2011 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
At the Midwest Automotive Media Association's 2010 Fall Rally, Nissan introduced its no-tailpipe emissions Leaf. This 100-mile range electric vehicle has a lithium-ion battery pack down its center tunnel, underneath the stadium-style rear seat and between the rear wheel wells.
It's a two-box hatchback that seats four comfortably and performs commuting tasks well. An exception: parking. The rear headrests force you to play peek-a-boo. Otherwise, Brian Verprauskus, Nissan's corporate planning manager (one of at least three Nissan representatives presiding over this Leaf debut) is correct. It drives like a car.
Brian rode shotgun providing this correspondent the lowdown on this charged-up auto. In fact, he asked me to "drain the batteries." I exercised my right foot. This didn't diminish its space-shuttle performance; it rolled through office parks and shopping centers with plenty of juice leftover. It's compelling proof that the electric car has arrived in a fashion that suits many family-car purses and purposes.
Lamp's shape manages airflow.Enlarge Photo
Before this spaceship takes off, one must first say yes to the eye-in-the-sky. You do that via the info center's touch screen. A spy monitors vehicle location, power use, calculates range and locates quick-charge stations. Nissan calls this an Intelligent Transport system. According to Nissan, it plans a limited Leaf rollout with loaners for owners (for longer trips) and a quick-tow service should you run out of power.
After you've agreed to IT's demands, step on the go pedal. The 107-hp electric motor lights up quickly. It sprints to 40 mph. Reaching 60, however, takes about 12 seconds. You and three adult-size companions enjoy damped, hush-hush mobility. In one sense, it's like a grown-up golf cart. In another, it's like an upscale compact. Interior shapes and colors emphasize its clean driving machine theme.
Whimsical Airflow-Design AntennaEnlarge Photo
Even though the Leaf weighs a substantial 3,300 lbs., it's a compliant little scooter. Nissan says that's due to its low center of gravity. The electronic instrumentation, which has a tree-bar(k) indicator eco gauge, washes out in bright daylight. You pick forward, park or reverse manipulating an easy-to-learn stubby joystick.
The stowage compartment is a small well behind the rear seat. It's lower than the battery pack in front. Charge times vary depending on power source from 20 hours (household 120VAC) to a little more than 30 minutes (DC quick charge station).
While this ride isn't Tesla bait, attaching the charge cord is a sporting proposition; you squeeze a trigger on a gun-shaped plug. Base price: about $33,000. Federal and state tax credits could reduce costs by at least $7,500. So you might want to wave the gas station goodbye. If you can, drive a Leaf
Has Gun, Will TravelEnlarge Photo
demo. You might discover it's a electrified rover with a range within your range.