As a previous gas vehicle driver (up to $600 a month fuel cost), and more recently a Toyota Prius hybrid (closer to $200 a month in fuel), I knew the day would come that I’d move to one of the electric car options. I had known about the Nissan Leaf, but the lower range of the vehicle kept me from seriously considering this car. Recently, I came back to it and did a test drive. I was quite impressed and even more interested once I saw how many more electric charging options appeared to be out there. It was time to dive in and get an electric car. After about a week with this 2015 Nissan Leaf “S” (base) model, I thought I’d share my first impressions.
Briefly: I’ve taken the plunge and purchased an Electric Vehicle. Join me as I learn more about this new technology, push the limits and help you understand if buying a car like this is worthwhile.
And, these are first impressions. I will write more about the vehicle over time, but while the “new car smell” is still on this car, there are a number of things you might be interested in from the beginning. I’m an early adopter here; likely one of less than 10,000 Leaf owners in Canada. More than that, I’m going to use this car outside of its intended use. I will drive it more than average, all over the city. I’ll need to charge on the go to make my daily trips to various locations. My interest is in pushing these limits to see what’s possible.
Charging infrastructure is an ongoing problem and a source of frustration. While the possibilities seemed promising as I considered this purchase, the reality of finding charging stations is grimmer. I found that many of the dealerships that offer EV chargers do so only for the cars they manufacture. I know it’s their right, but it does little to promote or further the cause of electric vehicles. The experience of driving today is what I imagine it was like finding a gas station in the early 1900’s. As one of the few early adopters, I knew I would have my work cut out.
At the dealership (and excitedly described by another Leaf owner), there was a mobile app that let me connect to the car and see more information; even do things remotely. This app turned out to be Nissan Car Wings. The dealer salesperson went over the app briefly in the car’s orientation process but stopped short of setting it up. Getting back to home base, I began the hour-long process only to find out (over the phone) that this model (the “S” model) of Leaf did not support the application because “the car doesn’t include the Navigation system”. Another disappointment.
Another indispensable application has been Plugshare (iOS, Android). The information here about chargers and locations has been a source of great utility and I actively add and modify this database to keep it as current as I can. There are a few other apps, but I’ve found this one to be the best. Knowing where to charge will be a constant need for you.
Then there’s the matter of Bluetooth support. I was looking forward to the options that might be afforded by a car with support for Bluetooth. This was going to be amazing right? Well, not so fast. This “S” model includes severely stripped-down support for connecting devices. After a closer look, the radio included no option for switching to Bluetooth audio. Eventually, I realized that the car, while connected to my phone via Bluetooth did not support audio from my device (with the lack of A2DP support). That was one of the two things I was looking forward to and was another disappointment.
As it turns out, my current phone (iPhone 6 with iOS 8.02) is not technically a supported or a recommended device. Given that I wasn’t able to answer calls, only initiate them – that the extent of this car’s Bluetooth support became more clear. As it stood, I appear to only be able to start a phone call (and it works), but can do little else with Bluetooth here.
This car also includes a number of accessory ports. The single USB port allows me to play audio from my phone (via streaming services such as Spotify or Songza) in the “USB” mode on the radio. There is also an “AUX” headphone-style port on the radio and an “AUX” source on the radio presumably allowing me to treat the car like a headphone. I haven’t tested whether a phone call is possible that way, but I don’t expect so. Also under the console is a lighter accessory port allowing you to charge old-school.
Since climate control sucks a great deal of energy, I wondered how this will change driving in the winter months. Wherever possible, I plan to avoid the use of climate control, though there is no telling how this will play out in real-world conditions (is that even realistic?). With winter approaching, I’ll soon have my answer.
The verdict, so far
Many of the exciting possibilities have been somewhat dampened by various challenges. I continue to learn how to drive for a better economy and look forward to understanding how to more efficiently charge this car on the road. Since some of this is unknown, I have access to a gas car in case a trip pops up that I don’t feel the Leaf can handle. Also, many of the useful interior possibilities (Bluetooth, Car Wings, etc) are a big disappointment given I only expected these to work based on what I was told before purchase. I think I would have chosen the upgraded model if I had known this car would be so limited.