Jun 6, 2014

Nissan Leaf 15k miles later - Awesome in the Summer/Awful in the Winter


In August, 2012 I picked up a '12 Leaf SV. At the time I was driving a 2010 Prius, but a recent, dramatic drop in price on the Leaf attracted me to it, so I signed up for a two year lease. I turned the car in early, in February of 2014, with 15,000 miles.

Here's what I loved about the Nissan Leaf

Phenomenal fuel economy. The math with eMPG (electronic miles per gallon) is weird at times, but in simple terms, during my ownership of the car gas was in the ~$3.50/range, and with the cost of my home electricity I was getting not much less than 100 miles on that amount of money.

Fantastic powertrain. Despite having only 107 horsepower, the Leaf has around twice that in ft/lbs of torque. Also, unlike any gas-based vehicle (hybrid or not), there is no delay in throttle response; when the pedal is pressed the car accelerates immediately, and surprisingly briskly up to around 40 mph (above that, the Leaf accelerates like any other 107 horsepower car: slowly).

Miscellaneous. I never tired of being able to turn the car on remotely by my phone, even if the service was unreliable at times. The Leaf is also an exceptionally reliable car (lacking many of the expensive parts of a gas-based car; engine, emissions system, complex transmission, etc.).

Here's what I did not love about the Nissan Leaf: winter range

The Leaf's Achille's heel in the winter is its battery. Most batteries perform poorly when cold, and the colder they are the more poorly they perform. The Leaf's battery is no exception. Though it has a built in heater that kicks in at very low temperatures, in general the range in the winter drops precipitously. fueleconomy.gov rates the 2012 Leaf's range at 73 miles, but this is highly variant upon driving (and driver) conditions. On a warm day, driving at moderate speeds, the car can achieve its 73 mile range, and a limited number of owners have gone 100 miles on a charge.

However, when it looks like this outside:

This can happen (and yes, I started that day with a full battery pack, showing all of its bars):
Although I've traveled only 30.8 miles, the estimated remaining range is "---", which I estimate meant there were around five more miles until this happened (this from a different day, also starting with a full pack):
On this occasion I had been travelling at 2.4 miles per kilowatt hour instead of 2.1 in the picture above. My estimated range had hit "---" several miles earlier, but I wanted to see when I would hit the notorious turtle mode. Apparently range at that point can be as little as 1/4 or 1/2 mile, and power is greatly limited, with a top speed around 30 mph.

The Leaf's dirty little secret

Reviewing posts at My Nissan Leaf, it's clear that winter experiences vary widely. Although these cars inevitably suffer poorer range in freezing temperatures, a common way to deal with this problem is by using the heat sparingly. Not only does the cold decrease the battery's capabilities, but unlike a gas-based car, the Leaf has no waste heat to heat the cabin with, so it heats as a typical electric heater does, and this leeches a lot of power from the pack. I spent much of last winter driving with the heat on low, and on a few occasions turned it off (as much as possible--the windows fog quickly with it entirely off).

A bright future

Despite, at times, atrocious range, I enjoyed many of the miles in the Leaf. Nissan was the first big-name car company to create a mass produced electric car in the United States, and did so at a price point far lower than Tesla (granted, the Leaf is no Model S!), yet without compromising in major ways (range notwithstanding). The vehicle is thoroughly competent on the highway, roomy, safe, and reliable. Nissan is very slowly increasing the range of these vehicles, and when the battery capacity increases by at least 50% I would buy another.

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