Inhabitat has been following the development of a bevy of electric cars, but the question for the average driver remains: Will an electric car leave you stranded? The issue is so common it has a name: range anxiety. The all-electric Nissan LEAF was named World Car of the Year in 2011 and has been changing the game as it enters the mainstream market in 2012, but can you really drive one as far as you need to if you don't live in a city center? We aimed to find out. Inhabitat tested a Nissan LEAF on a country commute for a week to see how it handled hard roads, highways, and even not being charged overnight. Read on to find out how it all played out.
First off, what does it take to keep a Nissan LEAF juiced up and happy? You can plug it into a standard grounded household outlet (110-120 volts) and get a full charge in 7 hours, or you can plug it into a high-voltage quick charger for an 80% charge in 30 minutes or a full charge in 2 hours. Those are workable numbers–just barely–but that means a convenient charge only if you happen to have quick chargers in your area. The best solution for the moment is to purchase one for your garage, but our favorite feature in the LEAF is that the car has an entire menu to help you locate quick chargers on your drive. Quick chargers are still few and far between outside of progressive cities like San Francisco or Portland, but if there is a charger in your area, the LEAF won’t make you download an app or bookmark a website to find it. Just push the charging menu button and it will locate all stations in your drivable radius.
So once you have your LEAF charged up, where can you go, and do you need to keep an anxious eye on your estimated range meter that tells you how many miles you have left till you’re on the shoulder? We noticed that our test car got the most out of its 90-mile average total range when we drove the car at moderate speeds–about 30-40 miles per hour. Slow driving dragged that down a bit, but what really killed our range was highway driving. We noticed 1 estimated mile of range drop for every .1-.2 miles we traveled above 60 miles per hour. That means you’ll drive like an old fogie on the highway in the LEAF, guaranteed, at least if you want to guarantee you get to grandma’s house.
One night we didn’t charge the test car because we weren’t planning on driving much the next day. But the following day we had to make urgent trips to the doctor and pharmacy, which ran us past our range limit. We stopped for several hours to recharge in town at a relative’s house, and still got home with a low-battery warning after adding 9 miles to our total range with the stop. Moral of the story: expect the unexpected and plug this puppy in every night. If you do have to stop at a friend’s house to fill up, though, make it an electric car-hating buddy, because nothing gives them more joy than seeing a limping EV pull into their safe harbor. It’s the considerate thing to do.
The Nissan LEAF is the most car-like all-electric car we have driven so far. Other than its silent propulsion, it is indistinguishable from a Nissan hatchback, so you get normal storage, legroom, standard features, and so on. But beware that like other electric cars, using the HVAC system will set you back 13 miles of range, so just like the Mitsubishi i, the LEAF is best driving in moderate climates or in more extreme climates if you live close to your charger.