By Joe Wiesenfelder on February 23, 2012
Today marks one year since Cars.com bought its long-term 2011 Nissan Leaf. We've racked up just over 7,000 miles, which is below average for a normal car but appropriate for a battery-electric model with a limited range intended for commuting and short trips.
Owning the Leaf has been uneventful to the point of mundaneness. Having avoided any mammal-induced drama like our Chevy Volt's rodent attack and collision, the Leaf's tenure has been marked by just three service appointments: two for software updates and one to repair a faulty Carwings cellular system. (We'll report on the Leaf's and Volt's maintenance histories and costs in a future post.)
After a year of sharing the Leaf, our editors have some likes and dislikes — but mostly likes.
We like its quick acceleration and nimble feel. Never having to stop at a gas station just doesn't get old. Unlike the Volt, the Leaf has a three-passenger backseat. Though filling this seat is rare, the lack of a center console is more accommodating for child-safety seats.
While we don't object to the drive motor's high-pitched whine, as some owners do, the Leaf allows a lot of ambient noise to penetrate the cabin, definitely more than the Volt does.
But we have one major complaint, and it's an old one: The car doesn't reliably predict its range. As we reported, the first software update seemed to improve the computer's accuracy as intended, but even so it averaged merely 86%accuracy over the ensuing month. Its best performance during the test period was 100%, and the worst was 49%.
Our second software update, conducted last week, wasn't specifically intended to address the trip computer's accuracy. However, the Random Range Generator, as we call the dashboard readout, seems to have changed its behavior a bit. Rather than dropping disproportionately after just a few miles of driving, in some recent trips it has increased instead. We'll keep an eye on its accuracy in the coming weeks.
We don't know if this degree of variability will be an unavoidable aspect of EV ownership. On one hand, the car can't predict how fast you'll drive, what the terrain will be like or how much you'll use the climate control. On the other hand, our Volt has proved to be highly accurate at gauging its electric range under the same conditions. We can theorize that the Volt's thermal management of the battery pack is the key because the Leaf lacks this provision, but we'll probably have a better idea once the BMW Active-E and Ford Focus Electric get some time on the road. Like the Leaf, these two are battery-electrics with comparable ranges, and their battery packs use thermal management similar to the Volt's.
Of the 11 editors who have shared the Leaf, seven live within 20 miles of our office in Chicago, and four of those live within 10 miles. The farthest is 43 miles, and only this editor has suffered range anxiety. Should he have, in a car with an EPA-estimated 73 miles of range? The problem is we don't know. The Random Range Generator could be misrepresenting the remaining range, but not knowing is as much cause for anxiety as anything.
What we've proved is that the Leaf is viable for people living well within the expected range. We charge it fully at the office every day, so a lack of home charging isn't a problem for most. However, editors who live more than 30 miles away wouldn't feel comfortable if they couldn't charge on both ends of the journey. The car has an estimated range of 73 miles, and once you throw in cold weather, highway driving and an unreliable range estimator, the anxiety eclipses any of the advantages of electric motoring.
Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, a Cars.com launch veteran, leads the car evaluation effort. He owns a 1984 Mercedes 300D and a 2002 Mazda Miata SE. Email Joe