By Roger Boylan
GM’s short-lived electric car of the ‘90s, the EV1, was available in limited quantities as a lease-only proposition, so the 2011 Nissan Leaf is the first all-electric car the general public can buy. Its price is reasonable for such cutting-edge technology: around $25K, once Uncle Sam’s tax credit of $7500 is applied. Is it worth it? It certainly has great promise, and it’s a well-conceived little car. I spent a short while behind the wheel of Leaf a couple of days ago–a very short while, unfortunately, the actual drive time having been eaten into by a high-energy sales presentation from Nissan’s own Seinfeld-wannabe; I didn’t catch his name, and I ducked his pitch. I was there merely as an Autosavant, desirous of completing my trifecta of electric-car tests (read about the Toyota PHV Prius here and the Chevrolet Volt here).
The Leaf is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack of the type familiar to me from the Prius Plug-In and Volt. Lithium-ion batteries offer quicker acceleration and a longer range than your common or garden nickel-metal hydride battery, but unfortunately, they’re still at a fairly rudimentary stage of development, with limited range and—in the Leaf—a dead weight of about 500 lbs. We were shown cutouts and diagrams by the comedian. But I was reassured to note that, notwithstanding the futuristic technology, the Leaf is a fairly normal-looking car, a four-door hatchback with that cloyingly cute Pokémon face so typical of small Japanese cars.