New Car Reviews

2011 Nissan Leaf: Range Anxiety for No Reason

Long-Term Update: Spring 2011 Array Miles to date: 0

Of everyone on the staff of Automobile Magazine, I am probably the most well-suited for life with an all-electric car. My home is only 3.5 miles from our office in downtown Ann Arbor, and much of my social life takes place within the boundaries by of the roads that form a ring around this small city. However, despite my short-distance, mostly urban travels, I couldn’t help but be anxious that I would run of juice. To my eyes, the range meter was a countdown clock to the moment when I would become stranded on the side of the road. Following is a chronicle of my week with the Leaf.

Monday, June 6, 2011
2:42 p.m.

I haven’t even left the office, and I’m already worried about running out of juice. I have to give assistant web editor Jake Holmes a ride home and then head home myself, a trip of only about 10 miles. (The car is fully charged, by the way.) Is there such a thing as pre-range anxiety? Oh, and I have to kill that large spider that appeared in my apartment this morning.

3:56 p.m.

It turns out that I don’t have to give Jake a ride after all, but I stepped outside to find that it’s 85 degrees and humid. I am now worried about the mileage penalty from running the air-conditioning.

6:00 p.m.

I left work with a full charge and an indicated range of 106 miles. The range actually went up to 108 miles at one point, thanks to the regenerative braking system. I made it home with 96 miles left, in part thanks to the fact that I decided not to use the A/C. Boy, it’s humid.

7:15 p.m.

I ran some errands this evening and the Leaf now shows 69 miles of range, or 76 with Eco mode engaged. Using Eco mode takes some getting used to, with the more resistant accelerator pedal and the more aggressive regenerative brakes, but it doesn’t seem to affect the acceleration as much as I thought it would. I dared to turn on the A/C this time. Also, the spider is still on the loose.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011
7:52 a.m.

I decided not to plug the Leaf into the 240V charger at work, because the range indicator shows 74 miles (it read 75 when I left home). I feel more at ease driving in Eco mode, as it adds about 10 miles to the Leaf’s range and means I can use the A/C without fear of running down the battery.

2:00 p.m.

Everyone at work thinks I’ll regret not plugging in today. Guess I’ll have to choose wisely who to call if I run out of juice and get stranded on the side of the road. Also, it is even hotter and more humid than yesterday, so the A/C will be on for sure when I head home. Will my 3.5-mile drive home use up 30 miles of range because of the extreme heat?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011
7:57 a.m.

With half a charge left, I plug the Leaf in at the 240V charging station after arriving at work. Yesterday, I decided that I had to stop worrying so much about the charge level and switched out of Eco mode. In regular drive mode, with 100 hundred percent of torque available from a standstill, the Leaf is a very quick little car. The suspension is also sorted enough, and absorbed the rough roads of my commute so well, that I failed to realize for a number of blocks that I was driving 10 mph over the posted limit. (Whoops.)

11:12 a.m.

I have to drive to Novi this afternoon for a demo of Hyundai’s new BlueLink system, and I’ve realized that the Leaf won’t be able to handle the 60-mile round trip in the 90-degree heat, with the A/C turned on, traveling only on highways. I think I’ll borrow the Porsche Panamera 4 V-6 from our fleet and use it instead.

On hearing about my trip to Novi, copy editor Rusty Blackwell shoots me an e-mail about an electric-car meetup this weekend that will also take place in Novi. I don’t think I’ll attend, because the Leaf’s slow charge time means that I’ll have to spend the entire day there as I wait for the car to recharge.

11:01 p.m.

Any range anxiety I had about my weekday driving is gone, thanks to my 3.5-mile commute from downtown Ann Arbor. Also thanks to the fact that most of my social life takes place within the city limits of Ann Arbor. I am enjoying the Leaf for its silent and smooth operation, its instant power, its petite footprint, and its straightforward ergonomics. I’ve found that I haven’t really had to modify my life for the car, although I did set that spider free instead of killing it. Apparently the Leaf is changing my life by influencing me to help protect nature in more ways than one!

Thursday, June 9, 2011
8:53 a.m.

I wasn’t planning on plugging in this morning — I still had 68 miles left on the charge — but I’m starting to get anxious about the weekend. (So much for my range anxiety being gone.) I will try to get some errands done this evening, since I will be able to plug in at the 240V charger again tomorrow.

I’m also starting to worry about the weather — it’s supposed to rain this weekend, which means it’s probably not a good idea to string an extension cord from the car across the grass to my patio. The fact that I don’t have a garage could mean that I won’t be able to charge the Leaf at all this weekend. Still, I have yet to leave Ann Arbor in my time with the Leaf (the things I do outside of town are well outside of the car’s range), and the furthest errand I have planned is only to the Meijer in Scio Township, 2.4 miles from my house.

3:27 p.m.

