What does the ECO drive mode really mean on the Nissan LEAF?

LEAF shifter

How does it provide more economical driving?

[UPDATED 6/25/13] With the introduction of the 2013 model year Nissan LEAF, Nissan has introduced some changes to the LEAF drive modes. We suggest that you read this article first but then continue on to our most recent article on the 2013 LEAF drive modes (found here).

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There seems to be some confusion among LEAF owners and potential LEAF owners about what exactly the ECO drive mode does. Let’s take a closer look.

First a brief discussion on the shifter operation. Move the mouse forward to go backward and move the mouse backward to go forward. What’s up with that? Pretty simple answer. Nissan discovered that 90% of Nissan LEAF reservationists were Toyota Prius owners. Guess what the shift pattern is on the Toyota Prius?

Toyota Prius shift knobNissan likely felt that it was not in their best interest to alienate 90% of their potential customers right off the bat by making them change the way that they had been shifting for years. And since the whole idea of just a forward/back mechanism is different than a traditional PRNDL automatic transmission layout, they probably figured – Let’s go with what has already been established. So that is very likely why the shift pattern is what it is.

The real question of the moment is – what is the difference between Drive mode and ECO mode? Our distance til empty meter jumps up about 10% or so, but why?

As you have noticed by now (or will if you have not driven a LEAF yet), when you place the car in Drive mode from Park, the dash display tells you that you are in D for drive. The same movement of the mouse a second time (to the left and back) places the LEAF in ECO mode. This is all the Nissan LEAF owner’s manual has to say about the LEAF’s ECO mode:

Use ECO in order to help extend the driving range.

In comparison to the D (Drive) position, ECO
consumes less power for the traction motor and
heater and air conditioner operations and
enables the range of the vehicle to be extended.
ECO can only be selected from the D (Drive) position.

In actual practice, the ECO accelerator pedal changes its mode of operation when selected. Keep in mind that you are just moving, in effect, an electric dimmer switch with your foot. One which can be programmed. When you select the ECO mode of operation, you change the mode of the ECO pedal to be less responsive and offer greater physical resistance. This is in addition to the effect on the heater and air conditioner noted above. Nissan developed the ECO pedal in 2008 and has been using it in the United States on the small 2011 Juke crossover since its introduction in 2010. The result is an increase of fuel efficiency on the order of 5% to 10% depending on driving conditions, according to Nissan’s research.

As you can imagine, if the benefit is derived primarily from the movement of the pedal, it requires pedal movement to do its job. No pedal movement, no benefit. We put it that way for a reason. If you are driving steady state down the freeway at XX miles per hour, the LEAF doesn’t care which mode you’re in – its biggest efficiency obstacle is getting through the air. So the ECO mode is not going to really do you any good if most of your driving is commuting on the freeway. If, on the other hand, you run multiple errands around town or are stuck in rush-hour traffic with stop-and-go freeway conditions, the ECO Pedal will do its thing and remind you to press more slowly on the accelerator to preserve electrons (or gasoline in the Juke).

This caused an acquaintance to ask about acceleration and responsiveness when in the ECO mode. As the design of the pedal is to influence behavior, it will by definition provide less responsiveness whether on the freeway or around town. But Nissan has a very strong safety orientation, and has for some time. We’ll put up another post about that in a couple of days. So, even when in ECO mode, when the accelerator pedal is floored, full power is provided. Safety trumps economy. If you are requesting full power, you must need it for a reason. “All ahead warp speed Mr. Scott!”

There you have it. Nissan’s ECO mode in a (relatively large) nutshell.

This entry was posted in Driving Experience, Is the Nissan LEAF right for me?, LEAF 101, LEAF Information, LEAF Ownership. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to What does the ECO drive mode really mean on the Nissan LEAF?

  1. steve says:

    Eco mode also increases the amount of regen braking when your foot is off the brake pedal…

    • Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) says:

      steve – absolutely right. Thanks for that addition. Personally, I would like to see even more regen capability offered. Perhaps not as severe as that offered on the Mini E, but regen, even in ECO mode, is still fairly mild with the LEAF.

