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2013 Nissan Leaf Road Test Review - 2013 Green Car Buyer's Guide

2013 Nissan Leaf Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

Green Car Buyer's Guide - RTM's Top 10 Picks for 2013

Chevy Malibu Eco

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Chevy Spark

Kia Rio SX

Futurists always seem to be trying to create the ideal town with the ideal cars, kids and activities that are often as far off course as a dart slamming into the wall instead of the target at a local pub. Accuracy can be anyone's guess. But for those who envisioned driving on electricity only, the future has come to life in the 2013 Nissan Leaf all electric car.

Score one for the futurists. While those pundits had two years of all-electric Leaf behind them to gauge what the future would hold, where it goes from there is becoming a reality. Nissan is addressing some real world concerns and questions with the newest version of the Leaf electric vehicle (EV). The first is range.

If it isn't evident from the all-electric classification, the Leaf that runs on an electric motor instead of an engine is as dependent on an electric source as your kitchen toaster or the 52-inch flat panel TV in your living room. It uses no gasoline. It wouldn't know what to do with gasoline if there was a way to introduce it.

Instead, the Leaf gets it energy via a docking port that hooks up to an electric charging station. Besides full charging sessions, it also can get little boosts to its lithion ion battery pack from braking drag, from the drag of coasting, especially downhill, from keeping heater or other accessories turned off to reduce battery drain. Any reclaimed electricity can extend the distance it can travel on one charge. The Leaf is front-drive and runs on an 80 kW AC synchronous motor that delivers 107 horsepower and 187 lb-ft of torque that is instantly available with acceleration. Accessories in the upscale SL model can get power from a solar panel on the rear spoiler.

Distance might not seem like an issue if your daily commute is a few miles. Stretch that out a bit and unless there's a charging station outside your office, you want to make sure you can get home after work. Nissan has addressed this concern somewhat by making changes to the 2013 model with improved aerodynamics, more recharging from the regenerative braking, improved energy management and a shortened time for a full recharge -- four hours on 220 volts, half the previous models. An optional quick charge port and cable can allow the driver to plug into a public recharging station for a half hour or so and get about four-fifths of a full charge. Of course, public charging stations are not all that common, although their frequency is improving as more all-electric vehicles come on line.

EPA distance calculations for the 2013 Leaf haven't yet been determined. It's anticipated it should reach or surpass the 80 mile mark, with some of that subject to outside weather conditions (with attendant use of comfort systems such as heaters or heated seats on very cold days, for example). How the car is driven has another huge impact. Someone who hotdog's around town to take advantage of the Leaf's fun driving potential can expect to limit the available miles.

As one would expect, the body of this five-seater bears the shape of things to come. Its streamlined surface is meant to make it slip-slide through the air with as little wind drag as possible. (A boxier shape would slam into the air head on while driving.) Anything functional such as headlamps was designed to enhance that aerodynamic quality rather than creating a drag. An available hybrid heater system improves cold weather performance with less energy use.

Inside, it has a contemporary quality with the requisite futuristic gauges and diagrams needed to properly keep it moving on the road, including miles to empty and “state-of-charge” meter. But any hint of austerity should be gone with available amenities in the 2013 Leaf. Among them are standard leather wrapped steering wheel, plus new black interior and sun shield extensions. Relocation of the on board charger opens more storage room in the rear. And those who opt for the Leaf's navigation system can get more range-friendly driving route suggestions designed to extend mileage from the “Eco route” feature. Pandora link for iPhone enhances audio entertainment choices, and Google Places search function helps locate points of interest such as restaurants.

Perhaps the biggest Leaf change for 2013 is the addition of new, lower cost entry level model, adding an “S” grade to the previous SV and SL grades. Base pricing for the S is $28,800, for the SV $31,820 and for the SL $34,840. Option packages and accessories are available.

For those concerned about the lifespan of the Leaf, considering its youth as a vehicle for the masses and not just EV enthusiasts, the battery including its ability to hold a charge is warranteed by Nissan. The battery pack has an eight year, 100,000 miles warranty, while the battery capacity is for five years, or 60,000 miles.

For those who like to keep things close to home, Nissan has made another move to keep them comfy. The Leaf, including its battery, now is manufactured in Tennessee.

For more information on Nissan vehicles, click here.