Test Drive: 2011 Nissan Leaf -Review

I had the all-electric 2011 Nissan Leaf last week and shared the story on the air on last Saturday’s shows.  It was an interesting experience to say the least.

First, I will say that the car itself is spectacular.  It drives like a dream, handles great, and has an amazing amount of interior room.  If Nissan decides to use this car with a gasoline, fuel-efficient engine, they will have a winner.  For the car itself, there is simply nothing but great things to say.

I will say that driving an all-electric car comes with some anxiety.  It is a bit of an odd feeling knowing that should you run out of juice, nobody can rescue you with a can of gas or jumper cables.  If you get stranded, you are really stranded for a minimum of 8 hours if you have the home quick charger.  But as in my case, without the regular charger I am 20 hours away from being back on the road.

The big test was last Friday when I drove from home to the CBS 11 studios for my weekly TV segment.  It is 35 miles one way.  Then I go about 5 miles more after to studios where to do the TV gigs in LA, Sacramento, Houston and Denver.  So that is 40 miles of travel one way, 40 miles back to the charger.  When I left home, my range gauge showed 91 miles.

My angle was different from others that have reviewed the car, I drove it normally.  65 miles per hour on the freeway, popped it up to 90 just to see if it would (it did).  I had the heater on, the headlights on, and the radio on.  Again, trying to see how the car did when driven normally.

When I got to the studios at about 7:15 AM, the range meter showed 19 miles.  I had driven 40 miles, but lost 72 miles on the range gauge.  Uh oh.  But by the time I get done with the TV news segments, do a few radio interviews in the other markets etc it is usually about Noon before I leave.  I plugged the car in upon my arrival, figuring five hours of charging would get me home, no problems.

When done at the studios just before Noon, I showed the range gauge had risen to only 34 miles, but I was 40 miles from home.  “This could be a problem” I thought to myself.  But as I had driven the car during the week, I noticed that sometimes the range went up, depending on traffic conditions, etc.

So I head out, hoping to pick up 6 to 7 miles of range on the drive home.  Now I am easing the car along, no radio, no heat or air, driving 50 miles per hour trying not to get run over.

As I drove home, the gauge continued to fall slowly.  After I got to about 20 miles left, it started falling fast.  Now sweat beads are forming on my forehead and my anti-perspirant is failing.  I was at a crossroads.  Do I try to make it home, or head for my office which is closer?  I opt for the office.

I head north with 10 miles on the range gauge showing.  I calculate that I am about 7 miles from my office, so I should be fine.  In pretty short order, I am at 8 miles showing and then the gauge goes blank.  I take this as a not- good sign.  After about another mile, I am now about 3 miles or so from the office when suddenly on the dash appears a message, and not the one I wanted to see:


or some words to that effect.  And on cue, the car loses power down to nothing as I coast to the side of the road.

I call a flat bed and had it towed to one of our sponsors to plug it in.  I went back the following afternoon to pick it back up and complete my last couple of days with the car.

And that my friends is my first experience with an all-electric car.

SO, based on this, here are my conclusions, in no particular order:

As I suspected, this is not a car for everyone, including me.

  • Nissan’s claim of Leaf having a 100-mile range may be true, but I have serious doubts and would say that under the best of circumstances, with extraordinary driving techniques, the true range is 80 to 85 miles.
  • For most people the true range is probably 60 to 65 miles.
  • If you choose this car, you will understand the new term, “low range anxiety”.
  • If you choose this car, you will do a lot of planning ahead on your journeys.
  • There are quick chargers that will be available in the future that will charge this car to 80% in less than an hour.  No matter what this costs, get one if you plan to have an all-electric car.

Finally, if you are someone who drives 50 miles a day or less and that won’t vary, this is a great car and one easily worth the $25000 it will cost you after the federal rebate is applied.  There are some for whom that this is the perfect car.  I just drive too much.  I will say too that the problems I had with the car were my fault for trying to drive it normally and underestimating the amount of time it takes to re-charge.

Kudos to Nissan for getting this car as far as they have.  As technology advances, no doubt Nissan will have a nice jump on everyone and when that day comes, I’d love to drive this car again.  As an aside, my first cell phone died quickly too, back in 1985.

  1. Henry Yuan 2 years ago

    I am considering lease Nissan leaf SV for 36 months w/ 15K miles per year.
    How can I calculate my monthly payment to estimate what is a good deal?
    Is there any auto dealer you can recommend?
    I live in San Ramon, CA 94583

    Thank you.


    • Michele Sanders 2 years ago

      Henry, there is honestly no real way to calculate a lease payment on your own. There is complicated software, you’d need to know the residual and money factor, etc. I can’t even do it.

      Call my friend John Driebe the Owner at Elk Grove Nissan, I bet he can make it worth the drive: https://www.carprousa.com/dealer/nissan-of-elk-grove-2/san-francisco
      THANKS for listening to the show.

      Jerry Reynolds, President
      Car Pro Radio Network

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