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  4. David Egan says:

    Thanks Ernie for your explanation of the difference of the “ECO” drive position and the “D” drive position.As a recent owner of a LEAF I wondered how they achieved the ECO. So the accelerator pedal is basically a reostat or potentiometer to reduce the rate at which the Battery power is being consumed. No2 you are right , I was a prius owner for six years and I must say that it is a fabouless piece of engineering. The problem with the prius and indeed the LEAF is that very few of the dealers know much about them. It impossable to get a list of the checks that should be done when being serviced. This is my experience. David

    • Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) says:

      David – Welcome to Living LEAF. You’re right – the accelerator is a potentiometer. But for many the idea of a dimmer switch is easier to grasp. I like to go with easy to understand descriptions when possible. Thanks for providing your input. The more contributors that we have, the more useful this site becomes.

  5. David Egan says:

    Ernie,I would like to get a list of the checks that need to be done on the leaf , say for a 30 k mile check or service. Can you recomend a site where this info is available.David

    • Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) says:

      Hi David. Your best source for maintenance info on the LEAF (or any car) is the manufacturer. The LEAF has two maintenance schedules, per the maintenance manual which you received with your owner’s manual – Schedule 1 (more severe operating conditions) and Schedule 2 (less severe). Most owners will operate their vehicles in less severe conditions, so the Schedule 2 (and Schedule 1 in this case) service requirements are fine. At 30 months (not mileage based) Nissan recommends changing the brake fluid, replacing the in-cabin filter (to filter pollen, dust, etc for passengers), and rotating the tires. In addition, several inspections are performed. All Nissan manuals are available online, which I have linked to above. Hope that helps!

  6. David Egan says:

    Thanks Ernie.Very helpful. David

  7. pete.d says:

    This excellent, concise description of ECO mode deserves an update:

    For the 2013 models, ECO mode is now controlled via a button on the steering wheel, and the shift “mouse” gets a new (old) function for the drive-position toggle. When you choose the drive-position a second time, the car selects the more-aggressive regenerative braking mode.

    I haven’t driven a Prius, but I presume from the photo above that it had a similar mode.

    • Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) says:

      pete.d – Welcome to Living LEAF. Thanks for the kind words, and for the reminder to update the article. I will add something to the bottom of this article, and may write a new one about the drive modes.

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  9. Mark Lowney says:

    Thanks Ernie but as a senior I am still not sure when to use D,B or Eco. I have been driving about 90% on eco but I like the feel of D better. I do this on the freeway and about town. Every dealer says something different. Some say don’t use eco on the freeway and others say the opposite. Also is there a difference between B and eco?

    • Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) says:

      Mark – Welcome to Living LEAF. When I wrote this article, it pertained to the 2011-2012 LEAF. The 2013 has the B mode, as you indicated. Look for an article in the near future that discusses the specifics of this system. Thanks for the question.

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  11. Jim says:

    We just purchased a 2013 Nissan Leaf S. The steering wheel does not have the ECO button. When D mode is selected the first time, ECO mode lights up on the display, when shifting a second time, the ECO mode on the display goes away. I am therefore assuming that ECO mode for this model is the default and shifting into D a second time actually selects the more agressive mode. Never assumed that something so easy could lead to so much confussion. Nissan needs to do better when putting their manuals together and include information for all models.

    • Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) says:

      Jim – Welcome to Living LEAF. I have not driven a 2013 LEAF S model, but I was under the impression that the drive mode selection was the same as that on the 2011 and 2012 models. The first time that the controller is moved to the left and back the D mode is selected. The second time that the controller is moved to the left and back the ECO mode is selected. Based on your description they have reversed this for the 2013 Model S. No matter – when the ECO mode indicator light is lit up, the accelerator requires a greater effort to provide acceleration. Also, climate control functionality is optimized for range. The important part is your understanding of the operation when either mode is selected. Also, please remember, in the ECO mode full throttle application will still result in maximum power. I hope that you enjoy your LEAF.

