2011 Nissan Leaf SL: Warming to a cool technology

Photo courtesy of Nissan
Photo courtesy of Nissan
Warren Brown
Monday, December 27, 2010; 2:10 PM

The outside temperature was 27 degrees Fahrenheit. The air on this clear, moonlit night looked ice blue. It was the tail end of the Christmas shopping season. The stores were open late.

I could feel Mary Anne's anxiety.

"It works in the cold?" she said.

I assured her that the 2011 Nissan Leaf SL, arguably the first all-electric car that is a bona fide, reasonably affordable automobile, replete with nearly all the things American consumers have come to expect in and of automobiles, operated just fine in extreme temperatures, cold or hot.

"Heat," Mary Anne ordered. My wife is fond of one-word commands, the result of decades of teaching elementary-school children.

I turned on the Leaf SL's heater, adjusting the cabin temperature to 73 degrees. Immediately, the Leaf SL's electronic range monitor, on the instrument panel directly behind the steering wheel, changed to indicate 65 miles of driving range, 12 miles less than a previously displayed distance of 77 miles.

Mary Anne's nervousness increased. She suggested we turn back home, park the Leaf and take an available car with a traditional gasoline engine.

I insisted that we stay the course in the Leaf SL.

"What if we run out of power? How do we get back home?" she said.

"No problem," I said. I regaled her with tales of my globe-trotting travels - how I could always find an electrical outlet somehow, somewhere to plug in and recharge the lithium-ion batteries of my laptop, iPod or camera and keep going.

The Leaf, available as the base SV and the upgraded SL driven for this column, is the first all-electric car with a lithium-ion battery pack, much like the battery packs in laptop computers. Lithium-ion batteries are lighter and hold more power than the comparably sized nickel-metal-hydride batteries used in most available electric vehicles and gas-electric hybrids.

I thought these factual nuggets would impress Mary Anne. They didn't.

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