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2018 Nissan Leaf long-term update: Leaf peeping on the hunt for cider doughnuts

Join us for a festive range test that's really little more than an excuse to eat a lot of cider doughnuts.

We're well into fall in the Northeast. And as the temperatures are dropping, the leaves are following close behind. Low temps aren't great news for EVs, as we saw in our first encounter with our long-term 2018 Nissan Leaf, but through the warmer months the car has delivered solid range, meeting or exceeding its 151-mile EPA rating. Its one-pedal driving has also charmed us while ProPilot Assist, the car's comprehensive suite of safety systems, has more than proved its worth.

But, now that it's jacket season again, I thought it was time for a little range test. Where I'm from, we call tourists this time of year leaf-peepers, and so it only seemed appropriate to engage in some autumn festivities in our Leaf. And yes, while many who head north this time of year are questing for colorful leaves, the best reason for the season is a little sweeter: cider doughnuts.

I feel bad for you if you don't know what a cider doughnut is, but since a surprising number of people have never been introduced to the delicacy, a quick introduction may be in order.

Cider doughnuts are much like regular cake doughnuts except for one major substitution. In the place of buttermilk or plain milk or (heaven forbid) water, cider doughnuts are made with apple cider. This doesn't actually impact the flavor as much as you'd think, but it does result in a delicious, often crispy doughnut with a chewy interior that's somewhere between the heavy, creamy "old-fashioned" doughnuts you'll find at finer establishments and lighter, airier "raised" doughnuts that seem to disappear as soon as you bite into them.

Cider doughnuts are typically loaded up with a healthy pinch of nutmeg and traditionally served plain or doused in a mix of granulated sugar and cinnamon. They are, in a word, perfection, especially when served warm from a white, waxed-paper bag. 

The route

The adventurous taste testers for the day were my wife, myself and two noble, carb-loving friends. After much consideration, we selected a combination of eight cider doughnut sources, a mix of traditional apple orchards, bakeries and one specialty shop all based in the greater Capital District of New York State, starting from a semi-central location just south of Albany.

After a few permutations, (my experience in solving the traveling salesman problem came in handy here), we settled on a route estimated to cover 121 miles. Yes, that's a fair bit lower than the 151 the Leaf is officially rated for, but we'd spend a good portion of that time on the highway. The 45-degree temperature that morning threatened to compromise range as well.

Still, the car showed 159 miles of estimated range and 99-percent battery capacity when we departed for our first stop, Cider Belly.

Nissan Leaf Cider Run

This was just our first stop. Somehow, we managed to continue. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Our donut run route -- or the first five stops, anyway. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Cider Belly Doughnuts: Cider Belly is a hip (for Albany, at least) little doughnut offering that's become renowned for its year-round selection of cider treats. While the company makes the traditional plain and sugar varieties, it also has a constantly rotating selection of more exotic offerings, including mocha latte and butter rum. Given all those other flavors you might think the plain, traditional doughnuts might be underwhelming, but you'd be wrong. Cider Belly's doughnuts are unusually plump but incredibly good: Crispy on the outside yet fresh and moist on the inside.

Indian Ladder Farms: Next stop was Indian Ladder, a traditional Albany staple for apple picking. The place was packed, critters in the farm's little petting zoo getting plenty of attention from kids hopped up on sugary confections. We made a bee-line for the bakery and, while it was hard to ignore the pies and other delights, the cider doughnuts sadly proved a little forgettable. Good and chewy but lacking flavor.

Yonder Farms: I actually tried my first cider doughnut at Yonder Farms ages ago, and so I have fond memories of the place. The doughnuts here are quality, fluffy and light, with the strongest nutmeg flavor of the day.

Lakeside Farms: Lakeside was our northernmost stop, situated right beside Ballston Lake, as you might guess by the name. This usually sleepy farmstand makes some of the greatest apple fritters known to man, but we were there to sample the cider doughnuts -- we four plus about three million other people who were there for an antiques festival. (Bad planning on my part.) We did manage to get some doughnuts. Their crispy outside and overall texture didn't disappoint, but their flavor proved blander than the competition.

Riverview Orchards: Another traditional orchard full of apple-picking tourists plus four brave souls with increasingly full stomachs on the hunt for cider doughnuts. Riverview is a former favorite because I used to live right up the road. The fresh doughnuts were just as good as I remembered: Crispy and buttery but a bit on the small side.

Bowman Orchards: Right down the road from Riverview is Bowman, where the crowds were even more intense. I didn't think we'd even be able to get into the parking lot. But we made it, scoring a pair of doughnuts that were dense and heavier than the rest but had good flavor.

Samascott's Garden Market: Samascott sadly wins the award for the coldest and least fresh doughnut of the day. They were forgettable overall, but at just 50 cents each they were at least the cheapest.

Golden Harvest Farms: Our final stop and another personal favorite, with a wide offering of pies and turnovers that are hard to resist. But we were just there for the doughnuts, and they proved fresh and delicious, with perhaps the best shape of the day. A crispy ring on one side gives Golden Harvest's doughnuts extra points if you're looking for something that feels a little more home-made.

Nissan Leaf Cider Run

Being able to send a route to the car is nice... in theory.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The ride and the range

My test day was chilly, starting at 45 degrees and rising to 64 at the end, so most of my time was spent with the climate control adding a little extra heat to the cabin. I also switched on the heated seats on occasion and I'm a big fan of the heated steering wheel, too.

We were all four quite comfortable for the full day of driving which, including a brief stop for some real lunch, took more than five and a half hours. That's a long time to spend cruising in any car, but our brave doughnut judges in the rear seats had no complaints about the accommodations.

However, I will say I had issues with the navigation system. The Nissan Connect app will let you plan a route and send that to the car. And indeed I did exactly that -- in two segments, since the app only allows five waypoints at a time. However, frustrated by the navigation system's sluggish performance, and struggling to skip a waypoint after we parked a block short of Cider Belly, I quickly switched over to Google Maps on Android Auto and relied on that for the rest of the day.

A near-perfect cider doughnut in its native element.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

That was the only complaint related to the car. We wound up covering 114 miles total, with the car still reading 20 miles of range remaining. That theoretical 134 miles of range is lower than the EPA's 151 rating, but with less use of the climate control and a little lighter foot on the highway I think we could have met that number.

The winner

So the car passed the cider doughnut test with flying colors and, despite feeling a bit unwell after all that sugar, none of the participants had any regrets either. But who was the winner? While I personally rated Golden Harvest tops by a smidge, Cider Belly was the overall highest-ranked doughnut among our panel of hungry experts. Its traditional cider doughnuts are remarkable and its more adventurous offerings ensure that nobody will leave disappointed.