My 2018 Nissan LEAF Test Drive

This past weekend, I test-drove a 2018 Nissan LEAF SV. I’ll tell you that it was straight-up an extremely cool driving experience. It’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 wife’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.

subaru electric vehicle
My well-loved Forester on an expedition to Arizona’s volcanic fields. I’m profoundly disappointed with how Subaru drags its feet on electric vehicles.

The 2018 Nissan LEAF will do my commuting just fine. Better than fine! But when it’s time to load up a mountain bike and hit the trails? I don’t see being a happy camper. Ground clearance is a huge issue here. It’s hard to come from nearly 9 inches of clearance down to less than 6. That’s going to be a factor in installing a hitch mount for my Kuat NV bike rack.

And then there’s the backseat. The 2006 Forester doesn’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 that’s way higher than comparably priced vehicles, and I’ve gotta say "no." 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).

electric vehicles
Here’s a Chevy Volt getting recharged. The Volt doesn’t do much for me since I want to kiss oil changes and belts/hoses good-bye.

I’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 don’t like the Chevy Bolt EV, especially since it doesn’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 doesn’t have the legs to make it from charger to charger.

Nissan Leaf EV VW ID BUzz
WANT (Seriously, VW, hurry this thing up)
By Matti Blume – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Bah. The year 2020 can’t come soon enough. That VW electric minibus concept makes me swoon pretty hard. But I really don’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 "Truecar" sort of sites. Good grief. Take it from me – don’t do that.

Within seconds of hitting "enter," 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 "sorry, the car you’re offering can’t do the job for me." I feel sorry for any women who date these characters because they are straight-up stalkers. And it was all stupid stuff like "let’s schedule a test drive!" or "when can you come in?" (Dudes. This isn’t surgery. I’m not scheduling it. And I’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 website’s network. They never called. When I asked for a test drive, a salesperson got in the car with me. They didn’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.  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.)

I’m Really Bummed to Say No to the 2018 Nissan LEAF

It just isn’t enough car for my situation. If you’re single or kid-free, have a look. It’s super-cool to drive. It will keep you away from the gas pump. It’s quiet, it’s clean, it’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.

One Last Ride on My 1998 Lemond Zurich

After being my bike since 1999, my Lemond Zurich took its final ride with me this past weekend during the 2018 Tour de Mesa. It deserves a tribute.

Here’s a little story about it that epitomizes what that bike was all about.

I was riding in the Taylor House Century in Flagstaff. Sarah (my wife, for newer readers) and I were both on our Lemonds, and a third Lemond rider joined up with us. We had a nice little group going, but I noticed a nearby rider right from the start and I knew he was trouble. I don’t know if it was the socks pulled all the way up his ankles, the neon windbreaker or his 1970s pornstache, but that guy was full of bad vibes.

lemond zurich
My Zurich fresh back from the paint shop with a little Liberace sparkle.

Sure enough, we encountered him on the roughest patch of Route 66. It was a pot-holed mess, and this guy had no idea how to handle his bike. He was about 50 feet ahead and slightly to our left, and he was just all over the place. My sixth sense told me to back us off a little bit, so I signaled the group that we were gonna slow down. Right then, Pornstache slammed his rear wheel so hard into the trailing edge of a pothole that his tube blew out explosively – as in so hard I could see vapor escape the tire. He tried to turn and head to the side of the road, failing to realize that’s a really bad idea with no pressure in your tire. As I knew it would, his rear wheel slid out from under him.

lemond zurich
Getting advice from my coach before the start of El Tour de Tucson.

And he was headed straight for me, sliding along the ground toward my front wheel. My first thought was that Sarah would get taken out if I crashed. So I had to get around him.

I took us to the right toward the space that Pornstache didn’t yet occupy. I refused to look at him, even when I could hear the spokes of my front wheel chopping at his windbreaker. I braced for the feeling of sliding along pot-holed, cheesegrater pavement.

But I never fell. Sarah and our third Lemond rider sailed right through. No problem.

I’m pretty sure it was really him …

I’d never been that scared on a bike before. I was riding to save not just my own skin, but Sarah’s.

I probably could’ve done this on any half-decent road bike. Probably. But my miles leading up to that gave me a ton of confidence in that bike. And that near-miss made it seem even more unflappable and capable. Really, I am that bike’s only limitation.

Well, that and time. Today, road bikes are a little different. They have cool mountain bike-inspired stuff like disc brakes, through-axles and frame clearance that allows bigger tires (which allow us to venture off the pavement – great for shortcuts and getting away from cars).

lemond zurich
My Lemond Zurich before repaint and reassembly.

My hope is to find a new home for the frame and fork, plus a few of the other bits. The drivetrain will go straight onto my new ride. I know there is someone out there who’d like a classy US-made steel frame.
I’m excited by the thought of riding a capable, modern bike that can do a little bit more than my 1999 Lemond Zurich. But it will always be a special bike to me. It was dependable, elegant and confident in its domain. I hope its next owner appreciates it as much as I did.

Just in case you’re wondering, my Lemond Zurich went out on a high. My time won’t compare well to the top finishers, but it was my fastest 60 miles ever. I’ll have a full race report of the 2018 Tour de Mesa soon – be sure to watch for it!