Preview: 2015 Nissan Leaf

Preview: 2015 Nissan Leaf
The 2015 Nissan Leaf has a battery range of about 135 kilometres, more than enouigh for an average daily commute.
Wheels
By Wheels
Posted on August 25th, 2014
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Charging still a challenge with latest EV

2015 Nissan Leaf

Price: $38,548
Engine: 80 kW synchronous electric motor
Power/torque: 107HP/187 lb-ft. of torque
Fuel consumption (comparable to gas): 2.3L/100 km highway, 1.9 city
Competition: Mitsubishi 1-M1EV, Toyota Prius, BMW i3
What’s best: Very inexpensive to operate, and it’s a solid little car
What’s worst: Range anxiety
What’s interesting: Fast charging can be completed in 30 minutes

Handling, torque make Leaf a fun drive, but powering up still tricky in Canada

Emily Atkins Special to the Star

A 30-minute fill up is an electric vehicle owner’s dream, and you can get one if you know where to look.

“In the time it takes to eat a burger, you can charge your Leaf,” said Didier Marsaud, Nissan Canada’s director of corporate communications, at a launch event for the 2015 Nissan Leaf EV.

Level III DC fast chargers can bring a depleted EV battery from empty to 80-per-cent full in that time frame — if you can find one. Nissan makes the one at its Mississauga headquarters available to anyone, and the lunchtime lineup of EVs (of many makes) prove it’s needed.

But at a whopping $20,000 to install, these will continue to be few and far between — a combination that’s not good for EV drivers. Nonetheless, the technology needed to connect to the fast charger is available on the top two of the three Leaf models now on the market.

Some carmakers are addressing the issue of poor public charging infrastructure by offering a range extender option for nervous buyers.

BMW has done this for its new i3, adding an optional, tiny internal combustion engine that charges the car’s batteries if need be.

But Nissan, with its market-share-leading Leaf EV, is staying pure. The car is all-electric all the time.

At the intro event Nissan gave us fully charged cars (ours was at 91 per cent of battery charge when we jumped in) for a city drive meant to reproduce a “typical EV daily commute.” After about 50 kilometres of city driving, our 2015 Leaf was down to about 55 per cent charged.

Nissan cites 2010 Natural Resources Canada data showing the average Canadian commutes 42 kilometres a day. With a range of 135 kilometres, the Leaf should be easily able to manage that average and still run some errands.

But when you get home you’ll need to have a $1,000-to-$2,000 Level II 240V charger to ensure your ride is ready for you in the morning. With the Leaf’s 6.6kW on-board charger, the Level II device brings a discharged battery up to full power in about five hours. In a pinch you can use a 110V household outlet and a special adapter that comes with the car, but be prepared to wait — Nissan says it takes about 21 hours.

According to Leaf marketing materials, there are 2,500 public charging stations in Canada. By contrast, at the end of 2012 there were 12,285 gas stations. Given the average gas-powered vehicle goes four to five times farther than the Leaf between fill-ups, the number of charging stations is going to have to expand dramatically before EV owners achieve “jump-in-the-car-and-go” freedom.

Nissan schools its sales reps to ensure Leaf buyers are aware of the car’s unique requirements. It’s definitely not a vehicle for the wildly spontaneous, the forgetful or those with unpredictable vehicular needs.

That said, as a commuter car this little five-door has a lot going for it.

First is the astonishingly low cost of ownership. The estimated cost of a full charge is about $2 and the annual fuel costs around $440.

It also has lower maintenance costs thanks to the absence of an internal combustion engine and conventional drivetrain. The Leaf is also fun to drive. There’s plenty of torque (107 hp and 187 lb-ft of torque) provided by the electric motor. Handling is excellent, at least partly thanks to the low centre of gravity provided by the batteries, which sit beneath the passenger compartment. There’s room for four adults and some gear in a comfortable, understated cabin. The car also offers plenty of electronic goodies, including an app that can remotely control charging and the HVAC system, as well as smart mapping that shows useful range and will recall charging station locations.

For city use, with a set routine of back and forth to work, preferably with the ability to charge it at the workplace, this is a functional, sustainable family transporter.

“You forget it’s an EV. It’s just your car,” said Bert Brooks, Nissan Canada’s senior manager, product planning, about using the Leaf as his daily driver. And that was without having a 240V charger at home.

But Nissan clearly recognizes the need to enhance charging opportunities for EVs like the Leaf.

“Sometimes I feel like a modern Henry Ford,” said Sean Chen, senior planner, marketing with Nissan Canada. “After inventing the car, they had to build the roads. We are building the ‘roads.’ ”

The vehicle tested by Wheels contributor Emily Atkins was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca

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