In this report

Initial impressions: Nissan Leaf

Last reviewed: April 2011

Nissan lent us its Leaf electric car for a couple of weeks while we await delivery of the one we ordered. Overall, it's the most fully developed pure electric vehicle we've tried so far. In SL trim, like the one we borrowed, a Leaf costs $35,270 and is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

We think the Leaf is great for short trips. But its range is often not what its gauge might indicate. One staffer found that the range was rapidly reduced from 36 miles to barely 19 one frigid morning. Nissan claims the range on a full charge is about 100 miles, but during a long cold snap we averaged just 65 miles.

Using our 220-volt chargers, charging times have been 7 to 9 hours, and the Leaf has taken almost 22 kilowatts per charge. The car can also be charged on 110-volt current, but charging times can be close to 20 hours. We recommend getting the additional charging port, a $700 option, that allows the car to be charged in 27 minutes by a DC charger. Those chargers are expected to be installed in many public places.

We've averaged 3 miles per kilowatt hour, which is 3.7 cents a mile at the national average electric rate of 11 cents per kWh. Using the Environmental Protection Agency's conversion formula, that's the equivalent of 101 mpg. The EPA rates the Leaf at a 99 mpg equivalent (the Volt has a 93 mpg equivalent).

The Leaf comes well equipped and includes a standard navigation system, which shows the car's driving range in concentric circles. The smaller circle shows how far you can venture out for a round-trip; the outer one displays how far you can go one way. Nearby charging stations are also mapped, and the system provides information relating to battery draw and estimated charge times.

Other than the range limitation, there's a lot to like about the Leaf. It accelerates well and climbs hills effortlessly. Handling is quite responsive, though the steering feels a bit vague. The heater, unlike the Chevrolet Volt's, gives ample warmth. The Leaf seats five, getting in and out is very easy, and rear-seat room is generous despite the narrow cabin.

Our initial take is that the Leaf is a fun urban car that works best as a second or third vehicle in a temperate climate.