Nissan LEAF – 3 Months and 3,400 Miles later

Smooth, Quiet and Fast.

Those three words sum up my impression of the LEAF. I like to call it ‘my little Mercedes’. Sure the dash is made of plastic and the seats are cloth not leather, but aside from the superior interior comfort of a luxury vehicle the LEAF makes a pretty good impression of one. Once you drive electric, you won’t want to go back. I love how nippy and responsive the car is around town, its a fun car to drive. It’s a keeper.

After 3 months of ownership I have now made the adjustments to driving an electric car, and there are some adjustments for sure.

Gas Gauge

Driving Range Gauge

In a regular car once the gas gauge indicates there are just 2-3 gallons left, one starts to make mental plans to fill up. With an electric car one starts full  with slightly more range than 3 gallons of gas would take you and then run it down to almost empty, ‘Almost empty’ being say 12 miles of range which is a comfortable margin for me, others report they are happy to run it down much further. At first the limited range seems inadequate, anxiety about running out of electric may start shortly after setting out for the day. However once one realizes that the gauge in an electric car is more accurate and predictable than that of a gas car one adjusts to ‘running low’ after a few months and range anxiety  disappears.

I know that it takes ‘3 bars’ of the gauge to get to work, and the same for the return journey. If I ‘book it’ either to or from work, then it may take 4 bars. One can easily predict how far each bar will take you and at what speeds.

Speed and Mileage

Highway speeds are the enemy of electric range, however around town it seems to last forever. Essentially one has to turn upside down your knowledge of what speed does to mileage efficiency. Electric cars are phenomenal around town (the opposite of a regular car), but less efficient on the highway (once again the opposite of a regular car). If you try to apply gasoline efficiency logic to an electric car you will get frustrated and potentially stranded very quickly. The effect speed has on mileage is significantly more dramatic (either good or bad) than with a regular gasoline car, give yourself time to mentally adjust to this fact and adjust your driving habits where necessary.

Battery Care

Lithium-Ion Battery Temperature

Once range anxiety recedes, then battery anxiety can take hold. The life of the battery pack can be almost doubled by charging to 80% of capacity rather than to full every time. The LEAF makes this easy to accomplish with its menu system on the touch screen. The choices are made in the charging ‘timers’. The battery doesn’t like to be run to completely empty either, Nissan have ‘hidden’ a  reserve of about 6 miles or so below ’empty’ to both prevent folks being stranded should they miscalculate a journey to the next charge, and also to manage the batteries longevity.

Immediate Charge Switch – i.e. Override button.

I have set my car to charge to 80% every day, basically I have ‘set it and forgot it’. If I know I need a full charge the next day, I can either reprogram the charging timer (so I don’t forget), or simply push an override button on the dash prior to plugging in. If I do forget but realize when I first get up, pressing the override button tops off the battery prior to departure. I just manage the exceptions to my regular routine.

My journey to work and back each day uses about 1/2 of a full charge, so an 80% charge is more than adequate. Some commentators postulate that the reason that the Prius battery life is so good, is because it utilizes just 50% of its total capacity or less. My daily commute uses just 50% of the LEAF’s battery capacity, so I now no longer worry about the battery life.

I believe my travel patterns are ideal for optimal battery life. However this past weekend I charged to 100% three times due to higher than normal mileage; I don’t do it every weekend. There is no point in fretting over the battery life, the car is there to be used after all. Battery anxiety will fade with time as well.

If you are considering buying a LEAF and will use a high percentage of the battery capacity every day, requiring one or more full charges every day, consider leasing instead of outright purchase.

Road Handling and Safety

The LEAF has garnered a 5 star safety rating, remarkable for a compact car. This is mostly thanks to the battery pack which adds overall weight and makes for a very low center of gravity reducing the likelihood of the vehicle rolling over. The vehicle weight is also well distributed front to rear resulting in great cornering and road holding performance. When cornering quickly in the LEAF I feel that it has a very good grip of the road. Some vehicles you can feel it lean into the corner which can be unsettling; not with the LEAF! It feels like its glued to the road.

Traction Control Switch

The LEAF features a traction control (anti-skid) technology that helps to prevent loss of control of the vehicle. I believe this feature has been added for two reasons. Fast acceleration performance thanks to instant engine torque could create a skid if accelerating from a standing start or around a corner. Secondly because the vehicle feels very stable around corners, drivers may push the car harder around bends feeling safer than they should.

Coming off the highway close to home there is a 270 degree off ramp, around this bend if I drive fast while braking firmly I can feel a momentary surge as the vehicle prevents a skid and also stops using regenerative braking relying instead on the traditional brakes, the transition from regenerative brakes to convention isn’t very smooth under these circumstances.

