Another new electric vehicle that has made a splash, the Chevrolet Volt, has a supplemental gasoline power source. The Leaf is powered solely by grid electricity, which charges its 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.
The Leaf is an attractive four-door hatchback, as opposed to some funky, far-out looking thing that screams "I'm green, but I'm also a geek."
The design language is, thankfully, not much of a departure from other Nissan models.
The Leaf has proprietary batteries developed by Nissan and NEC mounted between the wheels and under the floor. They generate more than 90 kilowatts of power, and the electric motor turns out 80 kilowatts— giving the Leaf a 0-60 mph time of less than 10 seconds. To conserve its battery, the Leaf has a top speed of 90 mph.
If you have an iPhone, Nissan is offering an app that will allow drivers to check on remaining mileage, set timers for charging or to set the timer to activate climate controls.
The big issue with the Leaf is its limited range. Nissan says you can go 60 to 120 miles on a full charge. That's not bad, but many drivers will not feel comfortable with that kind of limitation.
Therefore at this point, it's probably best to view the Leaf as a niche vehicle, for those who live perhaps in urban areas and limit their driving to spots within their city. Or suburbanites who are only running errands nearby. If you are a commuter logging 20-30 miles or more one way, this vehicle would cut it a little too close for comfort for you.
It's unlikely that you'll want a car that can't take you from Atlanta to Macon and back without recharging for a few hours.
That said, Nissan still deserves props for coming up with some technology that moves the needle when it comes to developing transportation that gets us off our gasoline dependency. Let's hope they continue to hone that technology so that it can hold broader market appeal.
Because by pretty much every other measure, this is a very good car.
It seats five fairly comfortably, rides smoothly and has all other creature comforts that you would expect in a nice mid-market car.
The Leaf is priced at $32,780 2011, but qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit and a Georgia tax break of $5,000.
The car takes electricity from either a 110-volt, a 240-volt or a 440-volt plug—but the 110 is the only one you probably have at your home or can find on the road conveniently.
But buy a Leaf and Nissan contractors will come to your home to set you up with a 240-volt charging station. Nissan also hopes that up to 10,000 240-volt charging points and up to 250 440-volt quick-charge points will be built across the country over the next year or two. Seems a bit unlikely.
The Leaf gets excellent fuel economy, with EPA ratings of ... ha! just checking to see if you were still awake.