[UPDATE: As you can see above, this article was written based on the 2011 LEAF in June, 2011. The 2013 LEAF driving range has improved roughly fifteen percent with no expectation for improvement for the 2014 model year. The remaining information in the article remains relevant to your everyday driving.]
The Nissan LEAF has been out for almost six months now, and still this seems to be one of the most frequently asked questions. The answer today is the same as it has been, and as it will continue to be – it depends on a number of things. If you are the impatient type, just scroll to the bottom of the article for the end result.
The above graphic is a representation on the Nissan LEAF website of what the expected range might be with a new LEAF under various driving scenarios. Each arc of the multi-colored rainbow represents the mileage that you might expect to see from a full charge and a new battery, based on different driving conditions. According to Nissan, the range might vary anywhere between 62 miles and 138 miles. Also according to Nissan – “how far you’ll go will depend on a number of variables”. There is one additional result that Nissan did not include in the graphic, but we will include it in our discussion below. Let’s take a look at each result, and you can evaluate how your situation relates to it. We will also include the EPA evaluation and why we think you must consider this result as well. We will start with Nissan’s advertised range of 100 miles.
EPA LA4 test cycle: 100 miles
Keep in mind that this test is done on a dynamometer under laboratory conditions. Wind resistance and vehicle weight are considered in calculating the results to simulate a real-world driving condition. This particular test is commonly referred to as the LA4 test cycle and it is designed to simulate a drive in the city of about 7 1/2 miles taking almost 23 minutes. Top speed is 56.7 mph and average speed is 19.59 mph. Ambient temperature can vary from 68 – 86 degrees so no air conditioning or heating is used. In this EPA test cycle, the LEAF achieved 100 miles of range. Here is a graphic representation of the test from the fueleconomy.gov website:
As you can see, if your commute includes any freeway or highway driving, this is not representative of your driving style. Top speed may be achieved only once or twice (briefly) with most of the driving consisting of stop-and-go in-town style driving with more common driving speeds of 25 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour with many stops along the way representing stop signs and traffic lights. If this is representative of your driving style, you can reasonably expect to see a range of about 100 miles on a full charge of a new Nissan LEAF battery.
These next results are based on Nissan’s computer simulations.
Ideal driving conditions: 138 miles
Apparently, “Ideal” means different things to different people. In this case, we believe that Nissan’s intent with this simulation is maximum range for the vehicle, which is likely not representative of “Ideal” conditions for the driver.
In this simulation, the driver enters the car, starts it, and drives at a steady 38 miles per hour and doesn’t stop until the car stops moving. No climate control is used with ambient temperature of 68 degrees. Also, the drive is on a flat road. We suppose that you could actually replicate this in the real world in certain states but it would be difficult to achieve in most. Edmunds.com actually did a simulation of this test using four test drivers and a several mile long flat oval test track. The only real difference was in starting and stopping the car three times for driver changes, and they used a speed of 35 miles per hour. Edmunds achieved a total range of 132 miles – pretty much verifying the accuracy of Nissan’s computer simulation (within the variables cited).
So real world, will you be able to achieve 138 miles? Not unless your plans include driving from Sonora, Texas to San Angelo and back. Without stopping to enjoy San Angelo’s Downhome Uptown Goodtimes.
Suburban driving on a nice day: 105 miles
Here Nissan says that you will be cruising around town at 24 miles per hour on a 72 degree day with no climate control needed.
Highway driving in the summer: 70 miles
Now we are approaching real-world driving conditions with Nissan’s simulations. An average speed of 55 miles per hour on a 95 degree day with the air conditioning on gives us an expected range of 70 miles.
Cross-town commute on a hot day: 68 miles
Now our average speed is down to 49 miles per hour on a 110 degree day with the air conditioning on. Range drops to 68 miles.
Winter, urban stop-and-go, traffic jam: 62 miles
But what if you live in a cold climate? Nissan gave us a stop-and-go commute averaging 15 miles per hour in 14 degree weather, running the heater to keep warm. Keep in mind, your commuting logjam would need to last over four hours to reproduce this result.
One last simulation was in a real-world situation that we hope you never face – heavy stop-and-go traffic averaging only 6 miles per hour in 86 degree temperatures with the climate control set to max cool. Should you find yourself in these conditions be prepared to go 47 miles. I think I’d find something else to do until traffic cleared up.
EPA says you can go 73 miles
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed the test methodology to determine fuel efficiency in 2008. Previous to that, the last update to the testing procedure was in 1984. The newer testing procedures provide more real-world related data than the previous testing procedure. While the current system was not created with electric vehicles (EVs) in mind, the battery of tests applied to the LEAF is more thorough than that applied to conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. ICE vehicles undergo two tests – City and Highway. To achieve a more real-world result a Combined rating (55% City and 45% Highway) is provided to represent a potential overall fuel economy number. This combined number can be found on the window sticker of any new car and has proven to be much more accurate as a barometer of what an actual expected fuel economy might be.
In the case of the LEAF, the EPA has applied a 5-cycle test. The drive cycle of each of these tests is represented in the following graphs:
EPA High Speed
EPA Air Conditioning
EPA Cold Temperature
The first three tests are performed with ambient air temperature of 68 degrees to 86 degrees with no use of the climate control system. The High Temperature test is performed with a lab temperature of 95 degrees and the air conditioning system turned on. The Cold Temperature test is the same as the City test, but performed with the lab temperature at 20 degrees and the heater turned on.
What we do not know is how the EPA combines these five test results to come up with their final number for an electric vehicle. As you can see, these five tests cover a much broader range of operating conditions and speeds. Not taken into account are terrain changes and load changes within the vehicle, which will also impact efficiency. Still, the combined results of these five tests is likely a much more accurate representation of real-world usage.
So really… what’s the real-world range of the Nissan LEAF?
We would have to go with the EPA’s 73 mile range for most people in the real world. Our own real world experience owning the vehicle for 2 months tends to back this up. We haven’t kept meticulous records. We don’t record every mile driven under every possible condition. We don’t track how long it takes to charge at night. We don’t expect the vast majority of potential LEAF owners to do these things either. We expect that most people that buy the LEAF will expect it to do what their previous vehicle did, just as easily. We anticipate that most people looking at the LEAF right now are aware that its range is less than an ICE vehicle. And we expect that most people don’t want to put any more thought into driving an electric vehicle than they did driving their ICE vehicle. In that respect, the LEAF is an unqualified success. If you really need more than a 70 to 80 mile range, and you don’t wish to modify your current driving habits, you would be well advised to wait for LEAF 2.0.