| Published: August 15, 2010 – 7:43 pm
I recently had a chance to drive a prototype of the Nissan Leaf. I reported about this briefly on my Facebook page. Since then, so many people have asked me about it, I decided to put something here on the home page.
Right now, I hope it will be my next car. For a small car, itâ€™s quite spacious. This may surprise you. In general, electric drive trains are much more compact than ICE systems. Nissan spread the batteries out low in the unibody; all this leaves more room for you and me.
The Leaf is an all-electric carâ€“ no gas cap (no place to put gas). Itâ€™s got batteries instead. Keep in mind that electric cars cost much less per mile than gas powered ones. Electricity can be sent right to your house. Thereâ€™s no need for tanker trucks plying our roads on the way to gas (petrol) stations. Electric motors are well over 90% efficient. An Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) is a heat engine. It depends on how hot the gas can burn and how cool it is outside the engine. They can get to around 30%â€“ thatâ€™s it.
Electric cars are also very much quieter than cars most of us are used to. When you drive one, itâ€™s magical.
To my eye and to the eyes of other people I test drove and rode with, it has the best instrument panelâ€“ what your car-people call the best â€śdriver interface,â€ť of any electric vehicle Iâ€™ve seen or driven. Itâ€™s easy to figure out. Your speed is presented on a heads-up display at the base of the windshield, visible even in bright sunlight.
It has marvelous features in its navigation system: O yes, it shows you where you are on a good-looking map. But, it also displays a circle on the map, like a target with you at the bullâ€™s eye, indicating your rangeâ€“ how far you can drive from where you are right now given how much charge is left in your battery packâ€“ very cool. When one is new to electric vehicle driving, itâ€™s easy to get what they call â€śrange anxiety.â€ť You worry about your rangeâ€“ about whether or not youâ€™ll be able to get home. After youâ€™re used to running all your errands and completing your commute with plenty of charge in your pack (your battery pack), you donâ€™t much notice the range. Once in while though, itâ€™s important. Itâ€™s beautifully displayed and very clear how far you can keep going.
It has five seats. Really, five people can sit inside. My recently returned Mini E (Electric Mini Cooper) that I was able to drive for a year had no such feature: two seats, and just barely those. The trunk could hold a manila folder or so. And the battery cooling system of the Mini E, is like, so totally, 20th Century. The cooling air flows right through the cockpit. Put a bag behind the passenger seat, the batteries overheat, and your car just stops. Not so with the Leaf. Its cooling system has been much more thought through. Itâ€™s a real production car. Oh, and the Leaf has a pretty good trunk (boot) for a small vehicle.
I can face it, though. The Leaf is just not as sporty as the Mini E but itâ€™s sporty enough for me. By sporty, I mean the Mini E goes like a bat out of someplace dark and hotâ€¦ fast. The Leaf is not quite like that, but itâ€™s close enough for me.
This is the future, my friends. An electric car that is built so that it feels very much like a carâ€“ like a gas-powered ICE-style car that you might be used to. I hope to get one before 2011 gets underway. Iâ€™ll use it for almost all of my driving, and in Los Angeles, one can do a great deal of driving. Where I live itâ€™s often no fun, and itâ€™s only as safe as cars are. Thatâ€™s about a 100,000th as safe as flying. All things considered though, I drive. I do my best to enjoy it. Iâ€™m looking forward to the near silence of an all-electric machine. My commute will get quieter, cheaper, and just more fun.