Reviews

2011 Nissan Leaf Driving Impressions


We had as much driving fun with the Leaf as we've had in a long time, because it is so very different from the normal and usual. The electric motor provides tons of silent torque to get away from stoplights, and still has plenty of power for 40-70 mph passing maneuvers. And it will go better than 90 mph on level roads. If your goal is hypermiling, getting the absolute most out of each battery charge, the instruments will help you all the way, including one at the top left that first completes a circle and then grows virtual trees as you drive.

The operating guts of the Nissan Leaf are a 600-pound laminated lithium-ion battery made up in a series of four cells to a module, and 48 modules, for a total of 192 batteries in the pack, made for Nissan by its battery partner, NEC of Japan. It uses a combination of lithium ion, manganese and graphite to generate electricity, which means there are no hazardous materials in the battery itself, and the flat battery, centered in the car under the floor for best handling, is permanently sealed and encased in a thick aluminum case.

The battery is capable of 90 kilowatts of power with a capacity of 4 kilowatt-hours, and will be warranted or eight years or 100,000 miles of operation. Through an elaborate electronic control system, the battery connects to a synchronous AC electric motor rated at 80 kilowatts and 280 Newton-meters (or 207 foot-pounds) of torque. The onboard battery charger, which comes into play automatically every time the accelerator pedal is released or the brake pedal is applied, through regenerative braking, is rated at 3.3 kilowatts.

The underpinnings of the welded unibody chassis are mostly derived from Nissan's worldwide network of B-sized cars like the Versa, with struts up front and a torsion beam suspension at the rear, simple, cheap to build, and largely effective. Everything in the car operates electrically, from the A/C system to the power steering, and it all works very well as a package. It turns in with authority, makes, quick left-right transitions, brakes very well, and in general drives like a normal Nissan small car.

Although design is subjective, we think the Leaf is really cute, with a combination of Japanese Nissan and French Renault design ideas inside and out, and it is not a small car, even though it looks small, as EPA rates it bigger than 100 cubic feet inside, qualifying it as a compact car. There is room for six-footers front and rear, and a very good storage trunk.

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