Nissan LEAF review by a non-car person

by Ernie Hernandez on April 3, 2011

LEAF Charge Port Lid

So what do “regular” non-ev people think of the LEAF? I asked my wife

Many who buy or lease the new LEAF do so for all that it offers. They have studied the car, understood it in ways that internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle drivers may not. So what happens when you put the LEAF in the hands of a “regular” car driver? I asked my wife to provide her perspective of her time in the car. (Please bear in mind that my wife writes for a living and I do not. In fact after reading her article, I had second thoughts about posting it as you may not want to read my prose ever again, but here goes…)

My First Week with the LEAF

Over the past few months, every time I went to the gas station to fill up the van and notice that the price had gone up another 10-15 cents, I’d remind myself that soon, very soon, I would rarely be visiting the gas station. That day finally came on Friday, March 25, although it would be a couple of days after that before I got to drive it more than a couple of laps around the block. I think it’s fair to point out here, Neil, that my sister and my children all saw and sat in the car before I did.

As a work-at-home proposal writer for a high-tech company, my daily commute to the office consists of schlepping down the stairs and plunking in front of my computer. But, as the mother of three grade-school kids and the wife to a guy who travels a good 60% of the time for his job, my typical commuting is centered around transporting aforementioned children to pretty much any place they need to go, and ensuring they’re fed on a semi-regular basis.

My opportunity to drive the LEAF as my daily mom-mobile began the following Monday. After letting it charge over night on 120-volt power, it had an 80% charge. I drove the kids to and from school five times, ran to the grocery store at least that many times and a myriad of other errands between Monday morning and Friday evening. When I docked the car in the garage at the end of the night on Friday, it still had a 30% charge. Even though my refueling station is now in my very own garage, I still find it very convenient that I didn’t need to plug it in at all during the week.

At the end of week one, I also noticed that the car had 160 miles on it. I’m thinking that the LEAFguy probably put at least 100 of those miles on, so I’m looking at around 60 miles or less over my very typical week of driving. My five days and approximately 60 miles gave me a chance to really observe what I like and dislike about the car. My overall opinion is that I love it. Love it so much that I don’t mind leaving my fully-loaded minivan, with the heated, cozy leather memory seats, automatic doors, Bose stereo system, and moon roof sitting in the driveway.

Some of my overall likes:

  • The car just starts. You push a button and boom it’s on and ready to go. And it doesn’t make a sound when it does this. Did I mention it’s quiet? LOVE that. It allows me to hear my children bickering in the back seat so much clearer. Okay, maybe it’s not all that and a bag of nuts, but when I’m alone, it’s pretty cool.
  • It has XM satellite radio. Sure, the minivan does too, but we never bought a subscription, so this is my first experience with at least 257 channels of pure radio smut. Narrowing down my selects to just the top six was nearly impossible, so the LEAFguy did it for me, and he programmed in my favorite hippy liberal news channel, MSNBC in the top three. Now I can listen to Andrea Mitchell, as well as NPR, as I run to the store. It has me wondering how many Starbucks coffees I need to give up in a week to get the XM subscription when our three-month trial is up.
  • The car has a turning radius that makes my boys’ remote control cars seem clumsy and obtuse. After I drop the kids off at school, I can literally whip around in the middle of the street ahead of the pack of monster SUVs making their nine-point turns, and beat them to the corner. And if your kids’ school is anything like mine, the four-way stop is a breeding ground for anger and contempt. Getting there first means, I win!
  • I love that I don’t need to have keys in my hand for any reason. I still feel naked, like I’m missing something, when I walk across the parking lot with absolutely nothing in my hands. But, when I walk back to the car with arms of groceries, I love not fumbling for keys to unlock the doors. Although, big note to self, do NOT put jeans in the wash without checking the pockets for key fob first! Almost made that mistake this week.
  • The backup camera rocks! I thought my sonar beeps on the van was cool, but all it does is beep. It doesn’t tell me if it sees a small child, or a bush. Obviously one must stop for the small child, but bushes were made to back into, if you need the extra room to get out. But the backup camera tells me everything I need to know. I have found myself not even looking over my shoulder when I back up, because I can just look in the little display and see what’s back there. I’m pretty sure that it’s not a good idea, so I’ll need to get used to doing both.

