Nissan LEAF Pre-release Review

Tony O'Kane | 7 Comments

NISSAN LEAF REVIEW

Nissan's all-electric LEAF won't single-handedly save the planet, but if nothing else it proves that driving a zero-emissions car has more benefits than disadvantages.

At Nissan's invitation we spent some time behind the wheel of one of two LEAF's brought into the country ahead of its local market launch in mid-2012. Although our first taste was brief, it was certainly promising.

For starters, it's a production-ready car with proper small-car proportions. In fact, it's slightly bigger than both the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla hatchbacks, and has plenty of leg, shoulder and headroom for every seat.

It feels more spacious than a Prius, and there's plenty of luggage capacity in the deep boot (330 litres, to be exact).

Many of the LEAF's components are crafted from recycled materials. The seat upholstery is made from recycled PET plastic, the bumper casings are made from old urethane bumpers and the carpets and interior insulation are made from other recovered materials.

2011 nissan leaf australia 02

You'd never tell though. Despite being made out of old drink bottles, the upholstery feels just like the cloth trim you'd find in any other small car. Other interior fittings all have a high-quality feel.

Unlike the Mitsubishi i MiEV, the LEAF has a feature-rich spec sheet. There's sat-nav (which will be standard on all LEAFs sold in Australia), auto-on LED headlamps, a rear-view camera and air-conditioning.

The on-board computer will also sync up with a smart phone. This enables the charging state to be monitored and started/stopped remotely, as well as allowing the air-conditioning system to be fired up well before the driver enters the car.

The Drive

Driving the LEAF is simple. After thumbing the starter button and using the mouse-like gear selector to slot the transmission into Drive, the LEAF moves off the line smoothly and quietly.

With 280Nm available from zero rpm, the LEAF also has plenty of off-the-line urge. Keeping with the traffic is not an issue for the LEAF.

Nor is ride comfort or handling. The suspension is compliant and comfortable, and the electrically-assisted steering is direct if a little too light.

In all, the LEAF offers a driving experience that's very similar to existing small hatchbacks – aside from the eerie lack of engine noise. Is the drive compromised by the all-electric powertrain? Not at all.

If anything, it's been greatly enhanced by the exceptional torque and near-silent characteristics of the electric motor.

Potential Issues

It's packaged well and is more than a decent drive, but what of the negatives?

  • Range: The LEAF is not for long-haul driving. Nissan claims a maximum range of 170km on the European test cycle, and Nissan Australia estimates that the average Australian driver (with average Australian driving habits) will get around 100-120km out of a full battery.

    The LEAF is instead pitched as a commuter car, and intended to sit beside a petrol-powered or hybrid car in the average family garage.

    With most weekday commutes being no more than 80km the LEAF should then have more than enough range between charges, but Nissan says it will emphasise the importance of trip planning to prospective LEAF buyers.
  • Charging: Until the arrival of widespread public EV charging infrastructure, the only way to charge a LEAF is through a specialised plug installed inside a garage or parking structure. Currently, this plug requires a dedicated 15-amp circuit (which can be installed by any licenced electrician), but forget about using one if you park your car on the street.

    Nissan Australia is currently working on a charging cable that can be used with a typical 10-amp household power outlet, and expects it to be ready by the LEAF's local launch in the middle of next year.

    Charging on a 15-amp 240 volt power outlet takes between 7.5-8 hours from flat to full, and Nissan expects most users to charge their cars overnight to take advantage of cheaper off-peak electricity.

    A quick-charge station can charge the battery to 80 percent full in 25 minutes, but the high cost of the unit means only charging station providers like ChargePoint Australia, Ecotality and Betterplace Australia will be able to afford them.
  • Price: With over a year to go until the LEAF goes on sale in Australia, there's no definite answer on how much it will cost.

    Indications are that the LEAF's retail price will be “north of current Prius [i-Tech] pricing”, meaning that a $60k-plus pricetag will be likely.

    That may change if the Federal Government or state governments decide to introduce subsidies or incentives for electric vehicles, but expect the LEAF to carry a significant premium over other small cars when it launches.

    The lithium-ion battery pack currently costs US$10,000, but Nissan says the life of the battery should exceed ten years.

Verdict

It's too early to reach a conclusive verdict on the Nissan LEAF, but from what we've experienced it shows promise as a commuter car.

It will undoubtedly be expensive when it goes on sale here and the need to keep the batteries topped up will require an attitude change from owners, but it has many merits to counter these downsides. Not having to pay for petrol is just one of these merits.

From a environmental perspective, the LEAF will make most sense in states like Tasmania and the ACT, where a high proportion of electricity is produced by renewable resources.

In brown-coal states like New South Wales and Victoria, the environmental benefits are possibly marginal. But for the quality of the drive it offers, Nissan’s LEAF is a significant step forward for green motoring.

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Filed under: Featured, review, Nissan, Green, electric vehicle, EV, zero emission, electric, 2012 nissan leaf, nissan leaf, leaf, hatch, 2011 nissan leaf, nissan zero emission, small, family, Advice, special-featured, 5door, nissan ze

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  • Sean A. Curtin says,
    3 years ago
    5 likes
    It has to be said, a 60K plus price tag for this vehicle is outrageous and I will be absolutely appalled if the government is to allow this price on a vehicle that could spell clean air in our cities her in Austalia.

