Bottom line: The Nissan Leaf will never be a sales success in an America that lacks a rational energy policy. As long as consumers cling to the idea that gasoline is forever, big is better (or truly deserving of a bigger price), or that all cars should have driving ranges of 300 miles or more, with the ability to refuel or recharge in a matter of minutes, the Leaf and other all-electric cars will remain bit players.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Instant torque is a wonder to behold! But it’s a short-lived wonder in the Leaf and other all-electric cars I’ve driven. The more power you use, the quicker the battery dies. The Leaf’s ride gets good marks. Handling is a bit sloppy, especially in sharp curves. But regular commuting is a gas-free cinch in this one.
Head-turning quotient: View it as a science project in which aesthetics take a back seat to aerodynamic efficiency. The Leaf employs every trick in the book, including specially designed headlamp lenses, to reduce wind drag and help increase its driving range.
Body style/layout: The Nissan Leaf is a small, front-wheel-drive, all-electric car with four side doors and a rear hatch that requires plugging into a conventional household (regular charging, about eight hours) or specially designed quick-charge circuit (about three hours) for operating power.
Engine/transmission: There is no engine. There is a one-speed, direct-drive transmission in which power from an ion battery pack flows to electric motors that move the front wheels.
Capacities: Nissan says there are seats for five people. My experience says you can seat only four people comfortably. Cargo capacity is 14.5 cubic feet.
Driving range: All of my driving in this one was local — Arlington and Alexandria. I did not venture onto high-speed highways. I averaged 75 miles per effective charge. I charged overnight about eight hours.
Safety: Standard equipment includes front and rear ventilated disc brakes; four-wheel antilock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; electronic brake-force distribution; side and head air bags; electronic stability and traction control.
Price: The base price on the 2012 Nissan Leaf all-electric car is $37,250. Dealer’s invoice price on that model is $35,668. Price as tested is $38,485, including $225 for front-rear bumper guard, $20 cargo net, $140 splash guard and an $850 destination charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $36,942.