Is the Nissan Leaf fun to drive? – Renewable Journal for 7/14/2014

Electric motors provide instant torque. So yes, the Leaf is one hell of a lot of fun to drive.

leaf-dash-display-610.jpgFor more posts in this series, please click here.

FAQ #1: Is the Nissan Leaf fun to drive?

Hell yes. In fact, it’s by far the zippiest car I’ve ever owned. Able to go 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, it is more than capable of getting out of its own way merging into traffic, unlike some cars I’ve driven and/or owned in the past.

Having a car that could accelerate into traffic was important for me. At this point there’s so much road construction on my commute every day that I wanted to be able to put my foot down and fit into traffic going at 55+ MPH even when contending with a short merge lane. I had to do that this morning, in fact, since I got stuck behind two big trucks and needed to get out and around them and then up to highway speed quickly.

I’ve driven a Prius and a Civic hybrid, and both sucked pond water, metaphorically speaking, when it came to acceleration (although the newer Priuses seem to be a little better than the older ones). Only the Jetta Hybrid matched the acceleration of the Leaf. And if you look at the numbers, it’s not hard to see why:

  • Toyota Prius: Torque = 153 ft-lb. Curb weight = 3042 lbs. Torque/weight = 0.0503 ft.
  • Honda Civic Hybrid: Torque = 127 ft-lb. Curb weight = 2873 or 2879 lbs. Torque/weight = 0.0442.
  • Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid: Torque = 184 ft-lb. Curb weight = 3312 lbs. Torque/weight = 0.0556.
  • Nissan Leaf: Torque = 189 ft-lb. Curb weight = 3242-3326 lbs (mine is 3277 lbs). Torque/weight = 0.0577.

Divide torque by curb weight and you get a metric by which you can compare all three vehicles – the larger the value, the more acceleration the vehicle will have. Even though the Leaf is the heaviest of the vehicles, it has the greatest acceleration.

When I test drove the Jetta Hybrid, however, I noticed that it drove very similarly to the Leaf, so it’s not that there’s anything inherently pokey about a hybrid, rather there’s limitations to the motor, batteries, wiring, and/or limiters built into the software to limit acceleration in order to improve efficiency.

Just this morning I was running errands and needed to accelerate hard and I actually heard one of my front tires squeal a little bit. Gotta love that electric motor.

nissan-lef-battery-pack-610.jpgThe Leaf is probably the most responsive vehicle I’ve ever driven1. The main reason is that it has a very low center of gravity. The batteries (and their armored bathtub) weigh over 500 lbs, but they’re placed under the seats and barely above the height of the axles. And that results in a car that can dart back and forth between lanes if dodging an unexpected slowdown or merging into traffic.

Note that there is some variation between various EVs in both responsiveness and acceleration. That said, having an electric motor means that most, if not all, EVs are going to be quick off the mark when the light changes. The exact configuration of the batteries and the overall mass of the EV will matter more to responsiveness, however, so always test drive.

I’ll go into some other aspects1 of “fun to drive” another time.

1. It’s a tossup between an old Toyota Corolla I had before it’s untimely end and the Leaf. Unfortunately, my memory of the Corolla are too old for me to say conclusively which car was the more responsive, and since the Corolla was the first car I owned with much of any zip to it, my memories could be biased as well.
2. Like the fact that my Leaf, and probably most if not all electric vehicles, are a geek driver’s dream.