2011 Nissan Leaf: Unplugged, it Tours

November 30, 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf:  Unplugged On Tour

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.

Lamp's shape manages airflow.

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Calling All Cars

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 Antenna

Whimsical Airflow-Design Antenna

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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 Travel

Has Gun, Will Travel

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demo.  You might discover it's a electrified rover with a range within your range.

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