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

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Nissan Canada

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

Second opinion, by Peter Bleakney

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2012 Nissan Leaf

There are few things more liberating than sailing past a gas station in the all-electric Nissan Leaf, watching emissions spew out of tailpipes while drivers line up, waiting to pump buck-and-change fossil fuel into their tanks. And there are few things less liberating than watching a “Low Battery” warning flashing on your dash as you try to figure out the shortest way home and hope you can make it.

In a nutshell, that’s basically everything that’s really good and really bad about Nissan’s little electric hatchback. It’s a very nice car to drive – if you’re thinking it’s a glorified golf cart, forget that right now – but it definitely requires that you schedule your driving around the Leaf, rather than the other way around. It’s a niche car for a niche market.

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

I had the loan of a Leaf for three days, and I specifically scheduled it for December to see how winter would affect it. It turned out to be unseasonably warm weather in my corner of Ontario, but it was still cold enough to notice a range that was significantly lower than that promised in the specifications.

The Leaf runs solely on an 80-kW electric motor, fed by a 192-cell lithium-ion battery that is recharged by plugging into a wall socket. It also feeds a bit of power back into the battery while you’re driving through regenerative braking. On my top-line SL tester, a small solar panel on the rear roof provided a trickle charge to the 12-volt battery that runs the peripherals. It’s one of a small number of battery-only vehicles currently available or coming soon, such as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Smart Fortwo Electric and Ford Focus EV. Other plug-in vehicles have other power sources, such as the Chevrolet Volt, which fires up a small gasoline engine to work as a generator to produce electricity when the battery is depleted, and the Toyota Prius Plug-In, which runs on its stored charge and then reverts to conventional hybrid operation.

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

The Leaf isn’t cheap. The base SV model is $38,395, while my SL was $39,995. So far, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia offer “green” rebates against the purchase price, ranging from $5,000 to $8,500. Leaf buyers also have to install a dedicated 240-volt home charger, which adds another $2,200 or so, offset in Quebec by a further incentive. In one of those bizarre twists that we’ve come to expect from the federal government, the Leaf is also hit by a $100 air conditioning tax, which was originally brought in as an environmental levy due to the extra gasoline that A/C consumes. Go figure.

Since my house doesn’t have the 240-volt charger, I had to use a regular 120-volt outlet, which more than doubled the charging time (a display in the instrument cluster monitors how much battery is left and provides a constantly-updated readout of how long it will take to go back up to full charge using either voltage). A cord is provided, but there’s a warning not to use an extension cord with it, so banish any thoughts of running one out of your second-story apartment window to charge it up.

Nissan says the Leaf will go up to 160 kilometres on a charge, but my car never gave me an estimated range of more than 125 kilometres after it was fully charged and the outside temperature was 3C. Part of the car’s “Carwings” telematics service includes a map that showed my current location and how far I could expect to go on the current battery charge.

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