KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors
The first pure electric-powered vehicle introduced by a major automaker, the 2011 Nissan LEAF heralds the dawn of a new era of ultra-clean motoring. Although distribution will be geographically limited and its numbers will be supply-constrained to only 20,000 units during the initial year of sales, all of those units have already been spoken for by eco-minded buyers and Nissan is gearing up its Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant to produce 50,000 of these five-passenger mid-size hatchback sedans here annually starting in 2012. With a 100-mile nominal range, driving characteristics that effectively mirror conventionally-powered cars and a surprisingly affordable price tag made even more attractive by various incentives, the LEAF is a legitimate and very real alternative choice, particularly for those considering its primary rival, the Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) 2011 Chevrolet Volt.
You'll Like This Car If...
No question that card-carrying Greenies who think EVs are the future and the future is now will love the new Nissan LEAF. Others will simply have to decide if a vehicle with its admirable cost-to-benefit ratio makes the most sense as a second or third commuter car or as a substitute for a conventional hybrid.
You May Not Like This Car If...
Drivers with unpredictable daily schedules, long commutes and/or budgets that will support only one car will be better off with a standard compact/mid-size vehicle, some type of hybrid – or the LEAF's high-profile but pricier rival for eco plaudits, the Chevrolet Volt.
What's Significant About This Car?
The electric-powered Nissan LEAF is nothing less than a revolutionary step in the advancement of modern ultra-clean automotive design. It combines user-friendly technology in a practical, affordable package that should appeal to anyone who can live within its per-charge range limitations.
Nissan has always contended that its ultra-clean character aside, the LEAF would deliver the same basic driving experience as any conventional competitor. Having put it through a variety of real-world paces, from urban stop-and-go to rolling two-lane backroads to formal freeway hauling, we can confirm that promise of functional transparency has been kept. Initial acceleration is brisk, ride compliance good and it's surprisingly capable when the going does get twisty. While calling it "sporty" would be an overstatement – especially in ECO mode – the LEAF does respond to all control inputs in a confidently predictably manner. Admittedly a tad numb on center, the LEAF's electric power steering is direct and decently weighted while its Versa-based suspension bits keep body roll fairly well in check. The effect of its regenerative braking, while noticeable, is hardly intrusive. Even the low-rolling resistance tires serve up more grip than expected, allowing, if not encouraging, at least a modicum of spirited motoring.
Green to the core
Nothing is absolutely emission-free, but with its pure electric powertrain the new Nissan LEAF comes as close as possible to zeroing out its carbon footprint. To complement that exemplary level of eco-friendliness, nearly 95 percent of all components in this groundbreaking vehicle are recyclable.
Enlightened touch-screen navigation system
In addition to guiding you to your destination and presenting various points of interest along the way, the navigation package in the LEAF graphically depicts the range limits of your out-and-back travel per charge as well as the location of all nearby commercial recharging locations.
The 2011 Nissan LEAF's well-isolated, full-featured cabin matches understated contemporary flair with a high level of user friendliness. A technical mid-size offering, it seats five, teaming decently formed front buckets with a utility-enhancing 60/40 rear bench seat that will pamper a pair of full-size adults, accommodate a trio of kids or fold to upsize cargo space from 11.7 to 24.0 cubic feet. Like much of its interior trim, all of the people perches are covered in fully recycled/recyclable material. Basic control functions are all logically arrayed, although getting comfortable with the megaload of vehicle and systems information that can be called up at any time does require a bit of personal orientation.
Distinctively – and some might contend controversially – styled, the LEAF's five-door hatch design was created to optimize total operating efficiency. Its aerodynamic lines coupled with various other streamlining elements yield a 0.29 coefficient of drag while helping to minimize wind noise that can become much more noticeable when you eliminate the sounds normally created by an internal combustion engine. Low-draw LED headlights and tail lamps bookend the package to further help extend the LEAF's potential operating range. Properly filling its nicely flared fender wells are 205/55 Bridgestone Ecopia low-rolling resistance tires wrapped around lightweight aluminum wheels.
Notable Standard Equipment
Beyond its advanced all-electric powertrain and on-board charger/charging cord, the LEAF's lengthy features roster includes a full array of power assists, driver-selectable/eco-encouraging digital readouts, real-time navigation/vehicle-information systems, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio package with iPod/USB connectivity, Bluetooth and available XM Satellite Radio, sophisticated trip computer, electric climate control system, Intelligent Key push-button starting, the ability to use web-enabled smartphones to monitor and control various on-board systems/functions. In addition to its vehicle dynamics/traction control systems, the LEAF also has front/front-side/side-curtain airbags. The $940 step up from SV to SL trim brings a RearView Monitor, rear-spoiler solar panel, fog lamps and automatic headlights.
Notable Optional Equipment
2011 Nissan LEAF extras are minimal to say the least. A Cold Package for both the SV and SL adds heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated mirrors, extra rear-seat heater ducts and dedicated temperature management circuitry, while SL buyers also can opt for a supplemental Quick Charge Port capable of delivering an 80 percent recharge in 30 minutes at dedicated public charging stations. Also on offer is a 220V home charger. Projected to cost about $2,200 installed – half or less after various credits – this hard-wired unit cuts recharging time to roughly eight hours compared to the 20 needed on a basic 110V plug-in.
Under the Hood
Energized by a 24kWh Lithium-ion-manganese-graphite battery pack mounted beneath its floor and warranted for eight years/100,000 miles, the LEAF's 80kW/107-horsepower motor/generator develops 206.5 pound-feet of torque from zero rpm. Sent to the front wheels via a single-speed reduction gear, it makes this 3,370-pound Nissan surprisingly quick off the line, takes it to 60 mph in around 10 seconds and lets it reach 90 mph. While temperature extremes and driving conditions will impact real-world range, a selectable ECO mode that that rolls back throttle response and steps up the regenerative braking effect can help stretch its nominal 100-mile per-charge potential by roughly 10 percent. Nissan says recharging will run $3 or less and that unless gasoline dips below $1.10/gallon, the LEAF's "fuel" costs will be less than a conventional car that averages 25 mpg.
AC synchronous electric motor/generator
24kWh lithium-ion-manganese-graphite battery pack
80kW/107-horsepower @ 2,730-9,800 rpm
206.5 lb-ft of torque @ 0-2,730 rpmn
Projected per-charge range: 72 miles
EPA city/highway fuel economy equivalent: 106/92
Although the 2011 Nissan LEAF SV carries a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $33,600, that figure is subject to any number of federal and state incentives aimed at fostering consumer support for this new generation of electric and plug-in vehicles. Nissan also is offering the LEAF for $349/month on a three-year/36,000-mile lease. Beyond a $7,500 federal income tax credit, the LEAF is currently eligible for $4,500-$6,000 in direct rebates from various states where it will be sold as well as several other supplemental spiffs from local jurisdictions and energy providers. Numerous and significant variables make ironclad value assessments more difficult than with a conventional vehicle. However, for buyers not concerned with range anxiety and infrastructure issues – especially those residing in temperate locales more favorable to efficient EV operation – the LEAF offers an impressive cost/benefit ratio, particularly compared to the new Chevrolet Volt, an extended-range electric vehicle that will sticker at $41,000 before its incentives.