Strengths and weaknesses:
- Quiet drive, fuel economy.
- High price, legroom (backseat).
Some are still talking about the end of the electric car, yet Nissan can't meet the demand for its Leaf. Interesting paradox in sight for 2014.
Appearance of the 2014 model in the showrooms signals the official beginning of full-scale production at Nissan's Leaf plant in the US. You'd think this means we'll be able to get it at a lower price, but the technology — batteries, mainly — does not seem to be ready for that yet.
So what we get for 2014 are a few minor adjustments here and there: voice command and GPS navigation are now standard on all versions of the Leaf except the S, as well as text-to-speech for those who can't let go of their text messages even while driving. Telematics are improved but it's hard to tell, unless you're an IT geek.
A 360-degrees all-around view of the vehicle, using cameras located on the hatch, below the side mirror and in front, is also new. Nissan engineers spent a few hours moving buttons around on the dashboard and the steering wheel, and as before, we can heat the rear seats by pushing a button located on the side of the front passenger backrest.
The world according to Nissan
There's a scene in The World according to Garp, a movie based on John Irving's 1978 best-seller, where Robin Williams, aka Garp, drives his two children back home, and turns off the engine to hear the noise of the wind brushing the body of the car.
He ends up rear-ending a car parked in his driveway, and the story carries on, but the feeling of driving the Leaf, without engine noises and other mechanical whining, is not unlike that moment when Garp and his two kids feel like they're soaring in the air like birds, with the headlights turned on.
And airbags. Rent the movie, you'll understand.
Anyway, this feeling adds to the overall comfort of the cabin. Cloth and plastic are the main paradigm, but the seats are comfortable, and there's room enough for two adults and three kids. Even the trunk is rather spacious, for an EV that is.
130 km of range and anxiety
You'll get between 100 and 130 kilometers of range per full charge with this electric car. Electric motors being what they are, you get a lot of torque at low speed, meaning takeoffs happen quite rapidly. Regenerative brakes then slow you down almost as quickly.
This one generates the equivalent of 107 horsepower, but this number is almost irrelevant with EVs. What is, however, is the time it will take to charge the battery pack. Nissan offers a new 6.6 kW fast-charger with the Leaf this year. With the appropriate 220V outlet, this charger fully charges the battery in 4 hours, half the time it would normally take.
Obviously, the Leaf is no good for long-distance, intercity drives. Unless you live near B.C.'s Electric Highway, where you'll find public chargers here and there. For the rest of us, the Leaf is condemned to act as second violin to a gas-powered vehicle, to be used in town to go to work, go shopping, etc.
Paying $ 31,700 for a second car is still a lot. Sadly, it's the Leaf's retail price. Governments give generous incentives, though, and they might make a big difference, but it's still a lot to pay to hear the sound of silence, when you can simply buy the MP3 online…
2014 Nissan Leaf
Trim level: SV
Price as tested (before taxes and rebates): $34,998
Options on test vehicle: 16-inch alloy wheels, Carwing telematics system, Navi
Configuration: front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: Electric motor / Automatic
Power/torque: 80 kW/ 210 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): n.a.
Range: 132 km
Observed range: 118 km
Warranties: 3 years/60,000 km (basic)
Competitors: Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Smart Fortwo ED
Strengths: refinement, quiet drive, fuel economy
Weaknesses: high price, legroom (backseat)