  12. dgate says:

    I have a 2012 and the default mode is D with the eco mode being chosen by the driver at any time even while moving. One point others may not be aware of is when parking the car just stop, set the manual brake and push and let go of the start button. This eliminates one extra action of pushing the park button itself and the parking pawl will be set by the start/ shutdown button.
    I would like to know if the 2012 year could be programmed for maximum regen as is now appearing on the latest Leaf.
    I am presently using a new Leaf courtesy car and like the strong regen, virtually allowing one pedal driving.

  13. Tom says:

    Great info! Thanks for the article. I do believe that almost all car companies use the same shifting pattern though. It would be unfair to attribute Nissan’s design to trying to be prius like. Have you ever seen an automatic transmittion that you pushed away from you to engage the drive gear? Even in the sequntial gear boxes that many race cars use it is always pull to shift up and push to shift down. Just thought I’d give my .002.

  14. Dana says:

    Thank you for this info. I just purchased a used LEAF and am diving into all the new knowledge I need! I am trying to figure out how to shift into ECO mode, although most of my driving is a 15-mile commute on a 55 mph highway. I appreciate this website!

    • Ernie Hernandez says:

      Dana – Welcome to Living LEAF. On the 2012 and 2011 models, you enter ECO mode the same way you put the car into drive, once in drive you move the gear selector to the left and back again. This will act as a toggle switch between ECO and Drive every time you perform that movement. On the later models, this will toggle between Drive and Battery or B-Mode, which is an enhanced version of regeneration on those models. Those later models have an ECO selector button on the steering wheel.

  15. Chris says:

    I just purchased a 2012 Leaf and am struggling with its range already. I have a 30 mile commute and my Leaf says it has at most 68mile rangewhen fully charged. But I am scraping empty just going from my house to work and need a full charge to get back home. Half the time I can’t run the heater to stay warm or help defog the windows. I am wondering what am I doing wrong? Do I just have unrealistic expectations? Any advice would be helpful.

    • Ernie Hernandez says:

      Hi Chris – Welcome to Living LEAF. Without knowing more about your situation it is difficult for me to provide an analysis. Based on your heater comment, my guess it that you live in a cold environment. Cold temperatures reduce the driving range. The good news is that the range will increase in warmer weather. If you are driving over 65 miles per hour on your commute, you will reduce your driving range. If you have a significant elevation change driving to work, you will reduce your range. If your commute is mostly uphill to work, your drive home should use up very little range and you might not need a full charge to get home. The ECO drive mode will do little to improve your range in any of these conditions. It is designed to optimize range in around town use, not freeway use. You may find that by modifying your driving style your LEAF may be suitable for your needs. It could be that in your particular situation, a pre-owned LEAF will not prove capable. You should also know that you can drive about five to ten miles after the last bar disappears from the “fuel tank”. Check out my articles on how far you can go at the “bottom of the tank” (found here). Good luck.

      • Chris says:

        I do have a significant hill in my commute. I have never driven an electric car before so had little idea what to expect but jumped in head first anyway. I found that setting the cruise control helped to save me some range because I wasn’t trying to drive like I was still in a gas vehicle. I am moving a little closer to where I work soon and am sure it will help some. I also found that driving in rush hour traffic increased my range a bit. I am learning new things every time I drive my new (well new to me) Leaf.

        • Ernie Hernandez says:

          Many people that move from gas to electric never go back. Much about the experience is enjoyable, and it seems that you are learning as you go. Where gas cars get better fuel efficiency on the freeway, the opposite is true of an electric car. You might want to review the article about battery degeneration as well (found here). It may be that your battery has degenerated more than you realized when you bought it. If you read some of the recently popular articles and the pages indicated in the right side column you may find more useful information. Good luck.

