This past weekend, I test-drove a 2018 Nissan LEAF SV. Iâ€™ll tell you that it was straight-up an extremely cool driving experience. Itâ€™s dead-quiet and accelerates like a little beast. It turns well, and that ePedal feature is incredibly slick; seriously, it took me about three tries to get used to it, and then I was hooked.
So am I gonna buy one?
No. And here’s why.
Tight Quarters, Low Clearance
I drive a 2006 Subaru Forester with a 5-speed manual transmission. And I drive it like the rally car in disguise that it is. Even though it only does short trips these days while my wifeâ€™s 2017 Forester gets the long hauls, I take it into dirt regularly. I completely disregard rough roads and trails without a thought. The Subaru is a formidable vehicle to replace, with decent space, a tight turning radius and absolute braking and turning confidence.
The 2018 Nissan LEAF will do my commuting just fine. Better than fine! But when itâ€™s time to load up a mountain bike and hit the trails? I donâ€™t see being a happy camper. Ground clearance is a huge issue here. Itâ€™s hard to come from nearly 9 inches of clearance down to less than 6. Thatâ€™s going to be a factor in installing a hitch mount for my Kuat NV bike rack.
And then thereâ€™s the backseat. The 2006 Forester doesnâ€™t have a roomy backseat. And the LEAF is no better here. When my 3-year-old daughter falls asleep back there (which happens often), it will be a chore to extricate her without bonking her on the head. And the low-slung LEAF will force me to hunch down into an even-more awkward position to handle this routine chore.
Its Batteries, Though
Add this to lingering concerns about the passive thermal management on the batteries and a lease rate thatâ€™s way higher than comparably priced vehicles, and Iâ€™ve gotta say â€œno.â€ I am supremely unhappy about this because I believe electric vehicles need to happen right now. I honestly do not want to buy another vehicle with an internal combustion engine (especially after sucking down so much exhaust in the recent Tour de Mesa – we really need to do everything possible to limit ICE vehicle emissions).
Iâ€™m really not sold on the idea of a hybrid. Part of the appeal with EVs is not having to change oil and worry about stuff like belts and hoses. I donâ€™t like the Chevy Bolt EV, especially since it doesnâ€™t have adaptive cruise control. The Kia Soul EV is intriguing, but also sits way too low to the ground. The only possibility that fits what my Forester can do? Finding a used Toyota RAV 4 EV. Of course, that means going to California to buy one. And then how do I get it back? There are a few stretches on the I-10 where the RAV 4 EV just doesnâ€™t have the legs to make it from charger to charger.
Bah. The year 2020 canâ€™t come soon enough. That VW electric minibus concept makes me swoon pretty hard. But I really donâ€™t want to keep using gas for another two years.
My Nissan Dealer Experience
When I was digging around for availability, I made the mistake of entering my info into one of those â€œTruecarâ€ sort of sites. Good grief. Take it from me – donâ€™t do that.
Within seconds of hitting â€œenter,â€ you can expect a blizzard of emails, texts and phone calls. Expect them 2-3 times a day on all channels until you tell them â€œsorry, the car youâ€™re offering canâ€™t do the job for me.â€ I feel sorry for any women who date these characters because they are straight-up stalkers. And it was all stupid stuff like â€œletâ€™s schedule a test drive!â€ or â€œwhen can you come in?â€ (Dudes. This isnâ€™t surgery. Iâ€™m not scheduling it. And Iâ€™m not driving 80 minutes round trip for a test drive I can do 7 minutes from my house.)
Oddly enough, the dealer where I did my test drive must not be part of that websiteâ€™s network. They never called. When I asked for a test drive, a salesperson got in the car with me. They didnâ€™t ask for my license nor take any contact info from me. That was straight-up shocking after the autoblitzkrieg of the other dealers.
Nissan really needs to address this. Dealers are the first line to moving their product – and only one dealer made a good impression. They focused more on letting me figure out the vehicle and less time trying to extract information from me.
There’s also a huge product knowledge problem. I have spent a lot of time tracking down information abut the 2018 Nissan LEAF. I’ve looked for everything, from the number of USB ports to the cruise-control options. I used these two somewhat obscure aspects of the LEAF to test the salespeople out. Here’s how they fared:
As we were in the car, I mentioned to the salesperson that I was surprised that a battery-powered 2018 vehicle has only one USB port. He acted surprised, looked in the console where they’re located and said “the SL might have more.” (SPOILER: It doesn’t.)
I asked a different salesperson, who is lauded as the dealership’s EV guru, about the tiers for cruise control. My homework beforehand tells me there are three tiers: A standard dumb cruise control (on the S model), Intelligent Cruise Control (Available on the SV) and ProPilot Assist (available on the SV and SL). The sales dude insisted that Intelligent Cruise Control is only available with ProPilot Assist; this is incorrect, as proven by the Nissan-produced video below.Â Is Nissan that bad at educating its sales force, or is this a deliberate attempt to get people to stump up more money for ProPilot Assist? (Adaptive cruise control is awesome, so there are probably people who will pay for it.)
Iâ€™m Really Bummed to Say No to the 2018 Nissan LEAF
It just isnâ€™t enough car for my situation. If youâ€™re single or kid-free, have a look. Itâ€™s super-cool to drive. It will keep you away from the gas pump. Itâ€™s quiet, itâ€™s clean, itâ€™s straight-up suited for city driving.
But I recommend leasing to address that battery situation – and to also free you up when more advanced EVs start rolling out. Watch for better range and more-effective thermal management.
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