Laudable Nissan Leaf has many limitations
By JEFF TAYLOR For Sun-Times Media May 30, 2012 4:16PM
2012 NISSAN LEAF SL
ENGINE: 107-horsepower electric 80kW AC synchronous motor
TRANSMISSION: single-speed gear reducer with shift-by-wire drive selector
DRIVETRAIN: front-wheel drive
FUEL ECONOMY: 106 city/92 highway
BASE PRICE: $37,250
AS TESTED: $38,270 (does not include 220-240 garage charger)
You have to give kudos to the folks at Nissan for developing the 2012 Leaf EV. The Leaf uses zero fossil fuels to propel it and produces zero emissions.
As the name implies, the Leaf is all about going green. The “going” is accomplished in part by a 24kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery composed of 48 compact modules of four cells each. The battery powers an 80kW AC synchronous motor rated at 107 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, driving the front wheels through a single-speed reducer.
Nissan indicates that, unlike a conventional internal combustion engine, the Leaf delivers 100 percent of its torque from the start, delivering smooth (think golf cart), consistent acceleration.
The biggest issues I had were the time to recharge and the range once the car was fully charged.
The Nissan Leaf offers several driving and one accessory charging option. A charge port is located prominently on the Leaf’s nose for the 200-volt charger and standard portable trickle charge cable (110 volts). Trickle is the right word as the standard charging device takes an agonizingly long 21 hours of continuous charging (from depleted battery) to reach the 100-mile maximum range. You can opt to have a 220-240 charging unit installed at your home for approximately $2,000 and then your zero- to 100-mile range takes approximately seven hours. The optional quick charge port allows charging to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes at public charging stations.
Availability of public charging stations is extremely limited in the Chicago area, and if there is another vehicle charging when you pull up you have to wait. My SL test vehicle had a photovoltaic solar panel spoiler, which supports charging of the 12-volt battery for car accessories only.
The Leaf’s owner manual warns that if the outside temperature is 13 degrees below Fahrenheit or less, the battery may freeze and cannot be charged or power the vehicle. The capacity of the Li-ion battery will decrease with time and usage, Nissan estimates that after five years battery capacity will be approximately 80 percent. As with all electrical devices, caution should be taken regarding getting the charging port and cables wet or saturated with water.
Each time I drove the Leaf, my drive was stressful. I navigate the suburbs for the bulk of my travels and parts of my commutes involve noncommercial areas where a public electrical outlet was not available. Each time I set out I had to carefully plot out my mileage.
Once under way, the Leaf was surprisingly quick and quiet. The Leaf was not designed to be a sports car and the steering provided zero feedback. I didn’t perform any aggressive driving for fear of losing precious miles. The around-town ride was typical subcompact and I eventually got used to the eerie quietness and “hovering” sensation while under way.
Even with my small family, I found the Leaf’s interior confined and not well suited to our busy needs. Rear seating was tight across the board and the 24 cubic feet of storage space with the second-row seats folded does not allow much room for your stuff. I did like the digital instrument panel that kept tabs on my shrinking miles and the climate/radio controls were intuitive and easy to reach. The interior design was ho-hum, featuring recycled materials that did not benefit from a sea of beige color.
Don’t get me wrong here: I don’t dislike going green, I just think there are some great hybrids on the market that don’t require all the budgeting, preparations and limitations the Leaf requires. In my opinion the Leaf is simply not ready for prime (drive) time. The Leaf’s mileage range along with interior space has to be improved. Also, depending on options, the price is steep for what you’re actually getting: an appliance on wheels.
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