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2012 Nissan LEAF Pros and Cons at TrueDelta: An unexpected pleasure to drive - Needs more Range by clearedforils

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Introduction

Prior to driving the LEAF I was highly skeptical with electric vehicles, especially living in California where electricity costs are far higher than the national average. My cousin loaned me his LEAF for a week and in that 7 days he converted me. When I ran the numbers for cost to own, I found that electricity was about half the cost as gas and maintenance costs were $0, compared to a conservative $100 per year for oil changes and other preventative maintenance. The LEAF is a great little car.

Reviewed: 2012 Nissan LEAF

4dr Hatch 107-horsepower Electric 1-speed automatic FWD

Why the 2012 Nissan LEAF?

Warranty, maintenance cost

After having this car for 8 months my maintenance cost is $0. No oil changes, no brake pads, no air filter. The brake pads typically engage if you slam on the brakes or when stopped at light. The rest of the braking is resistance that is used to re-gen the batteries. My cousin also has a LEAF and in the first year of ownership he paid less than $14 in total maintenance, and this was to rotate tires. With the exception of windshield washer fluid, and tires, the consumables on the LEAF is almost non-existent. This is a huge plus for me. When combined with the savings in gas, the operating costs of this car are lower than any other car I have owned.

Quietness

It would not be fair to review the LEAF and not give it accolades for quietness. The caveat here is that there is a high pitched jet engine type whine when the car gets up to speed, however the noise is not by any means ear piercing. Turning on the radio with a low volume will drown out the whine. When I first started driving this car, there were far more sounds I could hear from outside of the car, such as cars approaching when on the freeway or other external noises. This is not to say the the interior is not quiet, because it is well insulated to outside noise, however, the droning of a gas engine tends to offer a form of "white noise" that blocks out other sounds at lower decibles. All this to say that Nissan has done a great job with interior quietness

Ride smoothness

Surprisingly for a small car, the Nissan LEAF has a smooth and stable ride, thanks to the low center of gravity offered by the battery system located in the bottom of the car. Without the traditional engine mounted in the front of the car, the lateral force when turning corners or entering the freeway from a circular on-ramp is greatly reduced from the majority of the weight being distributed close to the ground. Nissan has also built a suspension system that gives the car a pleasant ride whether on the freeway or going over rough city streets.

Audio & nav systems

Never in any of my previous cars have I had a navigation system. The Nissan LEAF's system is easy and enjoyable to use. It's Bluetooth pairs nicely with my iPhone, although I will say that I listen to Audible and for some reason the Samsung S3 paired with the LEAF had an issue with displaying the correct book, but would play the right audio. I do not have this issue with iPhone. Making calls are simple, navigation is easy to use and the radio is intuitive and easy to set up. With integrated climate control and energy stats, the navigation system eliminates the need for buttons and knobs from the center console, giving the LEAF a clean an uncluttered look. The rear camera is a great addition to the navigation system, I don't know what I did without it prior to this car.

Powertrain performance

One of the things that sold me on the LEAF was the unexpected power that the car produces when you hit the accelerator. I have no problem with uphill freeway on-ramps or passing cars. On the freeway by my house, there is a large hill that most 4 cylinder cars have a problem climbing, but not the LEAF. I expected the car to slow as it reached the top the hill, instead I had to let of on the pedal as I passed through 75 mph. Compared to my 6 cylinder Altima, I would say it is equally as responsive, although I'm sure the Altima would have no problem getting an upper hand on a straight away. This is in no way a Mustang GT, but compared to a Honda Civic it has quite a bit of pep.

Why Not the 2012 Nissan LEAF?

Fuel economy

Fuel Economy is the closest category I found for "Range". Fully charged the LEAF says it will travel 100 miles, and in the right conditions (35 miles per hour with minimal stopping) it probably would go 100 miles. For normal driving, I'd say the range is 75 miles, unless the heater is on, then that could drop to about 50 - 60 miles. My commute to work is short and I wanted this car for local travel, to the grocery store, Costco, etc, and for that purpose it works well. Unfortunately in my town there is only one place that has a charging station and that is the Nissan Dealer. If I travel outside of town, I need to find a charging station or be sure I am within 35 miles from home. When I have to travel to Corporate I have to take one of our Gas Cars, since it is on the outskirts of my 35 mile range. To fully charge the car it takes 3 hours, which limits my destination.

Depreciation

My LEAF was purchased in November 2012, and if I could have seen two weeks into the future I would have waited to buy a LEAF. Unfortunately for me, Nissan lowered the cost of the LEAF by way of making a less feature packed version and a higher version with leather seats, etc. As I look at the Retail value of my LEAF on Kelly Blue Book, it is priced at $19,000 in excellent condition, which is $8,000 less than the payoff of my loan. I leased this car because I figure at the end of 3 years electric cars will be much different and I knew I would want a greater range. The fact that this car has depreciated so much in 8 months is disappointing, unless someone is looking to purchase a LEAF and can get a used one for close to $20,000 less than MSRP.

Driving position & visibility

This complaint comes from my wife, but it is worth mentioning. With the slope of the windshield, it seems to reflect the interior of the car and is distracting to her when she drives. This is during the day only, at night she does not notice the glare. Personally I do not notice this but anyone considering a LEAF may want to take notice of it on a test drive.

Conclusion

The range of the batteries prohibit driving long distances, restricting this car to in town errands. If purchasing the car, consider buying used which will save close to $20,000 off of retail. Most LEAF's should have relatively low mileage since distance is limited and charging takes 3+ hours to get to 80%, unless charging via a 440 outlet which reduces that time to 30 minutes but can only be used once per day.

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