First Impressions of the LEAF

Stephen Smith | October 18, 2011 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Energy Policy, Offshore Drilling

I wanted to share my first impression after driving the Nissan LEAF for the past couple of weeks.

While it may be quixotic toev-pluc think we can ever truly drive “guilt free,” the zero-emissions LEAF certainly is a step in the right direction. By charging the LEAF at non-peak hours to level off energy load demands and utilize existing infrastructure more efficiently, or by charging with renewable energy sources like solar power, we can greatly reduce our transportation-based environmental impact.

The first thing I noticed when driving the LEAF was actually what I didn’t notice – noise. The LEAF is shockingly quiet. So quiet, in fact, that Nissan has added a noisemaker, called a Vehicle Proximity Notification System (VPNS), so that pedestrians will not walk out in front of the car. There is a button to allow the driver to override the sound if so desired, but even with the artificial sound, the LEAF is amazingly quiet.

Another strong first impression is the LEAF’s speed and pickup. Electric cars generally are able to transmit torque to the wheels more easily and quickly than internal combustion engines. You can feel this effect in the LEAF: it is surprisingly peppy for a small car. I must admit, having spent a number of my teenage years playing with “suped-up” cars – all gas guzzlers for sure – I am having fun driving something so clean and quick again. While admittedly it is no Tesla roadster, it feels significantly quicker than most other eco-friendly cars I have driven. money_at_the_pump

Perhaps most importantly, the LEAF is inexpensive to drive! I have been averaging right around 4 miles/ kWh. If a kWh of electricity costs 9.0 cents, then I am driving the LEAF 100 miles for just about $2.25. In comparison, a driver getting 20 mpg when gas costs $3.50 per gallon will pay $17.50 to drive that same 100 miles.

Rarely have I driven more than 25 miles in one day, but charging the battery to 80% at night gives me 75-80 solid miles of range. Of course this depends on how I drive, as well as how much I use the air conditioning or heat. Running the air conditioning all the time will result in a 5-10 mile drop in range. To compensate, the LEAF has a neat feature call ECO drive. A second pull down on the shifter puts the car in ‘ECO mode’, which extends its range by about 10%. Most of the gain is accomplished by changing the accelerator pedal (I almost said gas pedal) inputs and increasing battery regeneration activity. In ECO mode you feel a little more “drag” compared to ‘D’ drive mode, but not much. Used strategically, ECO mode can counter most of the range loss from climate control.

Using the automatic charge timer, I can set the car to charge between 12 a.m. and 6a.m. Most of the time the car returns to 80% charge in under 3 hours. Because I have solar PV panels on my house, I could do a 100% solar charge most days between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. with no problem, but I see clear advantages to charging in the early morning hours, due to how TVA (and most utilities) operates their systems. A full discussion of the advantages of  “off peak” charging is for another blog post – stay tuned!.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has 30 years of experience effecting change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as its executive…
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