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2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Sunday, December 26, 2010; G09

Bottom line: The Nissan Leaf SL is a real automobile. That's the first and most appealing thing about it. As an all-electric with a 100-mile range per full charge, it makes perfect sense as an everyday commuter vehicle, especially in traffic-congested city centers where mobile-source air pollution poses a genuine health risk.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The Leaf SL gets excellent marks in all three. Handling is surprisingly good. Credit goes to the beneath-the-floorboards location of the lithium-ion battery pack, which gives the Leaf a favorable center of gravity. All-electric vehicles are direct-drive machines in which power is sent to drive wheels without need of geared transmission. Torque is instant.

Body style/layout: The Nissan Leaf, available as the SV or SL, is a compact, front-wheel-drive all-electric sedan/hatchback (four side doors and a rear hatch). The SL comes with a cleverly mounted solar panel in the rear-roof air spoiler to assist battery recharging.

Engine/transmission: There is no engine or transmission. There is, instead, a 48-module lithium-ion battery pack powering an 80-kilowatt alternating-current synchronous electric motor moving the front drive wheels. Gasoline-equivalent output is 107 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque.

Capacities: There are seats for five people. Rear seating room is unusually generous for a compact car, largely thanks to the below-boards location of the battery pack. You can pack a week's worth of groceries, four boxes of miniature Christmas lights and three bags of pavement salt in the luggage compartment. Take my word for it.

Mileage: The Environmental Protection Agency gives the Nissan Leaf the gasoline-vehicle equivalent of 106 miles per gallon in the city (because energy tends not to be used in standstill congested traffic) and 92 miles per gallon on the highway. But those numbers are misleading. It's best to use the miles-to-zero power range monitor when driving the Leaf.

Safety: Standard equipment includes ventilated front disc brakes front and rear, electronic brake-force distribution, four-wheel anti-lock protection, side and head air bags, and electronic stability and traction control.

Price: The base price for the 2011 Nissan Leaf SL is $35,240, including $700 for an optional quick-charge port and an $820 destination fee. Dealer's invoice price on that model is $33,720. Please note that the recommended AeroVironment home-charge station, approximately $2,220 at this writing, is sold separately. Buyers of the car are eligible for a rebate of up to $7,500 from the federal government. Buyers of the AeroVironment charge station are eligible for a second rebate up to $2,000. Also, individual states are offering tax rebates to buyers of all-electric and gas-electric hybrid vehicles.

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