          • Chris says:

            I have been reading a bunch about the car. The battery has only lost one bar on the capacity gauge and only charges to about 80miles range but get significantly less and needs to be charged after any more than 30mins on the freeway. Seems kind of low to me. It performs way better in down town traffic and during rush hour. I love how the car drives and its comfortability. I dread a bit if I have to replace the battery so soon after purchase. Would pretty much double what I have paid for it. I am hoping it stays pretty good for a couple of years.

          • Ernie Hernandez says:

            Hi Chris, Your experience is normal for an electric car. The reason that the range drops so quickly at freeway speeds (70 miles per hour and above) is that wind resistance increases dramatically as you increase your speed. This makes the car work harder to cut through the air. You have no doubt experienced this by sticking your hand out the window. Its force against your hand is much higher at 70 miles per hour than at 25 miles per hour. If you can train yourself to leave a little earlier for your commute and drive at 65 miles per hour you will find that your range improves. If you’ve only lost one capacity bar, you will likely find that your range will work for you at least for a couple years before you need to consider replacing the battery or the car. Good luck.

        • teresa says:

          Hi, Chris,
          I, too, purchased a 2012 leaf but in 2015. One thing I’ve learned about is that the battery capacity indicator can be reset, leading you to believe the battery has greater capacity than it does. I lost 3 bars very quickly, so I’m down to 9. If it falls below 9 and I’m still within the right time and miles, then they’re supposedly going to replace the battery. Definitely take it to the dealer and have them do a battery check to get a more realistic idea of the actual battery life remaining. Also, they’ll give you a 1-800 # to call and report your situation, so you have a record in the system.

          • Ernie Hernandez says:

            teresa – Welcome to Living LEAF. I’ve also heard that the battery capacity indicator can be reset, but I’m not sure any reputable Nissan dealer would do this. Did you buy your LEAF from a Nissan dealership, or an independent? I think anyone with access to the CAN bus system likely could perform this reset. Best of luck.

  16. Kadri Bakir says:

    I have a 2013 Nissam Leaf, I’m missing the SD Card. where can I get one and how much is the cost?

  17. Derek says:

    I’ve just bought my first left 2013 G and cannot wait for it to arrive from Japan, mainly to use around town and to work 10 miles away, the only problem is the radio is in Japanese, I want to change the radio which has GPS to an English version any ideas, I live in New Zealand.

    • Ernie Hernandez says:

      Derek – Welcome to Living LEAF. As I live in the states, I don’t have any recommendations for you. I’d say in this case, Google is your friend. Best of luck!

  18. Bill Rousselle says:

    Hi Ernie,
    I just bought a 15 s model with 29k miles. It charhes to 95 most of the time. I felt a very minor vibration in the wheel at speeds over 60 mph. I replaced the tires with yokahama tires. An i added new rims. Most of the wheel vibration is gone but not all. Would and alighment help. Or is a little wheel feel normal.

    • Ernie Hernandez says:

      Bill – Welcome to Living LEAF. Generally I don’t feel any vibration through the steering system. The fact that new wheels and tires helped indicates that there may have been some mis-alignment or more that was the issue. An alignment could help. Have them check the status of your suspension and steering components while they’re at it. they may find worn or damaged components.

  19. Anita says:

    Dear Ernie,
    I wonder how come my car seems to take less km:s without the ECO – function than with it!
    It seems as if when it is over 4 degrees centigrades and of course when I drive carefully (on average 70 km/h and never accelerating upphill, only downhill and then rolling upphill) it has been taking zero on the km:s , and sometimes I have even gained! This has never happened when in ECO-mode. Is my car an abnormality?
    Thank you for feedback!
    Anita, driving 20 km:s one way (=the way of which I speak above)

    • Ernie Hernandez says:

      Anita – Welcome to Living LEAF. Your situation is interesting. Normally, in ECO mode you will get roughly ten percent more range than in Drive mode. Naturally, everyone will have a slightly different experience, but that generality will typically remain the same. It does seem odd that you are getting more range without ECO mode engaged. If your LEAF is providing you with satisfactory performance generally, I would not be concerned about it, but would mention it to the service department the next time you have them look at your car. All the best!

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