Never mind the Chevy Volt for a minute, the Nissan LEAF looks like it has the best chance of being the next Prius.
Let's jump into a freshly minted 2011 SLE and check the very extensive tech.
Devoid of any General Motors baggage, or powertrain definitions that dog the Volt,
the LEAF is inarguably electric, and it hails from a respected brand of modern and often efficient cars.
Being Japanese, just a bit quirky, and priced right, as long as the fed stay in the tax credit game, don't hurt either.
But is all that enough to overcome the big one?
Now, the most innovative part of the LEAF, of course, is what moves it around.
Here's the motor which looks a lot like an engine.
I wonder if they styled it that way just so it wouldn't look so odd
'cause that has like the look of a cam cover but there's no cam so I'm not sure what's under there but, anyway, this is an electric motor, 80 kilowatt is the power.
It's about 107 horsepower, 207 foot-pounds of torque.
Notice, lots of torque compared to the horsepower.
That's an electric thing.
That goes out to a one-speed transmission.
It's really just a reduction gear.
There is no gear changing, no CVT, nothing like that.
Now the interesting part.
This whole powertrain delivers some freshly published EPA numbers I just happen to have right here.
99 MPG equivalent.
That's comparing the electric power to the 115,000 BTUs of energy in a gallon of gas.
It's a little convoluted for the average consumer but it gives you some idea how stunningly efficient this car is.
That said, look at the range.
Not the 100 Nissan said, 73 miles is the real range the EPA estimates and, again, that will vary depending on your terrain, time of year, use of accessories.
Never seen these numbers before, 0 greenhouse gases.
That's rather clean, and check out the annual energy cost.
Normally, a car is $1500 to $2500 a year to run, average number of miles driven.
Look at this guy, $561.
That's a very low cost to drive this car the average mile through the course of a year but where does that come from?
Down here, the other hood.
This little rather oddly placed door is where the charging ports are.
The orange one is the one you're gonna use most typically.
That's where a 220 connection goes in with a special they've got that's included with the car
and that will get you a charge from flat in 7 or 8 hours.
This is the sweet spot.
You can also plug in to 110 but pack a lunch, 'cause that's gonna be 14 to 16 hours to charge this guy.
110's really more for trickle and then, if you go for an optional charging adaptor built into your premises, you can use this guy, the really cool one, the 480.
That will charge this car in about a half an hour.
I don't envy the designers of electric cars or extremely different hybrids because they've got an interesting challenge--make the car look too normal and sales are gonna suffer because there's not enough visual buzz around that being a different kind of car.
Make it look too weird and sales will suffer 'cause it's fugly.
This is a controversial point right here.
The Nissan LEAF headlight is one of its most distinctive styling cues and you either love it or it just makes you go, "What?" It sticks up above the hood, it's got this arched clear body, and notice the headlights come all the way back to the back of the hood,
very strange, elongated design, but help to make a statement, this is something different.
The rear end does the same thing.
Back here, these elongated tail lights make a statement, nothing quite like these in auto-dom except on a couple of Volvo wagons, I think, but they don't look like this.
Also, notice the bluish cast to lots of things.
That's Nissan's way of saying they're green, they use blue which is okay with me 'cause green's usually pretty ugly on a car.
A bluish cast in this plastic lens, a bluish chrome on this badge,
a blue tip on this antenna.
Oh, by the way, a solar panel, doesn't charge the motive batteries, it just keeps an in-cabin ventilation system running so you can use the air-conditioning less when you do get it in drive.
Okay, inside the LEAF, you're not gonna forget you're in a LEAF.
No one's gonna say, "Hmm, I'm an Altima or a Sentra?" It's a completely different cabin than any other Nissan.
You've got the eyebrow design and then the main LCD screen.
Notice, not a single wagging needle in the entire IP.
No gauges, all displays.
Let's take them in order.
Up on the eyebrow there, you've got some energy information, your speed, time, temperature, lot of the basics.
Now, down here in the main display, things get really interesting.
On the left is your battery temperature, the nearest thing to an engine temperature.
