Today I went for a drive in a brand new Nissan Leaf. The Leaf, as you may know, is an electric car. There aren’t that many true electric cars on the market (the Chevy Volt doesn’t count because it has both electric and gasoline engines).
The Leaf is surely one of the butt-ugliest cars I’ve ever seen in my life, but otherwise it’s a pleasant ride, a typical small hatchback. I took it out for a drive of about 25 kilometers, and was, of course, worried that the battery would run out. However, the car was fully-charged when I picked it up, and is capable of covering up to 140 kilometers on a charge, depending on driving conditions.
If I hadn’t known it was electric, I probably would not have known from the driving experience, except to say that the car was unusually quiet, particularly at low speeds. The Leaf is comfortable, well-appointed and solid–there are no compromises that I could detect in the way it’s made. Driving it is quite straightforward once you get past the fact that there’s no ignition key (you start it like a computer, by pushing a power button on the dashboard). The dashboard is designed, unmistakably, to address range anxiety. It’s reassuringly informative about the available charge, the projected range at any given moment, and even an estimate of the time you’ll need to recharge the car. When you plug it in at the end of your day, there’s a flashing blue “charging” light on the dashboard, easily visible from a distance, so that you might look at the car in the driveway from your house, say, and you’ll know if it’s still charging. For today’s 25K trip, I racked up an estimated charging time of 2.5 hours.
Kudos to Nissan for a brave innovation. I hear tell the car isn’t selling well, and some people put that down to skittishness about an expensive small car with a limited range. My two cents: if Nissan wants to sell more of these, the first problem is aesthetic. The new Ford Focus EV, by contrast, is quite a handsome vehicle, and it’s what I would go for if I cared to spend 40K on a car.