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2012 Nissan Leaf (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Nissan Leaf

SEE ALSO: Electric Vehicles - Solution or Diversion?
SEE ALSO: Nissan Specs, Comparisons and Prices - Nissan Buyers Guide

By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

The Nissan Leaf is the first one-hundred percent electric vehicle to be mass marketed to American consumers. That’s correct: Zero gas. This unassuming five-passenger, five-door hatchback is a game-changer in the way we approach travel – the first and most obvious reason being it has a driving range of 73 miles before you’re stranded.

I drove a 2012 Nissan Leaf powered by many new mechanical components that will sound new to you: an 80 kW AC synchronous motor, a 24kW lightweight lithium-ion battery pack and a 3.3 kW onboard charger. Basically, the battery is comprised of 48 compact modules of four cells each and powers the high-response motor with a rating of 107 horsepower. Available in SV and SL trim levels, my Leaf SL came with the following standard features: partially recycled seat material; a six-speaker audio system with XM radio; a navigation system; Bluetooth; Nissan’s Carwings; a spoiler-mounted solar panel; a backup camera; and a quick-charge port. Total price comes to $37,250 (without a $7,500 tax credit).

Nissan’s telematics system Carwings is a smart phone app that monitors the Leaf’s battery state, performs remote climate control, and locates nearby charging stations. It’s a necessity for electric travel, and quite frankly, helps you develop the committed relationship needed to manage life with the Leaf.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: The Leaf has a very roomy, airy and soft feeling inside. Seats are firm and well constructed. You can count on plenty of space for a rear car seat without compromising the front passenger; thank the designers and engineers for space-efficient placement of the battery pack under the floor. The center console has a very intuitive modern layout. The instrument panel features digital gauges that tell you vital vehicle statistics, like your average miles-per-gallon equivalent and how much electricity you have left.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Leaf its highest rating of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. Also, it has a 5-Star overall vehicle rating for safety as part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). Standard safety equipment includes: antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags.

Cost Issues: Keep in mind your $37,250 Leaf SL qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit with residents of certain states eligible for additional credits too. Electricity costs are about $1.50 a charge (for a max of 70 miles, see Total Ownership Cost Guide).Leaf options include a $2,000 220-volt home-charging.

Activity & Performance Ability: An EV (Electric Vehicle) poses a challenge on lengthier trips. With the Leaf SL’s standard Quick Charge Port, you can get an 80 percent capacity charge in 30 minutes. Of course, you’ll have to locate a public charging station, but that’s what Carwings and your smart phone are for. At home, a standard 110-volt took me over eight hours to achieve a full charge. But how does it drive? Surprisingly smooth with zero hesitation during moments of increased acceleration. Nissan also came up with an “Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians” system that alerts pedestrians by emitting a sound from a speaker at the front of the vehicle – clever and satisfying across the board, this Leaf.

The Green Concern: The EPA has given the Leaf an energy efficiency equivalent rating (known an MPGe) of 106 miles-per-gallon city and 92 highway. The EPA also estimates a driving range of 73 miles. This equivalency rating was developed as a way to provide a standard so consumers can compare vehicles across the spectrum; it is based on a formula of 33.7kW-hrs being equivalent to one gallon gasoline

The 2012 Nissan Leaf has impressive performance, a roomy and modern interior, and excellent safety scores. But before you decide to save the earth, make sure your life can handle modern travel in an EV that gets 73 miles before needing a charge.

2012 Katrina Ramser