    Firstly, for those like myself who have watching this car, we all know it's current estimated retail price in the states starts at $35,200 USD (source, Nissan America website). With that kind of price estimate, wouldn't I be better bypassing Australian dealers altogether, purchasing one from the States and paying the shipping and import duties to obtain where here instead? This is down right ridiculous and would be anti-green but some of can't afford an extra 30K for a green vehicle. Not to mention when the maximum Australian mileage will be around the 120KM on a charge restriction. (For myself, that's to and from work for 2 days, then a recharge).

    With the higher price of the Australian dollar to the USD, this is downright import duty madness and I can not believe that the government would allow this, especially with the introduction of Carbon Tax.

    If it does come in at this price, it will only discourage potential buyers and set back the mass acceptance of these excellent vehicles all for confounded greed. That's the honest truth in a nutshell. There's too many people getting kick backs and bucket loads out of oil and they don't want these to be popular right now.

    Nissan in Japan, has been promoting these cars for the green benefit and to promote green energy within Japan. There is even government subsidies and government use of the car to promote them in Japan. Why the hell would we not be doing so here in Australia.

    My current vehicle is an over 20 year old 2nd hand vehicle that I will continue to maintain until I can purchase a green vehicle. I refuse to support the petrol industry any more than I have to and want my children to be able to breath clean air.

    I would urge TMR to at the very least recommend the price point as it's simply unacceptable. I am certain, Nissan would prefer to have lot's of sales on these vehicles and see them being widely accepted as it carries with it the after sales kick back for them, not to mention supports there to the people green vehicle.

    If we don't start these on a great price now, it's a setback to seeing these become better and better as time progresses. If there's slow sales(which will result from a stupid greedy price tag like that), it's simply going to increase the research and development time to see these cars eventually become long distance vehicles as well.

    I am all for the Nissan LEAF, however to date, not a single Nissan outlet in the country will release an availability or the price as yet. I can only hope that they are not thinking of putting the vehicle on the market with this ridiculous price tag as it will be for the majority of consumers a case of (how much petrol can I buy for 30K and I'll purchase a very nice petrol car for 30K and under).

    If anyone from Nissan Australia is reading this, I tell you now. I'm prepared to pay up to 35K for one as soon as they hit the market but 60K for a vehicle that is commuter only usage is an anti-green insanity.

    PLEASE Nissan, PLEASE. Get them in bulk if this is the problem, don't bring them out to be show pony's for the rich and shameless only.

    Yours very strongly,
    Sean A. Curtin
    Mechatronics Engineer
    • Thor Palma says,
      3 years ago
      1 like
      Sean,
      I am in the same line of thought about the government subsidising electric cars. My letter to Parliament House got a lame response wherein it stated that it is not in the government agenda at the moment.
      The prices of cars here is Australia is making a mockery of the people's intelligence and it is sad to see that the very government who are supposed to protect the public and the environment are the very same one who keeps this prices high to protect some unprofitable local car industries. In all the years the local manufacturer (owned by global corporations) has been here in Australia, I saw no advancement in the technologies towards efficiency but rather, a game of catching up with their overseas competitors.
  • Don S says,
    3 years ago
    3 likes
    The LEAF is promoted as the future of "sustainable" motion. How does it tackle traffic congestion? Further, the internal combustion engine was ready to go, once roads and servos set up-for a road system today reflecting all that easy to get fossil oil power, far, far more than what EVs are about; while the reverse is true of electric vehicles (part of the reversal of the position the world finds itself in to the time when it happened up oil), which are so small(cramped) - at the very pointy end of the most-ever savvy sci age. EV technology is very sophisticated compared to fossil but that does not mean far less could be done with oil, so potent and deployable - gets those behemoths into the air (like to see an electric engine do that) and this seems the most correct conclusion in 2012. EVs require a fossil world and rather than even being transitional, at a time of exploding global population and demand leading to a growing general shortage in ordinary materials, EVs, rather, are simply buying time, a part of the frenzied energy activity driving coal seam gas work.

    Energy Adviser
  • geoff says,
    3 years ago
    3 likes
    The cost of any automotive product is always of interest.
    The electric car
    has less components
    less assembly time
    easier servicing requirements
    assists the government in achieving it's emission objectives
    And maybe that is the clue to the exorbitant price tag

    The government, oil companies, manufacturers have factorized in the loss of revenue in running and servicing an electric vehicle as compared with a petrol or diesel powered vehicle.
    To hell with the environment they want the same income, so the selling price has been adjusted upwards.
  • J Meacy says,
    3 years ago
    1 like
    WE know its time for a change,We know it will be coming.The green car will take the place of the gas car and not just the second car.mad
    But at what price. We pay high gas prices and this will be replaced by high Green car prices some one has to rip us off
  • Rosco says,
    2 years ago
    OK, I've driven one and I'm very enthusiastic.
    The $51,500 price tag (not $60k) is steep but you have to remember there is import duty, gst, freight etc - and we don't have the government subsidies for EVs that they do in the US.
    One big advantage that we do have is that we don't need an expensive charging station - most homes would be able to manage a 15A 230V outlet in the garage without too much cost.(Mine has one already).
    And with our good discounts for off-peak power it starts to make sense.
  • Richard says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    That price plus ORC. I don't think so, Nissan!
    I was also trying to find an angle from which the Leaf looks at least acceptable. Ugly duckling would be a term of endearment but the Leaf is just plain UGLY.
    I'd love an electric car but this ain't it.
    All in all, it's for people with more money than sense.
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