2011 Nissan Leaf

Yes, electric cars are here again. Barely. And, as one of the fortunate few in my neighborhood (Orange, CA) to take ownership of the 2011 Nissan Leaf, I have to say it's been worth the long year of preparation. That includes everything from garage pump installation, electric company negotiation and (finally) electric driving exhilaration.

This buying decision came as a surprise even to me. You see, I wouldn't describe myself as a "greenie," and my tendency for hard acceleration and heavy braking usually thwarts my ability to conserve fuel. And yet, even with the Leaf's limited range (around 100 miles on a full charge), I found myself seduced into this battery-powered dream.

In the same way my iPhone has ushered me to the age of mobile information dependency, my first test drive of the Nissan Leaf was a revelation. There I was, a jaded automotive journalist who has driven Bentleys and Bugattis, yet I still found the Leaf exhilarating. Taking off for the first time, it was like cutting through thin air on a silent, electric magic carpet. Whether this reaction was born of my love of new tech, the lure of being a part of pop-culture buzz, or just my boredom with the "sameness" of traditional gas-powered cars. In the Leaf it felt like I was driving the future.

Could this car be for me? Admittedly, my life is probably more compatible to electric car ownership than most. I work from a suburban home office, have access to other family cars (with large ranges and gasoline-assisted power) and most of my daily driving is within very short distances. I live in an area with heavy traffic and lots of HOV lane access (perfect for obtaining California's coveted "white" stickers – allowing HOV access for one driver only). The weather is not severely cold or hot, and my local power company, So Cal Edison, offers a special rate for EV car charging.

Although I'm happy to be a guinea pig, I move forward with some trepidation. Concerns about the slow-moving local charging infrastructure, battery range improvements (that may not be available to me) and the cost of electricity will surely add layers to my basic range anxiety, but I have decided to accept those unknowns for the sake of pioneering a new technology.

Before we continue, you may be interested in some of the basics about the Leaf that separate it from the pack:

  • Travels up to 100 miles on a full charge.

  • A 220-240 volt plug must be installed on your property, so you have your own filling station at home.

  • Normal highway speeds can be achieved and even surpassed – up to 96 miles per hour. And it has 100% torque (meaning it feels peppy).

  • It gets 100 miles per gallon (equivalent).

  • An iPhone app turns the air/heat on/off, turns the charger on/off and tells you how much charge you currently have.

  • Sophisticated CARWINGS information system shows you where the nearest charging point is and helps you navigate to it. It also helps you plan your routes more efficiently.

  • RSS feeds bring news updates from the web into your car.

  • Quick DC chargers are coming to major cities – they'll take only one-half hour for 80% charge (although repeated use will wear out the battery pack faster).

  • An optional "trickle charger" placed in your car that plugs into a normal outlet can help you out in emergencies when a compatible 240 Volt plug is not available.

Over the next two years the Leaf will get many EV competitors, like the Tesla Model S, Smart ForTwo Electric, Ford Focus BEV and the Honda Fit EV. With the addition of these and other EVs, major cities and electrical companies will no doubt improve the baseline of charging infrastructure that will ease more drivers' minds. And, hopefully battery technology will also continue to improve as we go – creating longer driving ranges.

But if nothing else, my bi-weekly confessions should enlighten and entertain those toying with the idea of entering this electrified driving era while it's still in its infancy. If not, the next-level of plug-in hybrids that include gas engine back-ups are flowing into the market at top speeds. There's one domestic model that's already here – the Chevrolet Volt.

Next Post: Preparing a place for Hal (that's the name I chose for my Leaf). My prep included analyzing my electric bill, getting electrical work done and installing a charger in my garage.


Want to learn more about living with an electric vehicle? Follow our long-term test of the 2011 Nissan Leaf.

author photo

Joni Gray is a long-standing member of the automotive industry and has worked on both the corporate and publishing sides of the business. Over the past 20 years, she has managed advertising and marketing programs at Mazda, Hyundai and Honda and has been an editor at both Kelley Blue Book and the Los Angeles Times.

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