Comparison Road Test: 2014 Toyota Prius & Prius Plug-in

Comparison Road Test: 2014 Toyota Prius & Prius Plug-in

The Hybrid Sales Leader Continues Its Market Dominance By Plugging In Its Icon.

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in, Hybrid,EV

Toyota – expanding the leading brand with a plug

In the world of automotive sales, earning the ranking of top-selling model in any category is a considerable achievement. In an internal combustion engine world, when the Toyota Prius became the best-selling vehicle line in the State of California in 2012 and then backed it up with a repeat in 2013, it was huge for a hybrid to take the prize. The Prius had a strong national presence in 2013 where it was No. 16 in sales for all cars and trucks and No. 10 among cars. To round-out the sales story, Toyota has sold 1.5 million Prius models in the last ten years, easily making it the best selling hybrid car in the United States.

The Prius four-door hatchback first went on sale in the United States in 2000 and the smaller Prius c and larger Prius V came along in 2011. They were joined by the plug-in version in 2012.

Clean Fleet Report had the opportunity to drive, in back-to-back weeks, the 2014 Prius Hatchback and the 2014 Prius Plug-in Hatchback. Here is a look at the two, where the similarities are many and the differences few.

Drivetrain

The front-wheel-drive 2014 Prius is powered by a parallel hybrid drivetrain, which Toyota calls their Hybrid Synergy Drive. In the parallel hybrid system the electric motor can power the car by itself, the gas engine can power the car by itself or they can power the car together.

 

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in,EV,HOV lane

Plug-in Prius gets you to new places

The Hybrid Synergy Drive system comprises a 1.8L DOHC, four-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor producing a combined 178 horsepower (hp). It adds a 26 hp/60 kW nickel-metal-hydride (Ni-MH) battery and through the electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) delivers 51 city/48 highway for a combined 50 mpg.

The Prius Plug-in is powered by the same gasoline engine and electric motor but adds a 80 hp/60 kW lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack that can power the car solely on electricity for about 11 miles. The Prius Plug-in fuel economy is a bit different with 51 city/49 highway but the same 50 mpg combined, but the Plug-in also delivers a 95 mpge when run in EV mode. As with all plug-in hybrids, the driving style and charging regimen will determine actually mileage in the real world.

The Prius Plug-in Li-ion battery is charged by plugging in or through the regenerative charging system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. There is a standard drive mode “D” or the “B” mode, which recharges the battery at a faster rate when coasting downhill.

In addition to the regenerative charging, the primary method to replenish the batteries is by plugging in. Here’s how much time it will take:

120V           3 hours: discharged to a full charge

240V           1.5 hours: discharged to a full charge

The Prius Plug-in does not come with a 480V Quick Charge option.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The four-door Prius Hatchback 2014 weighs in at 3,042 lbs, with the weight well distributed due to the under-seat battery placement, resulting in a low center of gravity. The electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, the front MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar and rear Torsion beam suspension delivers a smooth, although not necessarily quiet, highway ride. The Prius with the 15-inch alloy wheels (17-inch ones are an upgrade) corners so-so with little body roll, but with no sense of feeling sporty. Acceleration 0 – 60 is listed by Toyota at 10 seconds, but that may be the minimum time it takes. No head snapping going on with the Prius,

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in, EV, HOV lane

The Prius models plug along

but off-the-line drag racing is not why a million and a half of these have been sold. So, expecting a performance level that Toyota never promised is unfair. But let’s get real on what is fair, fuel economy!

The Prius Plug-in (which weighs in at 3,165 lbs.) offers up-to 11 miles on pure electricity if you go no faster than 30 mph. Other than that, there is little difference in the two models. Once up to freeway speeds, both Prius models shine, delivering 50+ mpg. And if you are into hypermiling, the practice of energy-efficient driving aimed at improving fuel economy beyond the EPA ratings, you may want to see how far you can squeeze that gallon of gasoline or kilowatt of electricity. You don’t need to own a hybrid or EV to practice hypermiling, but it seems this is a hot topic among Prius owners trying to out-distance each other.

Toyota has mastered combining the regeneration system with the four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. Both Prius models stop straight and true with no brake fade.

Driving Experience: Interior

The 2014 Prius has a spacious interior with a twin cockpit design with a “floating” center stack separating the bucket seats. I say “floating” because where most cars have solid sides to their center stack, on the Prius this area is an open tray. Once I got accustomed to fishing around for my stashed items, it was quite handy. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel has all the usual control buttons (audio, phone, cruise control, climate, Bluetooth,

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in,dash

Just quirky enough

etc.) including the ability to switch between fuel and battery (hybrid) gauges. Another unique design feature is that the gauges are off to the right a few degrees. Toyota makes-up for this by having a heads-up display (standard on the Four Model–Prius Liftbacks come in Two, Three, Four and Five trim levels) that appears on the windshield directly in-front of the driver. All-in-all it’s a workable system after a short learning curve.

The Prius comfortably seats four full-size adults (five in a pinch), but the front bucket seats could use more thigh bolstering. There is plenty of storage space with or without the 60/40 rear seats folded flat. The car has good sightlines once you get over the spoiler cutting horizontally midway through the rear window. One oddity is that a beeper goes off inside the cabin when shifting into reverse. Odd because as the driver you know you put the car in reverse, the Rearview Camera pops-up on the screen and the beeping is not heard outside of the car where it would be the most useful.

The 2014 Prius is well equipped for safety with remote keyless entry, power door locks, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), projector beam halogen headlights, seven airbags, adaptive cruise control, vehicle stability and traction control and the optional intelligent parking assist and lane departure warning.

Driving Experience: Exterior

The Prius is one of the most recognizable vehicles on the road. Its wedge-shape has not changed much since redesigned in 2004 and, either you like it or you don’t. The shape is driven completely to reduce wind resistance and drag to increase fuel economy (both Prius models have an excellent .25 coefficient of drag). Rumor has it a new Prius design is a couple of years away, but it would hard to believe that Toyota would venture very far from the general overall shape of the current car.

Pricing

The 2014 Prius base price is $25,010, including the $810 destination charge. The nicely optioned Prius Four I was driving is priced at $33,290 including the $810 destination charge. The Prius Plug-in, which starts at

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in,EV,storage

Ready to swallow

$29,990 including the destination charge, qualifies for Federal and State tax credits that could reduce your final cost. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a Prius Plug-in purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.

Also worth noting is that in California the Prius Plug-in qualifies for the coveted car pool stickers allowing the driver, with no passenger, to use the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State, but those stickers may only be available for a few months as the demand for them has been strong.

The 2014 Prius comes with these warranties:

  • 3-year/36,000 Comprehensive
  • 5-year/60,000 Powertrain
  • 5-year/Unlimited-mileage Corrosion
  • 8-year/100,000-mile Hybrid-related Component Coverage
  • 15-year/150,000-mile Hybrid-related Component Coverage (applicable states are: CA, MA, NY, NJ, VT, CT, ME, NM and RI) with the exception of the hybrid battery. The hybrid battery is warraned for 10 years/150,000 miles

Observations: 2014 Toyota Prius Hatchback and Prius Plug-in Hatchback

Whether tooling around in-town or venturing out on the open road, if you value paying as little as possible for each mile driven, then the Toyota Prius should be on your shopping list. Not many cars get the outstanding fuel economy of the Prius family.
You will pay more for a hybrid versus a gasoline-powered car and you will need to calculate if the additional cost makes sense for your driving patterns. But, if you are putting a lot of miles on your car or like the ability to cruise around town in pure electric mode like the plug-in version offers, then the additional initial expense may be worth it to you.
You will also pay additional for the Prius Plug-in, with a base price of $29,900 versus the base Prius Hybrid at $24,200. Both prices do not include the $810 Destination Charge. So as you can see, a $5,700 premium for

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in,EV,sales

Still leading the hybrid way

the plug-in will be a consideration at purchase time for what amounts to the ability to drive approximately eleven miles on pure electric charge and if you live in California, apply for the stickers that allow a single driver to use the car pool lanes. Hence, the conundrum.

Clean Fleet Report cannot recommend one model over the other as your lifestyle and daily driving needs are the determining factors. But, the Prius reliability and its being the market-leading hybrid should give you confidence that this car will be in your garage for many, many years.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

 Words and Photos by John Faulkner

Posted on March 23, 2014

Related Stories of Interest:

Top Ten Best Fuel Economy Cars for 2014

Toyota Is “All In” on Fuel Cell Electric Cars

GM & Toyota Go Opposite Directions in Pricing Their Plug-ins

 

Road Test: 2014 Chevy Spark EV

Road Test: 2014 Chevy Spark EV

chevy-spark-EV

2014 Chevy Spark EV

Chevrolet’s Minicar Offers More Torque Than a Ferrari 458 Italia

But don’t expect any cross-shopping between the two

General Motors’ website provides their Electric Vehicle Information under the Emerging Technology link, grouped with their progress on Autonomous Driving Vehicles and Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Since modern EV technology has been available to US consumers since 2009, with the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt selling more than 50,000 cars since then, it seems curious why EV would be listed as “emerging technology.” And that doesn’t even count the electric vehicles that have been rolling off production lines for more than 100 years. Maybe this is GM telling us they are not so sure about electric vehicles since they lump them with self-driving cars and hydrogen vehicles, which seem in 2013 to be still far-off concepts? This got me to thinking if it would affect the amount of attention they gave their sole pure electric vehicle, the 2014 Spark. Fortunately, it looks like my concerns are unfounded by a long shot.

