Considering electric | Is the Nissan LEAF right for me?

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 08:32

A recent life change has me pondering the adventure of an electric vehicle. What was this massive shift in my world? I went from taking public transportation every day (bus to the metro) to walking a quarter-mile to work. I know, I realize this is an anomaly and completely unfair to those of you with treacherous commutes. I went from a pretty good setup to a sweet setup.

With this change, I’ve realized that I don’t need a car of my own. My husband and I sold our neglected 2003 Honda Accord to CarMax a few months ago. We still share the 2013 BMW X3, and that seems to be working out just fine. I also receive press vehicles to review (plug: that’s how this website gets filled with valuable content for readers like you!), so I’m rarely in need of going someplace with the car at the same time my husband needs to go elsewhere in it.

So, could an electric vehicle be the right fit for me now? Let’s explore this together.

Plugged in! | Photo credit: Melanie Batenchuk

Two four-letter words: range anxiety

I really hate to say this, but my time with the Nissan LEAF started out with range anxiety. The day I received the car, I had a get together in downtown Washington, D.C. – only a few miles away. The LEAF had 20 miles of range remaining due to the trek it had to take to get to my house (not its fault).

It was a sweltering August afternoon – one of those days you simply give in to the humidity.

I decided to take a chance. I was excited to have the LEAF and I wanted to take it everywhere. I wanted to drive it like a normal car – like any other (gas-powered) car I’d have on loan.

That’s when the ugly two-worded monster reared its head — range anxiety — constantly pinging and dinging to tell me that the battery was low. I knew in my mind that the journey was only 11 miles round trip. I had 20 miles to burn. The math seemed to indicate that I’d be just fine, but the constant warning signs of impending charge-less doom had me paranoid.

But not to worry, I had a backup plan. There was an NRG eVgo Freedom Station not far from my destination. If it got too low, I’d just head over there for a quick charge before driving home. That safe fail was short-lived because I soon realized I left my eVgo charge card at home. Crap.

Then, I discovered EV kryptonite – the air conditioning! Twenty became 19; 19 quickly became 18. I had to face the sweaty music and turn it off to conserve miles. “There goes my hair and makeup,” I thought.

Tensions ease and I enjoy the LEAF’s electric feel

I made it to my destination and parallel parked the car with ease (is there any other kind of parking in D.C.?).

Photo credit: Melanie Batenchuk

The LEAF is quite easy and enjoyable to drive. I enjoyed the throwback shifter reminiscent of the first generation Prius. However, the car wasn’t as peppy off-the-line as I had expected. Electric vehicle die-hards always talk about how quick electric vehicles are because of the direct access to the engine’s power, but I didn’t experience that in the LEAF. To be fair, the car isn’t terribly slow, but it’s certainly not throw-your-head-back exhilarating.

The interior of the SL model was lush, providing superior comfort above what I had expected. It could only have been improved with a telescoping steering wheel. The LEAF is surprisingly roomy for such a compact car. It is easy to maneuver and rear visibility is good.

Pros of my potential electrically-charged life

  • My current lifestyle and driving needs align with that of an electric vehicle
  • The nearest charging station is conveniently located less than 2 miles away, so I wouldn’t need an at-home unit
  • The LEAF is compatible with the DC fast charger and can go from 0 life to 100% battery in about 30 minutes
  • It would be a second vehicle, serving as a backup car when our schedules conflict
  • Joining 60,000 other Americans and ‘kicking gas’

Cons keeping me from taking the plug-in plunge

  • I don’t have a garage, so protecting the life of the battery during extreme heat and cold could be challenging
  • My husband still has range anxiety – we can’t drive the car farther than 85-90 miles
  • The range of an EV can be greatly depleted in the hot summer / bitter winter days in the Mid-Atlantic — a more temperate climate may be more suitable

Juicing up at NRG eVgo Freedom Station in Arlington, VA | Photo credit: Melanie Batenchuk

LEAF tops the EV charts

But the LEAF is the number-one selling EV on the market with about 135,000 units sold worldwide since the vehicle’s launch in 2010. You’d never guess that Texas and Georgia are the two most popular states for Nissan’s adorable all-electric compact. Local government incentives and a federal tax credit of $7,500 make this vehicle an attractive choice.

Feedback from those already born electric

What’s your position on buying an electric vehicle as a daily driver? I’d love to hear from those of you who have already taken the plunge, as well as those still on the fence. What other pros and cons can you share?

For what it’s worth, I’m also very interested in the BMW i3. Its styling is in line with my personal tastes, but the price tag is hefty. I’ve found the BMW i3 Facebook community extremely helpful in highlighting both the challenges and privileges of ownership. Read our contributor Whitney’s take on her recent spin in the i3.

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