2012 Nissan Leaf: Test Drive


Here is the standard issue back-up camera from Nissan.  Again, I have a 2006 era vehicle, so I don't have these new fancy schmancy things.  The cool thing about this Nissan system in particular is the yellow lines move as you turn the steering wheel to project your path.


On to the important part, how does it drive?  It's actually pretty damn fun!  From the first stab of the throttle, this thing moves pretty hard and that's the beauty of the electric motor which makes maximum torque at 0 rpm.  The Leaf has an 80kW electric motor which is about 107hp and weighs about 3350lbs.  The key thing is the electric motor has a flat POWER curve once it reaches a minimum rpm.  The internal combustion engine equivalent requires a CVT transmission to keep the engine at peak power.  Of course, the electric motor has instant throttle response along with no time delay for a CVT to 'shift'.  As a city car, the Leaf is surprisingly fast.  In a 5-30mph roll, I bet the Leaf will put to shame a whole lot of cars.  I bet it would give my S2000 a good run if not beat it.


Here is a video of me testing the acceleration from a dead stop.  The Leaf is doing 0-30mph in about 3 seconds flat.  Unless you're intentionally launching, I think you'd be hard pressed to beat this time in anything short of a 300hp vehicle.  With a standard auto tranny, I imagine you would still have to brake torque it to get a decent launch.  Without launching or brake torquing though, I think the Leaf will show a lot of cars its tail lights.  For a test, I took out my 2006 G35 sedan with the 298hp VQ35DE engine.  Starting off at idle speed in 1st gear (I guess somewhere between 3-5mph), I went WOT to 30mph.  I did it three times and got 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2 seconds hand timing it.  Or basically the same time it takes the Leaf to go 0-30mph.  I told you that you’d need 300hp to keep up with the Leaf to 30!


The instant throttle response and heaps of torque at low speeds makes the Leaf actually fun to drive in city traffic.  The steering also proved to be a pleasant surprise.  While the steering effort is a bit over boosted, the steering ratio is quite quick.  Think S2000 quick.  I think it is indeed quicker than my G35. The Leaf is certainly more go-kart than golf kart.  The brakes were also exceptional in that they felt normal.  Having driven a fair number of hybrids (Lexus RX400h, Toyota Prius 1st and current gen, Camry, and a 2007 Ford Escape), brake feel is often lacking.  The Ford Escape is the worst in this respect.  The Lexus/Toyota family cars also have a poor transition from electrical regenerative braking to mechanical braking.  The brakes on the Leaf just felt normal in going between regenerative braking and mechanical braking which is saying a lot based on my experiences with the hybrids I've driven.


While the Leaf is quite fun to drive at city speeds, you can suck the joy out of it by putting the car in ECO mode.  From what I can tell, ECO mode changes the throttle mapping.  The first thing it does is give a lot more regenerative braking when you are off the throttle as opposed to just letting the car coast.  The second thing it does is give you much lower power for a given throttle input in the lower portion of the throttle range.  ECO mode is good for your average driver with no concept of throttle nor brake modulation in order to give better economy.


With regards to braking, electric and hybrid cars based on battery systems can only recapture so much power.  You can't just pump 1.21 gigawatts into the battery like the flux capacitor of the DeLorean and not have the battery explode (is anyone too young to catch that?).  Let's pretend the battery can only handle 5kW of regenerative braking power.  If you need to stop faster, say 10kW worth of braking power, then the mechanical brakes do the rest of the work.  Of course, that means you're not recapturing as much kinetic energy as you could.  The solution is to brake sooner to stay within the power recapturing capability of the batteries.  By putting the car into ECO mode, the car will basically brake at the limit of the regenerative capacity when you are off the throttle thereby not requiring brake pedal modulation by the driver.  Some hybrid systems use a flywheel or ultra-capacitors which can handle much higher power loads, but that topic is for another day.


Yup, you can still pop the hood on the Leaf.  In place of the gas cap cover is the power port cover.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *