By AARON COLE, Syndicated Columnist
It starts, fascinatingly enough, in a parking lot.
It would start in a parking lot. It’s a car. Lots of cars start in lots of lots.
There’s no hum from a motor, or whisper of exhaust from a rear-facing pipe. No timbre of a V8, no whine of a strained four. Headers? Catalytic converters? For gosh sakes, what about the fuel injectors? Is anyone thinking of the fuel injectors?
The Nissan Leaf has absolutely none of the above. It needs all that plumbing like Bar Refaeli needs makeup.
In case you haven’t heard, the Leaf is the first mass production electric vehicle that hasn’t been wholly inconvenient or wholly pulled from owners’ driveways by General Motors in 1999. It’s not often you get to drive genesis. But right now, we’re in the parking lot and genesis stuff doesn’t actually matter. Getting home actually does.
To start, the Leaf requires a hard-wire reset of the way we think about driving.
First, the Leaf presupposes that President Eisenhower and his nationwide system of interstates didn’t exist.
The Leaf’s range is 80-100 miles, which according to Nissan, covers about 92 percent of our daily drives. (For the record, I made it 75 miles on my charge.)
Charging the battery on the same outlet as your iPhone would take around one day (more than 20 hours), and installing a 240-volt plug cuts that time down to around 8 hours (after you’ve shelled out around $1,500 for the kit and installation.)
There is, I hear, a third, quick-charge option that exists in places where unicorn and sasquatch run free, that will charge the Leaf in 30 minutes. Considering that I live in the Intermountain West, I’m guessing those places must be California and New York, because none appear to be anywhere around me.
Nonetheless, to maintain battery integrity, Nissan recommends that you use the grail of all charging stations only twice a day at most, so your road trips would need to be fewer than 200 miles away to make it in one day. Is Disneyland in Wyoming?
But let’s be honest, if you’re thinking of cutting a check for one of these, you’ve already accepted that you’re not packing up the familial tribe for Splash Mountain this summer, Gam-Gam’s got to find better things to do for Thanksgiving, and you’re winning the carbon-neutral footrace — even if you have to walk.
Fair enough. If you’re willing to make those trades, then I believe you have a future in the car of the future.
Like it or not, I believe the Leaf represents the future of the automotive universe. As oil and fossil fuels are becoming less findable and faux pas with younger crowds, the trillions in asphalt and concrete infrastructure will get used one way or another — and I’m guessing bicycles ain’t it.
But I need the concrete and asphalt to get home right now. And I’ll take the Leaf to get there.
Climbing inside the Leaf is unremarkable, which is the point, I think. The Leaf has four doors — in all the places you’d expect them to be — driver’s side on the left, gas pedal on the right. Everything, for the most part, is normal.
Owners of hybrids will instantly recognize that nothing happens when you turn the car on. A beep lets you know that the Leaf is powered up; you can dance if you want to.
There are some interesting visuals that accompany the boot process. First, the usual soothing tone and navigation screen effect bathe you in a reassuring new wave processes that confirm you have, indeed, purchased a manatee-approved motor vehicle. I think.
An instrument display in front of the driver shows battery range and status, along with a battery temp and tachometer-cum-power meter. A smaller display above, near the windshield, shows speed and digital tree that grows as you drive conservatively.
It’s nice to have the eco ego stroking in the Leaf — I actually like it. In fact, if I could have AC/DC drill power chords when I fire up a GT-R, I’d like that too.
The Leaf’s seats are comfortable in front, and actually spacious in back. It’s not hard to imagine four grown adults in the Leaf and considering that you’re physically incapable of traveling that far, it wouldn’t be an uncomfortable ride for long.
The space is complemented by the ride because at 3,200 lbs. the Leaf smoothed out the bumps just fine. The chassis feels solid despite the car’s weight for its size. The bulk of that heft comes from the electric motor produces 107 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque, which is on par for a four-cylinder car of its size.
The biggest difference between driving a gasoline and an electric motor is the instant torque available. Although the Leaf powers from 0-60 mph in around 10 seconds, it feels much faster because the power band is drawn at a right angle.
In standard express, the Leaf behaves like every other car on the road. Four wheels on the road, one steering wheel in your hand. Point in your general direction and go.
The sticker price has been a sticking point for some, and there’s no easy way to put this: it’ll cost $35,200 to get started. Our tester, a Leaf SL was fitted with just about everything including a small solar panel to power accessories, heated seats and steering wheel, navigation and floor mats (an optional $170 from the manufacturer) and ran up the tab to $38,270. Up to $7,500 of that can be credited from the Feds come tax day, and depending on your state, there may be more money available too.
That makes the Leaf a high $20s car when it’s all said and done, and that’s a good thing. The Leaf needs to be cheap because it won’t take the place of any car yet. It’s not practical unless you meet a certain set of criteria: Is your daily commute to work fewer than 20 miles? Do you have access to a charger at home? Are you willing to be “range anxious” in exchange for a greener life? Will you exchange emissions and Exxon for Edison and electrons?
These are all questions that need to be answered before the Leaf and you ever set out of this parking lot that I’m currently standing in.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, he just wants to hear you say it. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org