2011 Nissan Leaf

We Drive the 2011 Nissan LEAF Electric Car

0 Emissions, 5 Passengers, 90 MPH Top Speed, 100 Mile Range, 2010 Launch

That’s Nissan’s marketing slogan for their new fully-electric, zero emission LEAF, which is being promised delivery some time later this year. Nissan is currently on a 22 city tour to show off the car, and invited current Nissan owners to come take a peek and brief test drive. We attended the Raleigh, NC Leaf tour stop to get a closer look and feel of the car, and to ask a few questions about the launch.

When we arrived at the Raleigh Convention Center, we found the electric LEAF prototype sitting outside with a group of people standing around getting information and talking about it. The car looks suspiciously like a Versa/Rogue combination, but Nissan assured me the Leaf is built on its own platform. In fact, Nissan is very proud that the Leaf is built from the ground up, since most electric cars on the market are built on an existing platform of a gasoline-powered car.

Why is this important? When you build an electric car on an existing platform like that, the car it’s based on was designed around an emissions and exhaust system and other components that electric cars don’t need. This produces an inherent inefficiency in design, since now the electric car has excess unused parts and dimensions.

2011 Nissan Leaf interior
2011 Nissan Leaf interior

The car spent a lot time in the wind tunnel to reduce aerodynamic drag. The bulbous headlights are designed to stream air around the side mirrors, for example, so that the mirrors don’t produce as much resistance. Techniques that are not uncommon in today’s cars, but these new propulsion technologies require a bit more attention to detail than your typical car.

Since batteries are the heaviest part of any electric-powered car, Nissan made every effort to lower the center of gravity in the Leaf by placing them below the seats. This helps keep the driving dynamics sporty and responsive.

Versa Leaf on Track
Nissan Versa with Leaf Powertrain on Indoor Test Track
2011 Nissan Leaf front
Nissan Leaf Front

Since the Nissan Leaf on display at the tour is a multi-million dollar prototype, Nissan didn’t allow it to be driven for the test drive. Instead, they fitted a Versa with the Leaf’s drivetrain and put it on an indoor track in the convention center. Hardly an ideal environment, but that’s all that was available. As you can see in the pictures, the small track was outlined in cones, and each driver got a lap or two around it at low speeds with a Nissan engineer sitting shotgun.

During my drive, I was impressed with how linear and quick the acceleration was. Electric cars may not be hotrods yet, but 100% of their torque (about 210 lb-ft in the Leaf) is available from a stop. I decided to test it on the small straightaway and ended up getting yelled at by my passenger for going too fast. The handling seemed responsive and smooth with a low center of gravity to keep it from feeling top-heavy.

Unfortunately, the tiny indoor track didn’t give us enough chance to properly evaluate the car, so that’s all I can really say about it until Nissan comes around with another tour, which I was told would happen before they’re officially launched. Prospective customers in all 50 states will be able to pre-order the Leaf in April for delivery later this year.

Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but expect the car to be somewhere around $28,000 to $35,000. The battery pack, which is the most expensive part, might end up being leased on a monthly basis instead of purchased, which Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan-Renault said “The monthly cost of the battery, plus the electric charge, will be less than the cost of gasoline,” if that’s the way they go.

2011 Nissan Leaf plugs
Nissan Leaf Power Plugs

Other than price, Nissan’s biggest hurdle right now is figuring out the charging process. Plugging your car into a typical wall outlet to charge it from 0 to 100% would take an unacceptable 16 to 18 hours. On 220V power you could charge it in 8 hours, which is more reasonable (plug it in overnight,) but still a concern.

Nissan is considering a sort of quick-charge platform which would charge the battery from 0 to 80% in only 20 minutes; perfect for a gas station stop if you were on a longer than 100 mile trip. And that’s the hurdle makers of electric cars are facing – there is no existing infrastructure for electric charging yet, and developing one is extraordinarily expensive.

For more stops on the Nissan Leaf tour, check out the Leaf’s minisite here: Nissan Leaf Electric Car

2011 Nissan Leaf rear
2011 Nissan Leaf Rear
  1. Really liked the LEAF!!! Its the very one which is more environmentally named and also work more environment friendly!!

    I think with zero emissions, chick interiors and more over the design is what will make buyers to purchase it.

    Yep, also driving safely is also to be considered!! Does LEAF have any safely precautions while being driven on road??? So as to save the user from any accidents??

  2. Impressive! Nissan never stops from researching and developing a new automotive. KUDOS to nissan.

  3. Fantastic Leaf!Zero emission is truly outstanding.I check out the 2011 model price and very reasonable to have considering how it will help you even using it daily.

  4. Fantastic Leaf!Zero emission is truly outstanding.I check out the 2011 model price and very reasonable to have considering how it will help you even using it daily.

  5. Nissan had been working on Leaf since a long time and this project was undercover as none of the competitors knew about it. At last the car was ready for the commercial launch and now its only one of the few manufacturers who has such car in its bandwagon.

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