2017 Nissan Leaf Driving Impressions

Entirely calm and quiet, the Leaf can accelerate more quickly than an economy car with an engine. There’s less drama, but also less excitement. At least less visceral excitement. Being rapidly whooshed can be exciting too.

Those healthy 187 pound-feet of torque is there when you want it, although the Leaf isn’t terribly quick between 40 and 70 mph, the two-lane passing speeds.

At speeds above about 50 mph, the Leaf feels breathless, and the steering gets heavier, like it’s pushing into headwind, which is exactly what’s happening with wind drag, so the range drops like a stone.

The accelerator pedal demands a lot of pressure to get all the way down. It’s a deliberate design, to make sure you’re committed to using up your precious energy and range, not unlike your computer asking you, Are you sure?

The Eco mode cuts power by 10 percent to increase the range, but it sure feels like a lot more than 10 percent to us. It’s a good (and safer) thing that when you floor it, it snaps out of Eco and gives what you ask, all the juice it’s got.

One thing that will be a joy to city drivers, which is most of them because an electric car is really a city car, is the tiny turning circle of 17 feet. Easy to make a U-turn to snag that parking space on the opposite side of the street, like they do all the time in San Francisco.

The regenerative braking is tuned to feel like an automatic transmission. There’s a B mode, which increases the regeneration to feel like engine braking. B mode theoretically brings you more range, because it keeps the battery charge higher and longer; but it requires more concentration from the driver, so allow for that aggressive braking.

The low-mounted battery pack lowers the center of gravity, so the balance is good, and there’s no body roll during cornering, but neither is there much feedback or feel in the steering. Hard cornering isn’t what the Leaf is all about anyhow, nor is that something Leaf owners are likely to engage in, on their way home from the library. However, it is a tall car on small wheels, so it’s sensitive to side winds.

Overall, the Leaf’s handling and roadholding are adequate, but hardly engaging; driven aggressively, it’s disappointing, with numb steering and little feedback. The driver feels removed. But on the upside, the turning circle is a shockingly small 17 feet.

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