The more I think about having to plan every trip and to consider charging points, I am getting a little tired of the electric car lifestyle. A car is supposed to provide freedom and access to the open road, but so far, I’m too afraid to take the Leaf on the open road, lest I run out of juice or find myself too far from a charger.

7:16 p.m.

I now measure trips in distance, not time, and as much as my range anxiety has gone away, I still find myself constantly looking at the [always dropping] range meter. Now off to my friend’s place across town for dinner.

7:31 p.m.

I Ieft home with 95 miles of range showing. After only 3 miles — about two of which were on the highway — I am down to 84 miles. Driving at highway speeds, you can literally watch the miles tick away.

Friday, June 10, 2011
9:01 a.m.

I cheated. After dinner last night, my friend and I went to Royal Oak (about 50 miles from Ann Arbor) in his car, and he asked me to drive back to Ann Arbor. It was no comparison to the Leaf. The Leaf’s instant-torque, single-speed electric motor has spoiled me. There are no hesitant gear changes, no small torque band and anemic power delivery, just seamless forward movement.

With the weekend looming, I plugged in this morning even though the Leaf still showed 74 miles on the clock. With all the errands I have to run and the slow charging time on a household 110-volt plug, it promises be an interesting weekend.

5:10 p.m.

I leave work for the weekend and put the Leaf in Eco mode. The range indicator shows 121 miles. Wait, the wipers use how much energy?? Scratch that first mileage statement: I have 114 miles for the weekend. I drive home, with no A/C and minimal wiper use, with 109 miles left. I can’t help but to stare longingly at my own gas-powered car parked only a few spots away…

Saturday, June 11, 2011
2:04 p.m.

Off to run errands. They are all around Ann Arbor, so I’ll be able to avoid the highway. I have 92 miles on the tank (in Eco mode) and a total of about 10 miles worth of errands. Maybe I’ll eat lunch near the office so I can use the battery charger to “top off” the tank. On another note, the XM three-month free trial ended this morning. It’s a good thing the Bluetooth streaming works flawlessly and is simple to use.

5:11 p.m.

I finished all my errands, having driven mostly in Eco mode, and have 59 miles of range showing. I’m hoping that the rain holds off, both because it would hinder my ability to plug in the Leaf and because I’m having a cocktail party this evening.

Monday, June 13, 2011
8:16 a.m.

I say goodbye to the Leaf after driving to work. Yesterday, I only drove the Leaf three-quarters of a mile. (Much cleaning and recuperating was needed after my party.) In fact, part of the reason that I volunteered to drive the Leaf this past week was because I knew that most of my activities would not take me that far from home. There were a few range-anxiety-induced moments, but driving the Leaf really didn’t affect my schedule that much. However, I would have felt differently if I had plans to drive anywhere more than, say, 30 miles away. If I had a 240V charger at home, it might have impacted my thinking even less, because when I knew that I would be able to plug in to the higher-voltage charger in the morning, I drove the Leaf more like a normal person in a normal car.

Two things keep me from being an electric-car convert: the overall range is too small to use the Leaf as primary vehicle, and the charging time is too lengthy. Realistically, I was never in danger of running out of juice and getting stuck on the side of the road, but every time I drove the car, even for just a few miles, it meant more hours during which the car would have to be idle while it was charging.

In my week with the Leaf, I drove only 114 miles, but in that time the Leaf changed how I viewed traveling by car: no longer was a trip measured by how long it took, but by how many miles it was. It’s a new kind of driving — you can drive an automatic, you can drive a manual, or you can drive electric.

2011 Nissan Leaf

Base price (with destination): $33,600
Price as tested: $33,930
Available federal tax rebate: up to $7500

Standard Equipment:
16″ aluminum alloy wheels
Portable trickle-charger cable
Front-seat side-impact air bags
Front- and rear-seat side curtain air bags
Stability and traction control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Electronic brake force distribution and brake assist
Vehicle security system
Cruise control
6-speaker CD audio system with audio input jack
USB connection port
XM Satellite Radio
Navigation system
Multi-function trip computer
Power windows & locks
LED headlights & taillights
Bluetooth hands-free phone system

Options on this vehicle:
Splash guards, $140
Floor mats & cargo area mat $170
Cargo net $20

Key options not on vehicle:
Internal-combustion engine (not offered)
Solar panel spoiler
Rearview camera
Auto on/off headlamps

EPA-rated range:
73 miles

Estimated charging time:
220-volt outlet: 8 hours
110-volt outlet: 21 hours
DC fast charge to 80%: 30 minutes

80 kW AC synchronous motor
24 kWh lithium-ion battery
3.3 kW onboard charger
120-volt portable trickle charging cable
240-volt home charging dock
Optional 50 kW DC fast-charging port


Single-speed direct-drive

Curb weight: 3366 lb
Coefficient of drag: 0.29
Length x width x height: 175.0 x 69.7 x 61.0 in
Wheelbase: 106.3 in