As with any all-electric vehicle, turning on the climate control affects your vehicle’s range. When the range read an unrealistic 181 km to empty, turning on the fan dropped the range by about 12 km. When the distance to empty was at a more realistic 90 km, it only dropped 7 km when I turned on the fan. Unlike the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the air conditioning only dropped the range by a few more km, whereas the Mitsubishi saw a more significant drop in range due to the operation of A/C. On the flip side, the range reduction with just the fan on in the i-MiEV was less than in the Leaf.
2012 Nissan Leaf SL. Click image to enlarge
To help dispel owners’ range anxiety, or assist with route planning, the navigation screen has a cool feature that shows a Range Map that consists of a circle radiating out from your current location showing you how far you can drive on your current charge. The navigation system also features a list of the nearest quick-charging stations and, with the touch of a button, allows you to program a route to them.
As I mentioned earlier, Nissan has done a good job of making the Leaf look and act like a normal compact car. However, that is not to say it doesn’t have its own distinctive looks. The overall shape has fluid, futuristic look that many consider cute. For me, the bulbous front headlights that stick several centimetres above the hood line are a bit too much and seem out of place. The rear end design is attractive and is complemented by a rear spoiler on our SL-trimmed test car; it features a photovoltaic solar panel that supports charging of the 12-volt battery for the various car accessories. The headlights are LED, and by this I do not mean they feature LED strips that are all the rage in automotive design today, but rather the actual headlight illumination is produced by LED lights.
Inside, the Leaf offers good sightlines all around and features comfortable enough seats that lack a bit of support. Those familiar with my reviews know how much I dislike driving vehicles without a telescopic steering wheel and unfortunately the Leaf omits this feature. Although this did make my driving position a bit odd, the compromise was not as bad as in other vehicles I have driven missing this option. The rest of the interior consists of hard plastic materials everywhere, but much like the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan does a good job of making them seem more expensive than they really are. Also like the Volt, the radio and HVAC controls look either space age or high-end kitchen appliance, depending on your point of view.
The actual sound from the stereo system is decent and clear. The rear seats do fold down, but the resulting load floor is not flat as there is a battery hump right behind them breaking up the space between the cargo area and the rear seats. All Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) come standard with auto climate control, keyless entry, push-button start, navigation, stereo with satellite radio, and Bluetooth. Our SL-equipped car added fog lights, a RearView Monitor4 (back-up camera), the photovoltaic solar panel in the rear spoiler, automatic on/off headlights, HomeLink Universal Transceiver, and a cargo cover.
At $40,030, it is hard to swallow the Nissan Leaf’s price tag with or without government kickbacks if you look at it based on purely economic value. However, there are several other good reasons to purchase the Leaf, such as investing in future technologies, relieving yourself from a dependency on gasoline or helping to improve the air quality in your neighborhood. No matter what your stance is on the Leaf and its price, it is a solid first effort from Nissan. As with any new technology, subsequent generations should take care of the Leaf’s current shortcomings. Look how far Toyota has come with the Prius over the past dozen or so years. If Nissan can duplicate this development path with the Leaf, we may start seeing electric cars as a normal sight on our roads in the near future; the same way hybrids are everywhere today.
Pricing: 2012 Nissan Leaf SL