The future looked sort of droopy sitting in my old driveway shrouded in a cloudy gray, but the 2018 Nissan Leaf electric sedan – a car of the future, supposedly – also wore a little smirk up front.
And with good reason. Although sales of electric cars remain miniscule in the U.S., they continue to slowly gather momentum, pushed mostly by aggressive government fuel and emissions regulations.
Like it or not kids, Uncle Sugar intends to put us all in toasters on wheels. OK, that might be a bit of an overstatement – as I occasionally am guilty of in singles-profiles and affidavits.
Sadly for us old petrol-heads, that appears to be where everyone in the industry is ultimately headed.
Though Leaf sales were down 9.2 percent in the first half of this year, the SL model I had recently was better in every way than its mutant-jellybean predecessor.
While still fairly strange-looking thanks to Nissan’s always-exaggerated styling, neighbors should no longer snicker now when your Leaf whispers down the street.
About the size of a typical compact sedan, my metallic gray Leaf wore a U-shaped grille and a hood that curved prominently down toward the street – sort of hang-dog aerodynamics, I guess.
Fortunately, its thick, flat body gets help from modern short overhangs and a strange little shark-fin hump on the upper rear fenders that looked kind of, uh, mean green.
Meanwhile, skinny 215/50 low rolling-resistance tires wrapped around decent-looking black-and-alloy wheels.
In short, the $38,000 Leaf (before tax credits) didn’t scream “Nerdmobile.”
Of course, as you know, Leafs never shout. With a 110-kilowatt electric motor, the quiet new sedan now has a respectable 147 horsepower (up from 107) and an impressive 236 pound-feet of torque.
More important, its range – the distance you can go before expending its 40-kilowatt lithium battery – is up 41 percent to 151 miles.
Granted, that might be acceptable in highly urban areas, but if you live in some sprawling city like Dallas or Atlanta or Los Angeles and commute from a suburb, plan on recharging the battery at least every two or three days.
Consider this: By the time the Leaf got delivered to me from an adjacent suburb, its battery was down to 85 percent capacity, reduced by crawling in traffic, air-conditioning and other accessories.
After a day of short-distance driving in the ‘burbs, it had fallen to 68 percent (roughly 100 miles).
So, think ahead with recharging. If you use a standard 120-volt outlet in your garage, a complete recharge will take about 24 hours. Seriously. Convert the outlet to 240 volts and it drops to seven hours.
There are still plenty of benefits to gliding along in a mostly maintenance-free Leaf – among them, getting to middle-finger salute every gas station.
Push the red starter button on the dash and everything inside the Leaf lights up, without a sound or shudder. Click its excellent electric shifter into drive and the Leaf leaps away in a silky surge of power and a muted whoosh of tire-noise.
It’s kind of strange at first, similar to playing a real-life video game.
Sixty miles per hour – always a good measure of merging ability – arrives in a fairly fleet 7.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver, making the 3,500-pound sedan quicker than many conventional compacts.
With instant torque from its electric motor, the Leaf seems even quicker in stoplight-to-stoplight driving.
Moreover, its steering felt light and quick, while the ride was mostly smooth and eerily free of mechanical noise and vibrations.
Thankfully, my Leaf’s light-gray interior was less frantic than the hey-look-at-me exterior.
A smooth black conventional-looking dashboard, for example, dropped down to a band of light-gray plastic, wrapping around a relatively subtle 7-inch display screen with buttons for the audio system.
The slick electric shifter on the console was shaped like a miniature hockey puck and wonderfully fluid and intuitive.
In addition, the car’s start-button resided just above the console, lighting up the dashboard to let you know Electron Man was awake.
Light-gray leather seats, meanwhile, provided good comfort and support, while the back seat was fairly tight, with decent leg-room and limited head-room.
Just tell your large kids to squeeze in back there for the Good Green Cause.
My well-equipped Leaf sported about $1,000 worth of options, including a technology package with steering assist and intelligent cruise control ($650); as well as splash guards and carpeted floor mats ($190 each).
Look, I’m too old-school to really like electric vehicles, but I fully agree that they are becoming technically refined with fine drivability.
The infrastructure to provide convenient recharging simply isn’t in place, nor do most electrics offer enough driving range, and with sales of electrics tiny and only slowly inching up, who knows when that will change?
If you can live with those challenges, though, vehicles like the Leaf will reward you.
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