I finally got a chance to drive it — the 2011 Nissan LEAF, I mean. It is, quite frankly, an amazing automobile.
Nissan invited me and a few hundred more automotive writers from around the world to come to Nashville and get an upclose- and-personal look at their new baby, one that Nissan is chortling as being “the world’s first affordable zero-emission car.”
The new LEAF design is a “fusion of sophisticated aerodynamics to deliver a smooth, elegant flow of the body.” All that aside, it is an attractive vehicle. It has a low compact hood, patented bulging headlights and a large rear spoiler. Nissan engineers designed the LEAF specifically for a lithium- ion battery-powered chassis. It’s a medium-size hatchback that comfortably seats five adults. It’s powered by 48 laminated compact lithium-ion battery modules and a high-response 80kw AC synchronous electric motor that generates 107 hp and 207 pounds-feet of torque. It’s highly responsive and fun to drive.
The LEAF is an “urban” vehicle; it’s made to go 100 miles or less on a single charge. The Nissan folks make no bones about that and say the LEAF is intended to take people to work and back or to transport them on their daily errands. It is not a vehicle for cross-country trips or to haul heavy cargo or pull a boat. That’s just not what it was made for.
Nissan ran a test competition during the recent press preview to see just how many miles a LEAF would get on a single charge. One of my colleagues and a Nissan executive set out from the factory outside Nashville and finally exhausted the batteries after traveling 118 miles. Not bad, and they say the battery technology will improve with amazing rapidity in the coming years. Expect a LEAF to travel 200 miles on a single charge in the not too distant future.
The LEAF can be charged up to 80 percent of its capacity in 30 minutes using the quick charge port and a DC fast charger. Charging at home through a 220V outlet will take about eight hours. The advanced lithium-ion battery pack carries an eightyear or 100,000-mile warranty.
As for performance, I found the LEAF to be amazingly responsive. Low-end torque is surprisingly good. This car gets off the line with all the power of a hot four-cylinder gasoline engine. And it really moves along on the highway, too. My driving partner topped out the LEAF at 95 mph, though there’s not a lot of get-up-and-go at high speeds. But even that will improve as this technology advances.
Base price on the 2011 Nissan LEAF is $33,000.
Ron Beasley is the automotive editor for Miami’s Community Newspapers. He may be contacted by calling 305-662-2277, ext. 261, or by addressing email correspondence to LetsTalkCars@aol.com.