The Nissan LEAF is the future for automobiles, and the future is now.
I recently finished three days behind the wheel of the amazing little four-door hatchback and I am even more impressed with this car now than when I first drove it at the press preview in Tennessee last fall. It simply is astounding how good the technology is in Nissan’s initial effort at building an all-electric powered automobile.
The LEAF is an amazing car to drive. Push a button on the dash and the motor starts without a sound. Only the dash lights flashing on tells you that the car is operational. An oversize toggle switch shifter on the center console allows you to put the car in drive or reverse. Once on the road, the car moves in soundless wonder. There’s no engine noise or exhaust rumble and no whine from the transmission because the LEAF doesn’t have an engine or transmission. The silence is almost eerie.
At a starting price of $33,630, the LEAF is the least expensive battery-electric production car on the market today. With its 24 kilowatt-hour battery, it qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit, bringing the price down to $26,130. However, the initial 2011 model production run of 20,000 vehicles already has been sold (though delivery is still pending on most of them). Nissan promises a larger production in 2012.
The LEAF essentially is a commuter vehicle. It will take you to work and back and allow you to run all of your errands, all on a single battery charge. With a fully charged battery, it has a range of 100 miles (we got 117 miles in a recent test). You can plug the LEAF into a standard 110-volt household circuit to recharge the batteries, though you have to use the charger and heavy-duty cable that comes with the car, neatly stashed in zippered canvas bag in the trunk and it’ll take about eight hours for a full recharge.
Meantime, Nissan is leading the way in developing a public charging infrastructure in cities around the country and at rest stops along the interstate highway system, the lack of places to re-charge being the biggest problem for electric car owners. Obviously, if trips are within 100 miles or if you can re-charge at your destination, then the absence of public charging stations is not a problem. Nissan says a network of fast-charging stations will be in place within the next year.
LEAF owners can buy a Quick Charge Port for $700, which will enable the use of a direct current fast-charger to bring the LEAF batteries back to 80 percent of capacity within 30 minutes. Nissan also offers a 220-volt home charging unit ($2,200 installed) that recharges the batteries in four hours.
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.