Report on a weekend adventure with an electric vehicle
Could a proponent of internal combustion be converted to an electric vehicle (EV) driver? Yes, actually!
For reference, it is appropriate to start by noting that my current vehicles are both German and are considered performanceoriented and driver’s cars. Where do I drive them 90 percent of the time? To work, the grocery store, miscellaneous errands, church, nights out, etc. Mixed in are occasional road trips and vacations.
Hmmm. Maybe there is room for an EV. I had the opportunity to experience the 2019 Nissan LEAF SL Plus over the weekend. After a brief orientation from Jeff Thigpen, SWEPCO Energy Efficiency & Consumer Programs coordinator, I was off: I pressed a button to turn it on, turned the AC to its lowest setting, selected a drive mode (more on that later), shifted into D and quietly drove away.
As is typical for a Louisiana summer, afternoon high temperatures were around 95 with high humidity. The initial questions sunk in: Would the AC work? Would the heat deplete the battery faster? Would I be able to keep up with traffic? Would I end up on the shoulder of the road waiting on a tow truck or an extension cord?
Happily, I have no issues to report, and everything worked as intended. The steering wheel, gas pedal, brake pedal and stereo – all were not much different from my daily ride.
First impressions count. The 2019 LEAF is a modernlooking, four-door hatchback design. Early EVs had a more futuristic look, but the LEAF fits in nicely with modern vehicles. Several exterior badges boast “zero emissions,” which caught the interest of folks in parking lots and a few thumbs-up from other drivers. The interior is nicely appointed with all the expected modern conveniences. Leathertrimmed seating, power driver’s seat, a nice stereo and a configurable digital gauge cluster and excellent visibility make the driver’s seat a friendly and familiar place to be.
Within a couple of miles, it became apparent that an EV is a real vehicle and capable of most anything a gasolinepowered car can do. The vehicle is very quiet but not completely silent as you might think. You hear tire and road noise, the AC fan and noise from other vehicles – yet it is still quite hushed inside.
As I mentioned, different drive modes are available to choose from to maximize battery life and utilize regenerative braking to recharge the battery. I kept the vehicle in ECO Mode A the majority of the time; this mode limits acceleration from a full stop a bit to maximize driving range, but it was not noticeable in normal traffic. I did drive a few miles in Normal Mode and found it to be much like a gas-powered vehicle, and the instant acceleration was surprising.
There is a switch labeled E-Pedal that allows “one-pedal driving,” often touted in the world of EV. E-Pedal enables the energy of the vehicle moving forward and wheel rotation to regenerate power and add it back to the battery. When you lift off the accelerator pedal, the car will slow to a stop on its own as if you were pressing the brake pedal. I utilized E-Pedal the entire time I drove the LEAF. It quickly became a game to see when I needed to lift off the gas pedal – I mean, power pedal – to slow down enough for traffic or come to a complete stop. There is a brake pedal when needed, but as I became better at using E-Pedal, I rarely had to use it. Adding power back to the battery and not wearing down the brakes seems like a money saver!
The digital dash allows several different configurations. Most of them keep some sort of integrated display showing estimated range and efficiency of driving style. I preferred a large display that gave a graphical view of when I was driving the most economically and efficiently as well as when regenerative power was going back to the battery. Geeky? Yes, but I believe driving an EV actually makes you aware of driving smoother and avoiding quick starts and stops.
With trips to Sam’s Club and Kroger, there was no shortage of storage space in the rear hatch. While running errands and in crowded parking lots, several people asked about the vehicle, and a number of pedestrians walking to or from their cars seemed to notice the LEAF made no noise when underway. Note: It is quiet on the outside, and pedestrians may not hear you are approaching.
Nissan says the LEAF SL Plus has a range of 210-220 miles per charge. A fast charger can replenish the battery (range) in 40-50 minutes. A Level 2 or home charger will replenish the battery overnight or in four to six hours. A standard 110V household outlet will provide three to five miles of charge per hour. The charging infrastructure is growing nationwide, providing recharging opportunities along most interstates and major highways. Hotels and shopping centers are adding chargers for their customers.
Planning a road trip to Vegas next weekend? This is probably not your vehicle. Interested in a car to use for daily in-town driving? It works well. For a personal vehicle or a fleet vehicle driving less than 150 miles a day, the LEAF, or another EV, is an easy way to lessen emissions and be more environmentally conscious while utilizing an automobile.
• Functions and drives like a “regular” car
• Intuitive controls and displays • Louisiana-approved AC
• Comfortable and supportive driver’s seat
• Nice radio
• Great visibility with big windows
• Ample range for normal daily driving
• Front seats are mounted high (likely to appease the SUV driver).
• Passenger seat not fully adjustable and not electric like driver’s seat.
• Exterior styling still screams, “I’m not a normal car.”
• The windshield is huge and needs more tinting.
Electric cars are the future. Don’t believe me? The iWatch on your arm can make and accept telephone calls, give you a health update and probably has more computing power than the Apollo 11 mission had available.
Several traditional vehicle manufacturers are set to release new EVs soon with increased range and capabilities. Charging infrastructure is growing and will soon accommodate long-distance travel. Get ready!