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Preview Drive: 2011 Nissan LEAF EV Prototype Page 2

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2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

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2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

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Nissan LEAF

Nissan LEAF

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2011 Nissan LEAF prototype

2011 Nissan LEAF prototype

Enlarge Photo

2011 Nissan LEAF prototype

2011 Nissan LEAF prototype

Enlarge Photo

2011 Nissan LEAF prototype

2011 Nissan LEAF prototype

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Easy to drive…in a parking lot

As with some of our colleagues who got a chance to drive the mule a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles (at Dodger Stadium—notice a trend?), our actual time behind the wheel was extremely limited—just a couple of minutes—with the total course length just over a quarter of a mile. But we got the chance to hustle the front-drive LEAF prototype through a tight coned-off S-curve at 20 to 25 miles per hour and found that the steering was responsive but not at all like that of a sports car. Slowing down for a tighter corner, we noticed that Nissan hasn't dialed up the regenerative braking as aggressively as it could have; the LEAF—again, at least in prototype form—carries its momentum, at least at low speeds, like an automatic-transmission vehicle. Throttle and brake response felt spot-on in the test mule, and the brake pedal had a good feel but wasn’t grabby. The Mini E, for instance, has a more aggressive regen calibration that takes a little getting used to. You could step from a gasoline vehicle right into this and still be smooth, so that’s probably the goal.

Of course, a low-speed course like the one we drove shows off the better points of an all-electric powertrain like the LEAF’s. Although we observed plenty of torque from 5 to 30 mph in momentary wide-open acceleration, EVs typically aren’t quite as perky at Interstate speeds and we can’t yet say how it might fare as a freeway commuter. We only hit 35 mph briefly, but top speed for the LEAF will be 90 mph, with 0-60 times in the ten-second range, likely.

The vast underfloor-mounted battery pack, developed by a joint venture with partner NEC, has a relatively small 24 kWh capacity (made up of 48 separate modules about the size of a hefty hardcover book)—and thus weighs around 400 pounds—but Nissan says that should be enough to drive 100 miles on a full charge. Just under a small cover at the snout of the car are two charging interfaces—one for home charging, the other for a quick-charging system. Although their was some conflicting information at the event as to how close the battery pack was to final form, Nissan was clearly not getting anything close to that range in this low-speed course. Now would be the time to tell you that we drove the LEAF in record low temperatures for Seattle—a crisp and sunny 30 degrees. To anyone who’s familiar with car batteries weakened by cold, the same thing happens to some degree even on modern lithium-ion packs.

Although our drive was too short to make any grand statements or pronounce the LEAF a winner, Nissan is poised to be the first with a mass-market EV, and that alone is creating quite a buzz among green-car fans.

Nissan wouldn't let us actually sit in the cosmetically final LEAF; we did lean inside and take note of the instrument panel, which contained a Honda-like two-tier gauge display, plus a clean center-console design with a nav/infotainment screen, plus buttons for preheating and precooling, useful features that will allow users to bring the LEAF to temperature while it’s still plugged into a charging station, thus using less battery power. Although the coarse, velvety upholstery in the LEAF is a little plain-looking, it's made of recycled plastic bottles and home appliances.


 
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