Across the top, that row of rings, that's not an Audi logo gone nuts, that is your regen or power dispersal thing so it's telling you if you're recapturing energy to the left of that brake,
where the little blue circular arrows are, or how much power you're discharging the farther you go to the right.
It's just a stylized way of showing what could be done with a needle.
And then on the right is the one you're gonna be looking at all the time with nervousness and a roiling gut.
That is your level of charge and next to that is your projected remaining miles.
Now, that's a guesstimate I find that doesn't always seem to agree with the battery charge level but I'm not the expert, the computer in the car is.
From there, we move to our center stack.
You've got the usual AM/FM/XM/CD, your CD lives behind here, it's a single slot, by the way.
Your Aux and USB functions are available on this button as well and, of course, those are down here on the console.
Easy to get to, by the way.
Navigation, nice-looking map system on this car.
Here's where it gets interesting, though.
This little blue button here and the one on the steering wheel, they're unique to the LEAF.
The one over here on the right takes you to the LEAF Master Menu.
All kinds of good stuff here.
Driving range tells you, like you might imagine, how far you can go
and where there are charging stations within that range of how far you can go.
There's also a shortcut to that exact menu right here on the wheel.
It's the [unk] button.
When you just looked up and realized I've got about a bar or two left and I got a long way to go.
You hit this guy and it will take you to the nearest and your SAC bomber range map.
Here's your energy usage screen, shows you how much you're using on the climate control system which can be a big draw, especially in cold areas where you're using the heat,
and here, of course, is the big one, how much the motive system is drawing off the battery and you've got some historical charts and other information here.
CARWINGS is the online data system that ties into this head unit.
It's a system that they've had in Japan, the domestic market, for quite a while.
It's something new for us here in the US and you can populate this menu with any number of things you wanna see.
I can set up my favorites from a long menu of choices here including information from Nissan, pass.
Here's my emissions choices to see how the vehicle's doing on being green.
I have a Google Maps Send to Car function when I wanna go check in on an address or a location I sent to the vehicle, so it's a highly customizable system and then when you get into CARWINGS, it's right over here on the main menu to go find your favorites.
Now the last thing on LEAF 101 is how to drive this thing.
You've got the usual paddles down on the floor.
This is a steering wheel, you've seen one of these before.
That's not standard.
That's the goofiest shifter ever made, so what you do with that guy, according to this map right here, is you slide it over, kind of Prius-like, and up for reverse,
which seems a little bit odd when you slide it over and back for reverse.
And then, to go in drive, you do, yes, exactly the wrong thing, you pull it over and go back to go forward.
I would have swapped those.
Enter a destination that is beyond your car's current battery range and it tells you right away, not later.
Impressively, the LEAF's Bluetooth streaming profile may be the best out there.
It's able to stream the metadata from your music as well as the audio and some basic transport commands.
Now, just as the LEAF mostly looks like a normal car, it mostly drives like a normal car.
Now, it's electric so it's really quiet but the handling, the interior packaging, the ride quality are not bizarre or strange like in a Mitsubishi i-MiEV where it's very narrow and very tightly sprung and just feels more like a cart than a car.
This feels like a rather well-planted,
rather nicely built semi-luxurious compact car.
Now, as I drove the LEAF which I did rather a little, I started to really feel the pain of real-world range anxiety as opposed to "I'm a reviewer, I can't wait to drive it," 'cause I've driven the LEAF several times so it wasn't like I had to go experience it for the first time.
On this visit with it, I didn't drive it much because already been there, done that, and everything I had to do for the last few days, I had range issues,
so I started to feel like a normal non-reviewer consumer whose gonna say, "Nope, can't take the LEAF there.
No, shouldn't take the LEAF there," 'cause I don't wanna worry about being on the fringe of range.
A 2011 LEAF SLE will run you about $33,000, just like we saw it.
Now, deduct a federal tax credit that is currently maxing out at $7500, but that's not a rebate or cash, it's a credit to reduce the amount of tax you owe the feds in the year you buy the LEAF.
If you normally get a rebate at tax time, then there's no tax bill to apply the credit to and you just pay for the LEAF yourself.
And that tax credit cannot take you into a refund in and of itself, so you wanna buy this car in coordination with your accountant and not take tax advice from me.