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Living with the Nissan Leaf in Washington, D.C.

Consumer Reports News: May 02, 2012 12:38 PM

Electric cars pose a distinct challenge for testing, with their limited range and lifestyle factors creating a wrinkle during the break-in miles and subsequent "living with" evaluations. Several Connecticut and New York staffers had tales of range anxiety, and worse, during the testing period for the Nissan Leaf. So, after the road test and Ratings were published, we shared the Leaf with our colleagues down in the Washington, D.C., office to learn their hands-on perspectives in a more urban setting.

The Consumer Reports office in our nation's capital houses our advocates: passionate people who work tirelessly to make the marketplace better for consumers. The advocates have worked closely with the Auto Test Center and our corporate headquarters this past year on fuel economy issues, speaking before Congressional committees and presenting our expert perspective on raising the standards for passenger vehicles. (Read: "Consumers Union supports higher fuel economy standards.") It seemed absolutely fitting to give this staff a chance to live with the Leaf, and what we discovered is that life in Washington, D.C. is far more conducive to owning an electric car. (The irony, however, is that we had to trailer the range-limited Leaf to the District of Columbia.)

Nissan-Leaf-Washington-DC-2.jpgMost of our Washington, D.C., staffers live within 20 miles of the office, and they use a combination of personal and public transit. Across the board, the advocates found the Leaf worked well with their routine, although a few cited high costs of parking and charging station convenience as ownership barriers.

For driving to work, the Leaf was terrific. I found that it handled very well, had great acceleration, and was very quiet and smooth.

The Leaf would meet my local transportation needs easily. I would be less comfortable on a long trip, due to the need to recharge after 100 miles and seat comfort.

Driving an EV took a little getting used to, but it definitely meets most of my needs and is a pleasure to drive.

The most frequent comment on the hatchback's dynamics was that the ride was smooth.

Drove very smoothly! I was impressed by the lack of noise and the comfort of the car.

It's very smooth and fun to drive, and it has some great features. I loved not having to go to the gas station.

While the daily drive was well within the Leaf's range, there was still some anxiety expressed, as well as challenges in recharging.

When I drove the car, I felt a strong amount of "range anxiety." I was worried that I was traveling too far from home or a charging station.

My only outdoor outlet is in my backyard, not my garage.

The range indicator is not reliable. It took a little trial and error to figure out the actual range around town.

More range would be even better, but with planning and experience, the Leaf meets the vast majority of my driving needs.

Nissan-Leaf-Washington-DC-1.jpgWhen asked if they would consider an electric car, such as the Leaf, for their next car there was much interest, especially as a second car. Price, range limitations, and charging logistics are still barriers for many in choosing the Leaf as a primary car—something we see reflected in the marketplace. The Washington, D.C., staff were saddened to see the Leaf go back to the Auto Test Center in Connecticut, but with a few product tweaks and a little lifestyle adaptation, some of them may have join the EV revolution.

One final quote:
Our energy world is changing for the better. Far from being a threat to car culture as we know it, I think that EVs will continue and enhance car culture. Just as smart phones and tablets have revolutionized communication and entertainment, plugging in will be a way of life for many.

More observations from living with the Nissan Leaf
Driving the Nissan Leaf: Hurray for traffic
Nissan Leaf: Full test results are in
Nissan Leaf: Commuting and justified range anxiety

—Jeff Bartlett and Shannon Baker-Branstetter

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