Charging stations were elusive when Pras Subramanian and I took the newest Nissan Leaf for a test drive in the New York City suburbs.
Our mission was to top off the tank—er, batteries—which were almost halfway run down. The optional NissanConnect system guided us to a phantom charger, in a residential area with no automotive facilities. The next closest charger was a few miles away, but we couldn’t pinpoint that one, either. We asked around, and somebody directed us down the street, about two blocks from where the car was telling us to look. There, we found two chargers—one of them available.
We probably passed a dozen gas stations on our way to the one charger. But I won’t make the obvious complaint, because EVs are a going to transform driving and maybe help save the planet. So convenience be damned! It’s still early days for the technology, like computers in 1980 or the Internet in 1995. Early adopters will someday brag of the inconveniences they’ve borne like happy warriors sure they’re fighting on the right side of history. They’re birthing progress. It’s supposed to hurt.
The good news is the pain of electric vehicles ends at the charging station these days, since EVs are going mainstream at just about every manufacturer. Nissan introduced the all-electric Leaf in 2010, with a range of about 75 miles on a charge. Nissan upped the range over time, and the standard 2019 Leaf, which starts at around $30,000, now averages about 150 miles of range. An optional larger battery pushes that to around 225 miles, for about $6,500 more. Some buyers get a $7,500 federal tax credit that effectively lowers the price.
The Tesla Model 3, by comparison, starts at around $40,000 for 240 miles of range, with a 310-mile battery available for an extra $10,000. Range = cost in EVs, with bigger batteries costing considerably more. Manufacturers are trying to figure out the optimal range for the money, which changes as more charging stations get built and it becomes easier—and faster—to refuel an electric car. And of course you can top it off at home, provided you can wait overnight.
The Leaf is a mild-mannered Midwesterner compared with the flashy, self-aware Tesla, which hogs the EV headlines. The Leaf is a pragmatic hatchback, similar to the Nissan Rogue crossover in dimensions, but less bossy looking. Pras and I found the Leaf pleasant and unthreatening. Like the electric Chevy Bolt, the Leaf has peppy pickup and taut cornering, with those heavy batteries anchoring the car to the pavement. There’s surprising headroom for a compact and the ride height is a tad more commanding than you’d normally expect in a hatch.
A few things are different about driving an electric. Like other EVs, the Leaf is oddly quiet, since there’s less machinery moving and clanking than in a typical gas-powered vehicle. And the Leaf, like the Bolt, offers “one-pedal driving” if you want it, which essentially means the car decelerates so aggressively when your foot is off the gas that you rarely have to use the brake. The deceleration allows the vehicle to capture energy from the spinning of the wheels, known as regeneration. It’s an odd sensation, at first, but Pras and I both learned to love it quickly.
Otherwise, the Leaf is an EV disguised as a plain old car. The time will come soon when there’s nothing remarkable about electric cars, including the burden of charging them. The latest Leaf brings that day closer.
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ewman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman