1000 Mile Progress Report: Driving the All-Electric Nissan LEAF

By Paul Triolo, last updated 9/9/13 11:23am
Photos by Helen Triolo


Well, 1000 miles into this electric thing, it is an amazing and brave new world. The LEAF is a stunningly well-engineered driving machine and a perfect commuter car for those with a work commute under 50 miles each way (or lucky enough to have a charging station at work). Range (around 100 miles per charge for the 2013 model) improves with each new model, and the number of charging stations also continues to increase. The US is now on pace to have 7500 charging stations of various types by the end of 2013. California has by far the most --nearly 5000-- while Maryland is coming along with over 500.

How long does it take to charge and how far can you go?
It takes around 3 hours to fully charge the car, and the range is around 100 miles (I've seen 94 to 109 on the dashboard estimate after charging). Actual range depends on how the car is driven. More about that below. We had a charging station installed in the garage, with a connector that plugs into an outlet in front of the car to charge it. I plug it in when I get home from work, and can track the charging progress via a nice iPhone app.

Where else can you charge it?
Mom's Organic Market in Rockville has a free EV charging station for its customers. We stopped there last week for half an hour and the 2.4 kwh charge added 14 miles to our range. Whole Foods Market has chargers in some of their garages. The parking garage at Rockville Town Square has a charger, as do some parking garages in downtown Bethesda. Public charging rates are in the vicinity of 50 cents per kwh, which is of course higher than the at-home Pepco rate. At the home-charged rate, it costs about 87 cents a day to drive the car around 30 miles a day.

Can you drive in the HOV lane?
Yes, in Maryland. A major and little known benefit of purchasing or leasing a LEAF is the HOV sticker that comes with it. Luckily, Maryland has extended HOV lane qualifications for plug in vehicles until September 2017.

What other incentives are there to buy or lease a LEAF?

The most important things to note are that you can get a $7,500 federal income tax credit for buying a LEAF, and a 20% Maryland tax credit on the cost of installing recharging equipment (which you'll need to charge the car at home). Other incentives available at the time of this writing are shown in the screenshot from the Nissan website above.

Aren't you just replacing gasoline with coal by switching to an electric vehicle?
The most common criticism I hear about the decision to go with a LEAF is that we're just replacing gasoline power with coal power. Sourcing your electricity from either solar or wind makes that objection moot. Our supplier is Washington Gas Energy Services Clean Steps Windpower; the supply comes from wind farms in Pennsylvania. Currently we are paying slightly more for the wind power. Of course, if the real cost of coal, oil, and natural gas generation were part of the cost calculation, the wind power would be far cheaper, and that process will happen over time as costs for building wind farms come down, and the true cost of fossil fuel burning begins to force more holistic calculations of environmental and social costs.

Other observations
Some other random observations after driving the LEAF the first 1000 miles (especially as compared to the Prius, our other car):

The LEAF features dashboard indicators that give instant feedback about power consumption. A constant steady foot on the pedal produces the best efficiency (similar to a Prius).

Like the Prius, the LEAF is sensitive to the terrain, but does not seem to coast downhill as efficiently as the Prius. There is a drive mode (B) which enables battery regeneration on braking and coasting, which is useful in slow traffic. There is also an Eco mode for driving in slow traffic. It limits the engine power so is not great to use during highway driving.

The LEAF has a great air conditioner, but using it all the time cuts into the battery power and range pretty significantly. It seems that having it on for a short time and them just using the fan is pretty effective.

The mapping/navigation system on the LEAF is very advanced, and provides great data and routing information, as well as the location of nearby NISSAN dealerships and other Level 2 charging points. So far have not had to try and reach such a location because of low charge but I'm sure this will happen at some point.

It is very nice not to have a tailpipe.

The car feels a bit “heavier” than the Prius.

I don't miss gas stations.

One trip I take frequently but can't do with the LEAF currently is to State College, PA. However, a number of Level 3 (fast charge) charging stations are apparently being installed along the interstate in PA near Harrisburg. When this happens it will be at least possible to consider driving to State College with a quick charge in Harrisburg. The Level 3 or “DC quick charge” port is also in the front of the vehicle, and is also called a CHAdeMO interface. The US has over 150 such stations installed (far behind Japan and Europe), but Tesla has now adopted a different quick charge standard and is installing its own charging stations. It's not clear how this will play out over the longer term; I am hoping it won’t dilute the quick charge market .

So far in my book, the LEAF has lived up to all the marketing hype. It is really the only EV in its class. The Volt is still a crutch to full electric, smaller EVs don’t have the range and the price/performance ratio is not comparable, or you have to go high end, like the Tesla S, and pay a substantial premium for higher range (250 miles for 80v Tesla, for example).

Filed under Tech & Science, Green transportation

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