. I don't know. Regret is a meal cooked in the speculative toaster oven of hindsight.
Having driven all the EVs currently on sale in America (or California, at least) I would have to say that after the Tesla Model S, the Leaf is the best. It is by far the most car-like, it has a solid 24 kWh battery for 82 miles EPA range but up to and sometimes (in traffic) over 100 miles, and it starts at under $30,000 before all those rebates. All-electric competitors are smaller and not as refined.
I only had the Leaf for a few days. In that time I took two short trips, one of 34.6 miles in normal suburban driving with the air conditioning on. I returned a range of 76 miles. The second, in 70.3 miles of mostly stop-and-slow LA traffic jam with the air conditioning on returned 99 miles range. If it had been complete stop-and-stop L.A. traffic jam I could have gone well past the 100 miles range. Regenerative braking is a wonderful thing.
The bigger battery in the Leaf makes a huge difference in the trips I'm willing to undertake. I went to Malibu and back on Sunday from my East LA home and never would have tried that in the Mitsubishi, which has a paltry 16-kWh battery good for a range of 62 miles, well below that of the Leaf.
And performance? I tried a couple 0-60 launches and got 9.5 seconds to 60 mph. That, too, is several seconds better than my i-MiEV and even within the realm of acceptable car-like behavior for a real car, though just on the fringes of it.
Leaf drawbacks? I hate most of the stupid noises it makes. I don't mean motor or road noises, because there are almost none of those. This thing is as quiet as Gottleib Daimler's tomb. No, I mean the Colossus the Forbin Project startup sounds inside the cabin, the federally required beep that warns everybody you're coming, and that awful backup beeper that's sure to make all your neighbors hate your guts as you park your car at 3 a.m. Also, the car needs a restyle to make it look less goofy on the outside. And it needs a handle over the drivers' door.
Otherwise, this is your best bet if you're thinking of an EV. And in my opinion, you will save a lot of money if you're thinking of an EV, especially over the long haul, once you write in for those rebates, which are $10,000 here in California (don't send me your hate mail, send it to your elected officials). For that price, combined with fill-ups of about $3 something, a Leaf is a solid long-term investment.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: Despite getting stranded in one, I still enjoy electric cars. The Ford Focus Electric and the Honda Fit EV (the culprit, but through no fault of its own) were both great fun to drive. I last drove the Leaf at a preview for the Fit EV where Honda had set up an autocross course, which didn't count for anything.
This is the quietest car I have ever been in. It's so quiet you can hear yourself think about all the trees you're saving and the saltwater fish hatcheries you're repopulating. It's so quiet that the Honda Fit EV howls with the wind by comparison, and the Focus Electric shouts its driver to death with the whirrrrumpwhumpwhump of its tires. The gauges look future-cool, but take a moment and a furrowed brow to decrypt. A range map springs up in the center screen at the touch of a single button -- a very handy shortcut, and handier still that it shows the nearest charging stations. The Toyota Prius-aping shifter in the center console looks like it came from the bridge of the Enterprise.
Put it in Eco mode and it can barely keep up with freeway traffic. Take it off Eco mode and you get some quick, surprisingly responsive acceleration. It's possibly the most drastic Eco switchover of any car today -- if you press it while on the throttle, you can actually feel the pedal buckle. The steering has a gentle tug to it. The brake pedal pulses underfoot with the flimsy regenerative feel. Ford does the regen brake wonderfully; Honda claims to but doesn't.
Driving it down the 10 Freeway for about 22 miles brought the available range from 98 to 64 miles. (The computer subtracted 34 miles of range.) Driving it around town later that night, the range stayed the same at 64 miles. After accelerating it home briefly, it dropped to 60 -- still a good enough figure for an EV owner to think, “I'm too lazy to plug it in. I'll be fine.” If anything, this proves that the people who once designed those Windows progress bars have found gainful employment.
Overall, the Leaf is a good city runabout. The Leaf would be a great city runabout, that is, except for one thing: its seats are terrible. Lumpy, misshapen, hard-backed, it's like sitting on a modernist sofa full of decorative pillows. It's shocking how seats like this could have been approved for production when the seats from the across-the-showroom Altima -- made by astronauts -- were perfect. If the chairs are meant to dissuade owners from long-distance driving, the shortcoming of any current EV, then the Leaf succeeds.
2014 Nissan Leaf SL
Base Price: $35,870
As-Tested Price: $37,090
Drivetrain: 80 kW AC synchronous motor; FWD, single-speed reducer
Output: 107 hp, 187 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 3,326 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 126/101/114 mpg-e
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 99 mile range
Options: Premium Package including Around View Monitor, Bose seven-speaker audio system ($1,050); floor mats, cargo area mat ($170)
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