We decided to treat the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle as a “normal” car, even if most American car buyers don’t.
Total U.S. EV sales in the first half of calendar-year 2020 were just 87,398 units, accounting for a minuscule 1.4 percent of the total U.S. vehicle market. And, of those 87,398, roughly 80 percent were Teslas! Nissan’s Leaf in the first six months of 2020 found just 3,007 new U.S. homes.
With regular gas cheap (at this writing), EVs like Leaf are having to compete in a hostile world. So, we figured, if that’s the case, let’s see if it can.
Rather than “baby” Leaf with nightly charges and gentle motoring, as we’ve done in the past, we decided this time to treat it as we would any car: a “fill-up” to start the week and, subsequently, seven days of real-world motoring. What we found was this: treated like a “normal” car, it feels like a “normal” car, with two exceptions: it’s out of its depth on the interstate, and a “fill-up” takes forever. (Oh, well, at least the “gas station” is in the driveway.)
Although we drove a 2020 Nissan Leaf, it may as well have been a 2021. Our top-of-the-line 2020 SL Plus boasted all the active-safety upgrades that, for 2021, are newly standard across the line -- things like Auto Emergency Braking; Rear Auto Braking; Rear Cross Traffic Alert; High Beam Assist; Intelligent Lane Intervention; Blind Spot Intervention; and Blind Spot, Lane Departure and Forward Collision Warnings.
Leaf is available in two versions: Leaf and Leaf Plus. Leaf is offered in S and SV trims while Plus can be had in S, SV and tony SL togs. Otherwise, the main difference is the battery: it’s a 40 kWh lithium-ion battery pack in the standard Leaf, a 62-kWh lithium-ion pack in Leaf Plus.
We drove a top-of-the-line Plus SL.
Having started the week with a 100-percent battery charge and the 226-mile range the EPA hoped for, we set about the business of daily living. After a week, we’d traveled 180 miles and had just 8-percent battery power remaining.
I think we’d have gotten closer to the EPA’s optimistic 226-mile estimated range if we’d stayed off the interstate. This car, with its coast- and brake-charging talent, is far more comfortable around town than at highway speeds, which gobble range.
We spent just 18 miles on the interstate, but that 18-mile run at 65-mph consumed an astonishing 15 percent of our total range, dropping us from 44 percent battery life when we entered the highway to 29 percent when we exited 15 minutes later.
In other words, Leaf is a “city car,” and it demands lengthy charging sessions: for our Plus, it’s officially 11.5 hours to reach a full charge at a 240-volt outlet and, for a “fast” 80-percent charge, 45 minutes at a “quick-charge” connection.
Forget that 120-volt outlet at your house. We estimate our Leaf Plus would have required nearly two days (!) to achieve a full charge at a 120-volt household outlet. We had our Plus tethered to a standard 120-volt household outlet for 19 hours and, after that endless session, managed to add a mere 41 percent to the battery life.
On the road, Leaf Plus is peppy around town, thanks to 250 lb.-ft. of electric-motor torque that’s instantly onboard at the touch of the throttle. Regarding drive modes, the “Eco” mode is sluggish while the “e-Pedal” mode, which aggressively applies the brakes for extra battery charging the moment the throttle is released, is way too aggressive.
We stuck with the Normal mode.
Ultimately, if you find Leaf appealing, we offer four real-world suggestions: 1.) EV motoring isn’t free; at an estimated $0.11 per residential kWh, it’ll cost about $4.40 each time you charge Leaf from depletion to a full charge; it’s $6.82 for Leaf Plus; 2.) install a 240 outlet at home; 3.) there are said to be 67 public charging stations within 30 miles of St. Louis, note where they are; and, 4.) you’ll still want a “normal” car for that 250-mile day-trip to Columbia, Mo., and back.