Mountain Wheels: Nissan’s improved-range Leaf Plus offers added electric versatility
By all accounts, the new higher-range Nissan Leaf Plus ought to be the perfect car. It does not run on gasoline at all, but instead has a 62 kilowatt-hour battery system that allows it to get real-world range in excess of 220 miles per full charge, reaching up into the 250s or even 260s in certain circumstances.
It’s also a good-looking vehicle that has lost the chintziness and cheapo factor you still find in some all-electrics (Chevy Bolt, for instance), with nice cabin details and a round of winter-ready bits on my higher-end SL model, including front heated seats and a heated steering wheel. Mine was $44,315 before government rebates.
Even better, it drives with all the power and poise of a regular car — a small regular car, mind you — and if you turn off the draggy Eco Mode and set it to fly, it will give you off-the-line acceleration that’s literally head-snapping, with 214 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of instant torque.
So what’s the catch? Good question. Leaf Plus really does take mainstream electrified motoring to the next level. (I hear Teslas are great, but we auto journalists aren’t allowed to drive them unless we buy them, so I have no idea what they are like, really.)
And if you lived in a world filled with the new, high-speed Level 3 supercharger electric stations (one would think Colorado would be Ground Zero for such forward-looking technology), a driver who was not simply making the commute from an electrified home garage to an electrified charging spot at work could indeed enjoy almost normalized driving pleasure in the Leaf Plus. (Minus the ability to spontaneously drive to Portland, Oregon, on a whim. Or maybe even Pueblo.)
The beatific world of easy access to public recharging power and therefore an antidote to “range anxiety” was not what I discovered during my week with the Leaf Plus. Unlike electric car owners, I don’t have a Level 2 charger at my home — my house isn’t grounded enough to allow the lowest-level trickle-charger cord, which can take an entire day to recharge the battery.
So that leaves me looking for faster-charge stations. Nissan has attempted to move the needle for the new Leaf by installing Level 3 chargers at many of its dealerships, including several on the Front Range, which did work during my experience. I made two visits to a charger in Greeley, a city that is pretty much the antithesis of clean energy in Colorado, which took under an hour to give me almost an entirely full electric tank.
In metro Denver, things were a little more sticky, and the only supercharger on a direct route was of course broken, and my Leaf had only about 80 miles of range left on it. Almost three hours at their Level 2 charger boosted that to about 120 miles — one trip to McDonald’s and several hours of doodling inside the Leaf’s pleasant and contemporary cockpit.
All of this is moot for real-world owners, who won’t attempt long, long drives without plenty of preplanning and will very comfortably be able to get from Summit to Denver and maybe even back, depending on whether they run the HVAC system. HVAC use instantly knocks off 10% or more of the total range.
Sound complicated, especially if you’re used to going to the gas station? Yes, but that’s the electric car deal. So let us instead emphasize what Leaf Plus gets right.
A cool feature is the e-Pedal, which imbues the accelerator pedal with the full go-brake-stop feel you might find in an electric bus (or golf cart). Ease off on the pedal and it will electrically slow itself even from highway speed, with brake lights to indicate to drivers behind you that it is doing so. It’s also a super-highway to regenerative braking, which might totally recharge your battery during a trip into the city from the High Country. Just do not use it while parallel parking the car, as the drag factor makes that virtually impossible.
It’s also very much in line with contemporary Nissan design, with sleek lines, low-profile LED headlights, attractive 17-inch wheels and a bunch of colored inserts to show that it’s an upgrade from the standard, lower-mileage Leaf.
I liked the suede-edged leather seats, the mix of glossy plastics and the general cabin design, and even a flat-bottomed race wheel. The “I, Robot/Svedka Vodka cyborg” inspired circular gear-shift knob is a little futuristic, but what isn’t about the Leaf?
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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