Some of my overall dislikes:

  • The joystick gear lever is counter-intuitive. If they were going to make it look like a joystick, why not make it ACT like one. If I want to back up, I should push it back, right? Nope, push forward to go back and push back to go forward. Who thought that up? After a week, I still had to stop and think every time I put the car into gear.
  • The locks. If I push the lock once, it unlocks that door. Twice to unlock all the doors. But if I only unlock one door and open it, in the case of the trunk to load it with backpacks, and try to unlock all the rest of the doors so the children can pile in, it won’t let me. In addition, it won’t let the kids unlock the doors by pressing the lock button on the front door if I’m at the back of the car. Now the LEAFguy tells me this is a safety feature, but he’s having a very hard time convincing me that my safety from some random act of violence by a stranger in a remote location in the middle of the night is a priority over my daily convenience of child ferrying. However, some day, it’s remotely possible, that I’ll be able to move this feature to my overall likes list. (LEAFguy edit – I’m trying to get her to push the button twice before she lifts the liftgate.)
  • I’m not thrilled with the cloth seats. They’re comfortable enough, but the fabric is “grippy”. I can’t slide into my seat like I can in the van. The kids can’t slide across the seats either. They sort of hop scoot. Something tells me that if we hang onto the LEAF for seven years like we have the minivan, the seats are going to look really worn. On the plus side, something tells me that in the summer heat, they won’t result in second-degree burns, so this could also eventually move up to the likes list.
  • The blue trim on the emblems. Really? Blue? Did they look at these emblems on all the colors before they chose it? If I’d realized that, I might have chosen a color other than red. I can probably live with the little ones on the side, but I might need to go get some plain chrome Nissan emblems to replace the one on the front and rear of the car.

I’m still holding out judgment on a few things. I haven’t had an opportunity to use my iPhone App to interface with the car yet. I’ve got the App loaded and it’s connected to the car, but it only sends text messages and e-mails to the LEAFguy. So I haven’t used it. Seemed sort of worthless to have it text him when the car was pre-heated or cooled when he was 1,000 miles away.

I also can’t comment on the traffic or weather overlays on the map because there has been very little weather in our area over the past week and there was no traffic in my small little commuting area. I can’t think of any reason to give up Starbucks for those options.

If I had been renting this car for the past week, I’d rush out and get my reservation in to Nissan. I like it that much. Sure, it’s not perfect, but really, what car is? But it’s as close to perfect to meet my needs as I’m likely to find. Once we get the Level 2 charger ready to go and we’re charging for seven cents a kilowatt hour, it’s unlikely that any of my dislikes will outweigh the cost of driving the LEAF. And that doesn’t even take into consideration my hippie liberal love of the reduced carbon footprint we’re leaving on the Earth.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Grant April 4, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Nice job. I learn something new every time I read a review by a regular person (vs. a “professional” review, where I’ve already read pretty much everything they have to say about 20 times).


Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) April 5, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Grant – thanks for the comment. I thought it would be good to get the perspective of a new LEAF driver that really was not all that familiar with the car, using it in a real-world environment.


zack April 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Mine is on order. I live in Hawaii. I worry the a/c will not be robust enough. Sacrificed like power leather seats to the demi-god of green. Any experience to relate regarding hi temps and lots of sun?


Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) April 5, 2011 at 10:00 pm

zack – welcome to Living LEAF. We have not had much use for the a/c yet in San Diego. From the reports of others that I’ve read, the a/c seems to be up to the task. I have read some reports that the heater takes awhile to get up to temp, but again, we haven’t used ours.


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