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  • 2011 Nissan Leaf SL

    Posted on July 13th, 2011 ninarussin

    Electric car seats up to five passengers

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Nissan Leaf

    This year, Nissan rolls out the production version of the electric-powered Leaf. Although the history of electric cars dates back to the early 1900s, few have made it into production, due to a lack of infrastructure and limited battery capacity. Until recently, inexpensive and readily available gasoline has also limited the market for this type of alternative fuel vehicle.

    Thanks to the advent of lithium-ion batteries, Nissan’s electric car has 100-mile range between charges: enough to function for the average commuter. The lightweight, compact battery pack located beneath the floor of the car doesn’t add a significant amount of weight to the vehicle; nor does it impinge on passenger space.

    A level one 120-volt port set comes with the car, enabling the owner to recharge his Leaf by plugging into a conventional household outlet. Buyers will probably opt to install a 220-volt level two port at home, which cuts recharging time from 20 to eight hours. Nissan estimates the cost of installing the level two port at about $2000.

    The SL is the more upscale of two trim levels, beginning with the SV priced at $32,780. MSRP for the SL is $33,720, not including an $850 destination charge. All models come with keyless ignition, an AM/FM/CD audio system, satellite radio, Bluetooth, navigation, a rearview camera, USB port, power windows, and Carwings. The free iPhone and Droid app enables Leaf owners to turn on the air conditioning, start and monitor charging from a smart phone.

    A quick charge port on the test car interfaces with a 440-volt commercial quick charge port ($700). The level three port recharges the battery in 30 minutes. Floor mats and a cargo mat add $170 to the MSRP, bringing the price as tested to $35,440.

    Instant power

    2011 Nissan Leaf

    One of the biggest advantages electric motors have over gasoline engines is that they develop peak torque at very low speeds. While a 107-horsepower motor might seem rather small, the fact that it develops up to 207 foot-pounds of torque gives the Leaf competent performance. The car can accelerate extremely hard off the line, making it easy to merge into high-speed traffic, or pass slower cars on the highway.

    The Leaf doesn’t have a traditional transmission. A single-speed reducer with a shift-by-wire drive selector has an interface similar to a computer mouse. The driver moves the mouse into one position for drive, another for eco-drive, and a third for reverse. “Park” is a button in the middle of the mouse.

    When the driver depresses the start button, the LCD screen illuminates, indicating that power is on. The gauge panel has two sections: an “eyebrow” on the top which includes a speedometer and eco-indicator; and a larger display beneath which shows battery charge and temperature, ambient temperature, and distance to empty.

    A center stack screen displays the rearview camera, audio settings and navigation maps.

    Silent ride

    2011 Nissan Leaf

    While its controls are similar to a gasoline-powered car, driving the electric Leaf is a very different experience. Unlike cars with gasoline engines, the Leaf makes no noise when it operates.

    This is both a good and bad thing. I enjoyed being able to hear sounds on my drive which the car engine normally drowns out. On the other hand, I found myself being extra diligent as numerous drivers cut into my lane without looking.

    Anticipating the safety risk which a noiseless vehicle could pose in a parking lot, Nissan added a warning signal which operates at speeds below twenty miles-per-hour. Drivers can turn the function off in areas without much foot traffic.

    Brake-by-wire and electric power steering systems minimize the vehicle’s curb weight. Performance from the braking system is quite good. The four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion without being dicey. Regenerative energy from braking recharges the battery to extend the car’s range.

    Steering feedback is on the soft side, especially at slower speeds. The Leaf’s short wheelbase gives the car an excellent turning radius, making it easy to park on the street or perform the occasional U-turn.

    A suspension consisting of independent MacPherson struts with coil springs in front and a torsion beam in the rear provides a pleasantly compliant ride.

    Visibility around the perimeter is good. I had no problems monitoring traffic in the adjacent lanes on the highway. Engineers did an excellent job of isolating passengers from road and wind noise: something which is much more obvious in a car with no engine noise.


    Although the EPA rated the Leaf’s range at 100 miles, changes in driving conditions can severely impact that number. Since my test drive took place in the middle of July in Arizona, I had to run the air conditioning, which reduced the car’s range by about 15 percent.

    At the start of the test drive the indicator showed a range of 90 miles. After a half a mile of driving, that figure had dropped to 75 miles. After 39 miles of driving, the range indicator showed enough charge left for 40 more miles.

    Steep grades also have a significant impact. As any runner or bicyclist knows, reduced effort on downhill grades rarely makes up for hard uphill efforts.

    Appealing interior

    Nissan Leaf Interior

    The Leaf interior is clean and uncluttered, giving passengers a feeling of spaciousness. The standard cloth seats are made from partially recycled materials. Manually-adjustable seats are a weight-saving measure. Manual driver’s seat controls include adjustable lumbar.

    Because the Leaf has no floor tunnel, up to three passengers can sit in the second row, though two will be more comfortable on long trips. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor.

    This is an unusual feature in an alternative fuel car. In many hybrids, the battery is located between the second-row seats and the trunk, severely compromising cargo space. While the Leaf is too small to meet our bicycle-friendly standards, the cargo area is better suited for buyers with active lifestyles than some competitive products.

    Standard safety

    The Nissan Leaf comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock braking, traction and stability control. LED headlamps and tail lamps provide bright beams of light while consuming less energy than halogen.

    Warranties and rebates

    Leaf buyers currently qualify for a federal tax credit of $7500, as well as tax credits in some states. However, since the buyer doesn’t receive the credit until he files his taxes, the price of the car out the door and hence financing is based on the MSRP. Once the buyer receives his tax credit, he has the option of paying down the principal of the loan and/or refinancing.

    The Leaf’s lithium-ion battery pack carries a warranty of eight years or 100,000 miles. The standard factory warranty includes complimentary roadside assistance for the first 36,000 miles.

    The Leaf rolls out initially in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix Tucson and Tennessee. Nissan will begin producing the Leaf at its Smyrna, Tennessee plant in 2012.

    Likes: An alternative fuel vehicle with an affordable price tag and affordable energy costs. Annual electricity costs for the Leaf are approximately $561: about a third of what a comparably-sized car would cost to run on gasoline.

    Dislike: Limited range.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Nissan
    Model: Leaf SL
    Year: 2011
    Base price: $33,720
    As tested: $35,440
    Horsepower: 107
    Torque: 207 lbs.-ft.
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 106/92 mpg equivalent city/highway


    One response to “2011 Nissan Leaf SL”

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