2011 Nissan LEAF Review – vs. the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius

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Driving Impressions

The Volt and the LEAF are much the same in the way they drive. Both are super quiet (Volt-EV mode) and feel very solid. They all have less than 0.30 coefficient of drag allowing them to slip through the atmosphere are freeway speeds with little wind noise. The LEAF is so quiet that Nissan added a back up beeping sound when the car is put in reverse.

Weighing less than the Volt, the LEAF is easier to drive, has lighter steering, stops faster and feels zippier around town even though the Volt has more power and better acceleration. Cornering is a different story primarily due to the Bridgestone Ecopia tires on the LEAF; great for rolling resistance, but relatively poor in handling.

Our test car had a fairly high and flat roofline allowing for great headroom even while seated in the back seats. Unfortunately, the legroom back there does not match and anyone taller than 5’ 10” will have the person in front moving their seat forward. Also, the pillar between the rear door and the hatch is fairly wide and causes a decent blind spot, maybe next year Nissan will offer lane change proximity sensors.

Though the dash is laid out well, it’s relatively tall in front of the driver and if someone were say 5’ 4” and below, they might have trouble seeing over the dash due to the LEAF missing a manual seat height adjustment that is typical in European cars.


Comfort and Convenience

Our testers really liked the LEAF’s simplicity in the dash and especially the controls. Nissan really put some thought into how to package the user interface. The car is void of excess buttons and controls even though it comes loaded with Bluetooth®, cruise control, USB, back up camera, full sound system with satellite radio and a very efficient HVAC package.
Another great feature that is standard in the LEAF is the CarWings application available for your Smart Phone; it allows you remote monitoring of the charging status, security, and can turn on the interior fan powered through the spoiler mounted solar panel on the roof.

The seats in the LEAF are pretty close to standard Versa seats, not as good as the Prius or Volt front seats. One can argue that since the range is relatively short, the seats don’t really need that much adjustability. We would recommend just a manual lumbar support and a manual driver’s seat height adjustment in order not to weigh the car down with extra motors and electronics.

Charging the Nissan LEAF nissan leaf charging ports Nissan LEAF charging kit complete w/tow hook

Probably the biggest difficulty is the convenience of charging; with 110V household current, it takes 14-16 hours to make a full charge. Sure, 220V will help to bring these times down to 4-5 hours, but this adds an additional $2500 for at residence installation and not everyone lives in single family dwelling.

The engineers at Nissan did come to the rescue with ECO mode; it’s just a second click with the palm shifter and it brings on control of the throttle not seen in any other EV or hybrid. ECO mode is like driving ecology for dummies, it takes into account the load on the car and optimizes for the best mileage plus adds in a healthy dose of regenerative braking; in a rough test we saw a 20-30% improvement in charge conservation…this is significant.

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  • A Williams says:

    Just curious.. Your car today drive 500 mile on a tank of gas? Your expectations are extreme!!

  • Peter Anastopulos says:

    This a toy not a real car .Test drove the Leaf at Boardwalk Nissan and it stopped working in our drive through an office park in redwood City.They have not made this car feel real it feels like a GEM golf cart.I prefer the Volt but wish the nice design cues of the Leaf were in the Volt.Either way I will not own either till the price comes down into the 20k’s.I don’t feel the tech is mature enough yet but it’s close and I can see owning this type a vehicle reach’s 500 Miles on a charge and it mirrors the average American vehicles prices. Right now it’s a toy but will mature and be useful in the next 5 years.

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