Ten Expert Reviews of the Nissan Leaf

The Leaf is Nissan’s entry into the green car sweepstakes, an entirely electric car getting a whopping 99 miles per gallon in some tests. It’s already won the Green Car of the Year Award for 2010 and the European Car of the Year Award for 2011. But what you save on gas will go straight to payments: the Leaf starts at $32,800. Is the Leaf really worth it? Here’s what the reviews say:

James Healey of USA Today found it quick, roomy, and good for traffic, but also found the design ugly and said of the steering: “You’ll run wide in corners unless you crank the steering wheel an unseemly amount.” Healey mentions this as the first time anybody brought it up in a test drive.

Edmunds said of the Leaf: “With the 2011 Nissan Leaf, its serenity never ceases, and you can detect only a high-pitched whine under heavy throttle. This quiet creates the adverse side effect of making wind and road noise more noticeable at highway speeds, but overall the Leaf is impressively quiet.” It also enjoyed the instant torque and found the steering to be responsive, but recommended that you buy the home charging unit immediately, which adds another $2200 onto the price.

Joe Weisenfelder of the Chicago Tribune opened his review with “You’ll find it’s a compellingly real, refined and satisfying car.” Weisenfelder noted that the real range of the car can vary widely when taking into account real road conditions, and singled out the brakes as a solid place for the Leaf, but where it could do better.

The Daily Telegraph found the steering responsive and the brake system much better than other hybrids, but wasn’t a fan of the possible wear on the battery. As they put it: “It’s battery life that will become the new middle-class anxiety.”

Michael Austin of Car and Driver was disappointed with the range of the car: “The first disappointment with the Leaf, Nissan’s new electric car, is that it has only one 12-volt accessory port. You might think that an EV could charge a cell phone unto eternity, but every watt of juice in the Leaf’s 192 lithium-ion battery cells is precious. Power not associated with forward motion comes at a cost. The headlights, air conditioning, and even the stereo all impact maximum range.” He found the Leaf roomy and quiet, but felt the range made it more of a second car instead of somebody’s primary drive.

Wayne Cunningham of CNET loved the electronics in the car, especially the Bluetooth and iPod connections, which come standard. However, “The 2011 Nissan Leaf is a perfect car for many commuters in urban or suburban areas with access to a garage, significantly reducing the everyday cost of transportation, but it’s completely impractical for those with longer commutes.”

Fox News’ Gary Gastelu stated “Electric cars like the Leaf are about declaring your independence…from foreign oil.” Gastelu focused on the ability to avoid taxes that were tagged onto gasoline as a major plus, but criticized the body as “the most generic build possible,” and was heavily critical of the range.

At the Los Angeles Times, David Undercoffler found worries about running out of power overrated, stating “I learned to think of it as a cellphone; you bring it home at night with perhaps half the battery charge remaining, charge it overnight and use it in the morning.” Undercoffler also singled out the tax rebates offered by the federal government and the state of California, bringing the Leaf’s price down to $20,000 in the California area.

And finally, according to Kelly Blue Book, “the 2011 Nissan LEAF heralds the dawn of a new era of ultra-clean motoring.” They found the Leaf to be almost sporty, and although limited by its range, still a strong car and a surprisingly affordable one in its class.

The Summary: The Leaf is well-designed and roomy on the inside, but a bit bland on the outside. The steering and brakes aren’t quite what you’re used to, but close enough that you won’t find it hard to adjust, and the car itself is surprisingly peppy. The range itself may take some getting used to, but the Leaf offers a database of charging stations and a GPS device to show the range available. You’ll need to install a charging station at home to get the full benefit of the Leaf, but in practical driving, you’ll rarely run the battery down. The Leaf is ideal for urban commuters and people looking for a second car to tool around town, but not for long-haul drivers or long-range commuters.

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