2012 Nissan Leaf SL
2012 Nissan Leaf SL. Click image to enlarge
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Manufacturer’s website
Nissan Canada

Originally published on June 27, 2012

Review and photos by Mike Schlee

Photo Gallery:
2012 Nissan Leaf

If you have a passing interest in automobiles, you have probably heard about the all-electric Nissan Leaf by now. We have covered the vehicle a few times ourselves here at Autos.ca. So why are we back in one? Well, I personally haven’t had the chance to spend time behind the wheel of a Leaf, but have spent a lot of time behind the wheel of its most direct competitor, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Since the Leaf has already been covered on these pages in the past, I am not going to get too deep into the details of how it works and instead focus more on how it is to drive.

2012 Nissan Leaf SL
2012 Nissan Leaf SL. Click image to enlarge

Still in its inaugural model year, the Nissan Leaf is a zero emissions vehicle that runs purely on electric power. Powering the Leaf is an 80-kW AC synchronous electric motor that may only put out a paltry 107 hp but has a stump pulling 207 lb-ft of torque right from idle. Even at a hefty-for-its-size 1,594 kg curb weight, the Leaf will chirp the front tires from a dead stop thanks to the torquey motor (assuming traction control is disengaged). The engine continues to pull with decent power all the way up to highway speeds.

The throttle response can be manipulated in the Leaf to improve overall efficiency and range. Move the drive selector to the left, then down, and the vehicle enters D for Drive mode. Move it over the left and down once more and the vehicle enters Eco mode. The big difference is in the throttle response between Eco and Drive. In Drive, attaining and sustaining highway speeds is very easy, while in Eco mode, it is not and requires constant throttle input. When accelerating up to speed, a noticeable high-pitch whine starts to emanate from either the electric engine or the transmission around 80 km/h or so. At higher speeds though, tire and wind noise overpower it and the sound fades into the background.

2012 Nissan Leaf SL
2012 Nissan Leaf SL
2012 Nissan Leaf SL. Click image to enlarge

Driving the Leaf is like driving any other subcompact car, minus the usual engine noise and added sound effects to warn pedestrians of your approach. This is a good thing as Nissan has succeeded in making something as groundbreaking as an all-electric car while still making it familiar enough for the general public to accept it. In corners, the Leaf even handles alright, but the 205/55R16 tires are quick to give up grip due to their fuel economy–focused compound and tread pattern. With no engine noise to speak of, I could hear exactly how hard I was pushing the tires as they started losing grip with a different faint, high-pitch whine that eventually builds up to full-on wail.

As with most EVs and hybrids, the Leaf features regenerative brakes that generate electricity during off-throttle coasting and braking. To assist in stopping the Leaf, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist are standard. Although usually strong, twice while driving the Leaf I noticed a strange brake hiccup that reduced the amount of braking I had applied for a fraction of a second. It wasn’t serious, nor did it put me in danger of hitting anything, but it was a bit unnerving at first.

Since the Leaf is an electric vehicle, the big question is, as always, how far does it go on a single charge? I received the Leaf partially charged Monday afternoon and drove it home to immediately charge it up. When I returned the next morning, the Leaf was fully charged and displayed an unrealistic range of 181 km to empty. After driving 41 km to work, the Leaf now displayed a more accurate range of 91 km to empty. This was how my week with the Leaf went; I averaged 80-85 km of driving a day and would get home with roughly 45 km of range left. My commute consists of equal parts city driving, highway driving, and rush-hour crawling. Charging the Leaf from empty with a 220V charger will take roughly 7 hours, or 16 hours with a standard 110V household outlet charger like I used. I never had the Leaf drained to empty though, and 12-13 hours charging seemed fine to get it back to full from three-quarters empty.

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