Out of Range Trips

There have been 5 journeys in the past 3 months I had to resort to using my wife’s car. This was mostly longer weekend trips we took together. One of the trips from home to work to Nashville back to home can now be accomplished in the LEAF whereas it wasn’t possible the first time. This is thanks to the Holiday Inn  Vanderbilt installing chargers. The once a month trip to that hotel can now be done in the LEAF. The 3 hour stay at the Hotel is more than enough to allow me to get home at highway speeds. The best part is that the journey home is free, the Hotel doesn’t charge for use of the chargers. This demonstrates that as the charging infrastructure is expanded, limitations on use should get to be less frequent and the cost of running the vehicle just keep getting lower) thanks to free fill-ups).

I’m on target to do over 13,000 miles in the first year of ownership, which matches the mileage I did with my previous gasoline car, so I have not had to make significant adjustments at all. In fact my wife’s car gets very little use now, she uses the LEAF nights and weekends since it is easier to drive/park and much more economical. She prefers it over her Altima. When I drive the Altima it now it seems noisy and lurches around. Prior to getting the LEAF I really liked the Altima, that’s how much better the driving experience is with electric compared to gas.

When the Altima is up for replacement in a few years, we will seriously consider replacing it with a  plug-in hybrid that provides an all electric driving experience for 30 miles or more before the gas or diesel engine kicks in.

Cooling and Heating

Heating reduces mileage by 11 miles – Click to Enlarge

The LEAF’s air conditioning in the summer months is both very effective and very efficient, only consuming 2 or 3 percent extra energy. Much better than a gasoline car which can loose 10% mileage or more when the AC is turned on. The LEAF’s air is much colder and gets cold much faster than the Altima we have. It’s one of the reasons my wife likes the LEAF over the Altima in the summer months.

In the winter months, the heat is both less efficient than a gas car and uses much more energy, up to 10% of the total charge. A gas car heats with little or no extra energy being needed.

Therefore turn upside down the logic you apply to the effect on mileage heat or air have on a car when driving electric.

To compensate for the extra energy draw the heat takes, Nissan provide a feature to heat up your car prior to traveling by utilizing a timer. This is done while the car is still plugged into a charger, thereby using the chargers power instead of the battery. One steps into a  nice warm car prior to setting off. The pre-heat or cool can also be activated via the web or smart phone app. I heat the car before leaving work despite the fact it is not plugged in. The level of comfort is wonderful and I can easily afford the extra energy it uses.

I look forward to the day my employer installs a charger, then heating up the vehicle will not reduce the batteries capacity one iota.

What I would change about the LEAF

If the LEAF had just 35 miles or more range, it would meet all of my travel needs, those 5  journeys I resorted to using the Altima, could all have been done in the LEAF with a little more range. I’d pay for such an upgrade if one is ever made available in the future when battery technology improves. Listening Nissan?

The lock/unlock buttons on both front doors are not lit. At night one fumbles around trying to find the switch if one is simply dropping someone off instead of parking. (When parked, the LEAF doors automatically unlock). Nissan, we don’t always park the vehicle prior to opening the doors. Give us lighted switches please. Most of the other buttons in the car are lit at night, it seems like an oversight by the engineers. I’d pay to upgrade that too 🙂

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6 Responses to Nissan LEAF – 3 Months and 3,400 Miles later

  1. Lance Pickup says:

    This is by far the best review I’ve seen of the LEAF. Very detailed and well thought out information. Thanks!

    I especially like the point about the gas tank vs. charge level and how most of us don’t really think about “range” in ICE vehicles until we’re down under a quarter tank or so (well, my wife starts thinking about it before that point!) It makes me wonder how many people that dismiss EVs because of lack of range actually fill up when they “only” have 100 miles left in the tank? I know I sure don’t! Then again, gas stations are readily available and refueling is quick so your chances of being stranded or delayed for a half hour are slim with gas, but I think the point is that your mindset does change when you drive an EV.

  2. Mike M says:

    I like to drive fast on the freeway. When I do the usable range is about 60 miles. I hate my Leaf and want to sell it ASAP.

  3. chf says:

    I drive fast on highways and love the Leaf. Agree with almost all the author’s points.

  4. Brian Gilbert says:

    You say your employer does not have a charging point. In the UK you can charge from the ordinary household socket,,at a lower rate. Don’t you have access to such a point at your office?

    • jpwhitehome says:

      At the time I wrote this blog article my employer did not allow employees to use external outlets. After changing employer I found myself with a more sympathetic employer, but the building managers of the multi-tenant facility were not cooperative. Ultimately I made a deal with the sandwich shop next door and ran an extension cord through a hedge between the properties and charged that way for about 9 months.

      My employer moved to another multi-tenant facility I have yet to approach, but they have no outside outlets I can see anyway. I have arranged to charge at a hotel close-by which is great (while it lasts).

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