While the 2011 Nissan Leaf is small, its crossover-style design offers a surprising amount of interior space in a stylish package. And its new, lithium-ion battery helps improve range – to 100 miles per charge – enough to more than adequately cover the daily driving needs of the typical American motorist. But the really pleasant surprise came when I slipped behind the wheel of a Leaf prototype.
Who says electric vehicles have to be boring?
I’ll admit that’s what I was expecting as I headed out to California recently for a chance to drive the new Nissan Leaf. The battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, is due to go on sale late next year, and the Japanese maker promises to add three more models to its battery car fleet.
Consumers weren’t very charged up about previous generations of electric vehicles, and for good reason: They were slow, cramped, offered virtually no range and, worst of all, weren’t very much fun to drive.
While the 2011 Leaf is small, its crossover-style design offers a surprising amount of interior space in a stylish package. And its new, lithium-ion battery helps improve range – to 100 miles per charge – enough to more than adequately cover the daily driving needs of the typical American motorist.
But the really pleasant surprise came when I slipped behind the wheel of a Leaf prototype, shifted into “D” and stomped on the accelerator pedal. On paper, the Nissan BEV’s numbers might not seem all that impressive: the little electric only makes about 110 horsepower, but unlike a conventional gasoline engine, which needs to rev up to reach maximum performance, electric motors develop maximum tire-spinning torque the moment they start turning. So, when Leaf launches, you sink deep into your seat.
The biggest burst of acceleration is from 0 to around 30; it’ll take a bit less than 10 seconds to hit 60, and the crossover/hatchback’s top speed is 90 mph.
The car comes with a built-in 110-volt charger, which will require an overnight connection to a standard wall outlet. For faster recharging, buyers will be able to purchase a 220-volt system. And Nissan is forming a variety of partnerships, most recently with the mega-utility Reliant Energy, to set up quick-charge stations that can “refill” 80 percent of battery range in a matter of minutes.
Lithium-ion batteries aren’t cheap, but Nissan has come up with a novel way to sell Leaf. You’ll buy the car – the anticipated price is around $25,000 after the $7,500 federal tax credit – then lease the battery. How much, the automaker isn’t saying, but Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn hints the lease will come in around the same price the typical motorist would spend, each month, for gasoline.
There’s little question plenty of folks will be pleased to drive a zero-emissions vehicle, but for those who aren’t totally driven by what Ghosn calls environmental “guilt,” Leaf’s price tag and performance could win over plenty of other buyers.
Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than 30 years covering the global auto industry. His work appears in a wide range of publications worldwide, and he is a frequent broadcast commentator on subjects automotive.
2011 Nissan Leaf
Miles per charge: 100.
Engine options: 110-horsepower, 8-kilowatt electric motor, 24 kwh lithium-ion battery.
Manufacturer’s suggested retail price (base): $25,000 est., after $7,500 federal tax credit. Battery will be leased at an estimated $200 to $300 per month.
Cost fully loaded: Unclear if Nissan will offer Leaf fully loaded.