In my buddy Chris’ newly purchased Leaf, we tried to grow a tree – and failed – miserably. We couldn’t even get the tree to go half way up to the top.
Nissan is being cute here, just like it was with the Cube. Growing a tree in a Leaf means driving so agonizingly slow that you would rather watch a tree grow than to try and build one in a Leaf’s dash. You can also build not just one, but two trees. To do that, however, you will need to spend the majority of the time braking, coasting and preferably have someone push your car instead of you driving it so that you consume the least amount of battery power possible.
Nissan also gives you the option of growing a third tree, but, to do this, you would just have to sell the Leaf and end up walking everywhere instead.
When I first found out that Chris bought the Leaf, I was so disappointed. I always try to convince my friends to buy the kind of cars that I would personally love to drive, but with Chris, it didn’t work. I thought he had made the worst car-buying decision ever. Well – not quite the worst – that would’ve meant that he bought a Prius.
I was a Leaf-Hater – like some others I suppose. But I was one of those judgmental people who hated the Leaf without fully comprehending what the Leaf was all about. The Leaf is like kale – you really want to hate it but you can’t because you know that it will double your lifespan.
After spending some time with Chris and his new car, I came to the realization that I was completely right in hating the Leaf. Actually, no, that wasn’t the case. Surprisingly, I liked the Leaf and the reason is that I truly appreciated its value. It turns out that the Leaf can be one of the cheapest, economical and practical new car someone can buy.
It’s not a sexy or glamorous vehicle but if you need a reliable, low-cost method of transportation to get around and keep the air clean while you’re at it (unlike some cars we have recently found out about…ahem..the German kind..), then the Leaf is the car to buy.
At $268 a month, Chris is paying only slightly more for his Leaf every month than I do for gas. You might be wondering how that’s even possible if the car retails for somewhere around $35K. The reason is that Chris obtained some really nice federal and state rebates and after negotiating, he ended up paying roughly $25K.
This might not seem all that cheap but if you factor in how much he’s saving on gas, then the Leaf becomes quite an appealing proposition. Chris only pays a few dollars a month for charging at home as well as in public places. The money he pays in charging the Leaf amounts to summing up the loose change you find around your house, pushing the coin return button on vending machines, and the occasional dollar bills you find crumpled up in the pockets of your freshly washed pants.
Even though the exterior will not inspire any awe or turn any heads, the Leaf functions well for what it was built for: it’s a practical, comfortable, environmentally-friendly family hauler. Inside the Leaf, things are functional and well laid out. It’s relatively spacious and has enough gadgetry to keep you satisfied like bluetooth, text-message readout, navigation, rear-view camera etc.
The coolest tech feature of the Leaf, by far, is the fact that you can turn the A/C on in the car using an app. Because the Leaf is connected to Nissan’s servers, you can control the A/C through your phone although I wish you could do more with it like drive your car using your phone. I’m sure that will be a reality not too long from now considering the pace at which technology is being integrated into new cars.
But for now, just being able to pre-cool the Leaf while it’s a 100+ degrees outside is a great benefit to have in a land, like Texas, where all things burn during the summer.
An Inconvenience Of Sorts
Now this is can be a relatively minor or a major inconvenience depending on your level of patience. You see, you can’t just jump in your Leaf and go. Before each trip, you have to spend some time thinking about the distance you’ll be traveling and how much of your trip will be highways versus city roads. That’s because the range of the Leaf is only about 100 miles which can decrease dramatically if you decide that you want take advantage of the Leaf’s instant torque and beat all the Civics and Corollas you encounter at a stoplight.
You also have to reverse your way of thinking.
Normally with gas-powered vehicles, you’re better off spending most of your time on highways to increase mileage. This is not the case with the Leaf. If you’re on the freeway with the Leaf, your mileage will dwindle down quickly because the car only has one gear and so the faster you drive, the more energy you’ll use. If you drive at 80 mph, your battery will dead sooner than it takes you to realize that you’re driving at 80 mph.
The Leaf is ideal for city driving, especially in bumper-to-bumper traffic where you have to brake every 1.5 seconds. Not only do you minimize the usage of your battery, the regenerative braking helps recharge the battery. So, if you hop in your car to find out that you only have 10 more miles left, immediately look up Google Maps and pick the darkest shade of red you can find and drive on those roads to arrive at your destination.
Because of the variation of the mileage you get in the Leaf, it can be stressful to just randomly drive around. If you pick the “eco” mode, you can squeeze more miles out of the Leaf but it is also quite a bit slower.
Your range can also change instantly depending on whether or not you have the A/C running. For example, below is difference in the range with the A/C off and then hitting the “A/C” button on with no other changes in between.
I suspect with the Leaf, you’ll be spending the majority of time closely tracking the mileage you have remaining. Remember that it can fluctuate based on different factors so you can’t ever just relax with the Leaf. You have to monitor it constantly like you do with your newborn child.
Charging isn’t as big of a problem as I would’ve thought – at least in Austin. There is convenient a ChargePoint app that shows you all nearby locations where you can charge the Leaf.
But be careful. When you actually show up to these locations, the charging stations are generally hidden in a dark corner of a parking garage where you’re likely to either get killed or kidnapped for ransom, socharge your Leaf at your own risk.
But don’t worry, being in danger is unlikely since your kidnappers will be dismayed to find out that you’re in a Leaf and not in a Tesla P85D instead.
The Leaf can provide you with a nice benefit: being able to find amazing parking spots at places like Whole Foods.
These spots are located right next to handicapped parking where you can plug in your Leaf 30 feet from the entrance to the store.
Since the majority of Austin’s population is usually camped out at Whole Foods taking up most of the parking, these EV-only spots come in handy. You show up, plug in your EV and walk the three steps to go into Whole Foods. Then you pay three times as much as you would for the exact same bottle of wine at your local grocery store and walk back out to your Leaf..all within minutes.
If you happen to stay at Whole Foods, wandering around the aisles, comparing the nutritional value of organic M&Ms to the non-organic ones, you can glance at an app on your phone to see how much of your Leaf battery is charged. However, after 3 hours of shopping at Whole Foods, you may be disappointed to find out that you were only able to add 5 miles to your total range. It is unfortunate that most of the public chargers are 120V which means that the Leaf charges sloooooowly.
There is an option to charge at 240V, but for now, that is only available at the dealer. But that’s ok if it takes time to charge your vehicle at Whole Foods. That just means you have time to drink a few more beers while you’re carefully picking out overpriced limited edition organic tomatoes. After spending your last paycheck on groceries, you realize that you’re too inebriated to drive, so you take an Uber home. By the time you sober up to come back to pick up your Leaf at Whole Foods, it will be fully charged!
So, in the end, everything works out just fine.
The Leaf is a great car as a daily driver to shuttle you back and forth from work. If you have a day job that’s close to home and have to deal with a bunch of traffic, then the Leaf is a hassle-free and clean way to get around, especially if you can charge your Leaf at work.
It’s great value for the money and you can give yourself a pat on the back every time you drive it for emitting nothing…unless, of course, you just ate a ton of beans.