The 2014 Spark EV is currently (November 2013) only available in California and Oregon and comes with a warning that there is very little dealer support outside of these states. Don’t mess with The General! The Spark, which also comes in a gasoline version, is classified as a minicar, sometimes also referenced as city, urban or sub-compact. Similar diminutive cars are the Scion iQ, Fiat 500, Toyota Yaris and Smart, to name a few.

I was driving the 2014 Spark EV 2LT powered by a plug-in, 140 hp, 105 kW AC permanent-magnet electric motor delivering 400 lb-ft of torque at from the moment you hit the accelerator (no gas pedal, remember). So what does this get you? Coming off the line it is easy to spin the tires and gets you to 60 mph in about 7.6 seconds. Top speed is rated at 90 mph and with the 21 kWh Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery, driving range is about 82 miles. Of course using the 400 lb-ft of torque and going 90 mph will give you significantly less driving distance. In normal driving conditions, where coasting and applying the brakes regenerates electricity back into the Li-ion battery, you should be able to drive many more than 82 miles, with 100+ miles a realistic expectation.

Charging and Driving Overview

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Spark EV Up Front Charging

Before even considering shopping for an EV you have to evaluate your lifestyle and driving pattern. Let’s look at what GM says in the Spark EV Owner’s Manual:

“In order to maximize range, fully charge the battery at each charge event. It is not recommended to partially charge the battery.”

In simple terms, for example with a starting driving range of 90 miles on the dash gauge, a daily commute up-to 45 miles one way and the ability to plug in while at work will get you home again with ease. If at any time you are coasting or applying the brakes during this commute then you would not need to plug in for very long while at work. Then on the weekends where you would most likely drive less than your work commute distance, the end result is never having to ever buy gasoline again. If you are budgeting $250 – $400 monthly on gasoline, owning the Spark EV will bring a giant smile to your face when passing gas stations.

In addition to the regenerative braking, the primary method to recharge the batteries are these options:

120V           17 hours: discharged to a full charge

240V             7 hours: discharged to a full charge

480V           20 minutes: discharged to an 80% charge

Here then is the Must Do when driving an EV: Always know how far you are driving until you can get to a power source and always have your batteries fully charged before venturing out.

The days of pulling off the freeway and filling-up your tank with 15 gallons of 87 octane are over. You must do the math before pushing the Start button! But what if you have an emergency and the dash gauges are flashing imminent doom of zero battery charge? If you are in California and a AAA member, you can request one of their service vehicles equipped with a 480V generator to come out and give you a charge. Just like having them dump a 5 gallon can into your gas tank, this emergency charge will get you to a power source for a full charge. Please do AAA and yourself a favor, though, and don’t rely on this roadside service as part of your travel plans.

Driving Experience: Interior

Plain and simple: I like this car. The Spark EV 2LT came with a surprising list of options such as ten airbags, a seven-inch color Driver Information Center (DIC) where you will find MyLink featuring SiriusXM, Bluetooth and

Chevy-Spark-EV-dash

Spark Dash Spouts Info

hands-free smartphone integration. Also on the DIC are the climate settings and multiple read-outs for the battery charge status, battery life, driving range electricity usage, plus it has a nifty graphic to show when you are using electricity or putting it back in through the regenerative braking system. The DIC will keep you informed and entertained and is located top dead center in the dash for easy viewing.

The car in 2LT trim has leatherette seats (they look and feel better than it sounds), tilt steering wheel, power windows, door locks, and mirrors and a cabin air filtration system. The audio system is GM’s 6-speaker Premium Sound unit, which sounded pretty good, and also includes a USB port. On a personal note, how about knobs for channel and volume tuning instead of the touch screen?

You also have OnStar where the push of a button connects you with a friendly GM representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more enjoyable.

With the Spark EV designed for short city driving trips, the front bucket seats are comfortable, but could use additional leg bolstering for more support. The rear seat easily handles two full size adults, but is a tight squeeze for your feet getting in-and-out. The rear bench seat splits 60/40 and has a handy center console. And even though it’s a minicar, there is room behind the rear seat for several grocery bags.

I did find a few things curious, such as the horn honking every time the brights are flashed, a very noticeable “click” when the power door locks engage and a mechanical “clunk” when setting/releasing the Electric Parking Brake. These little things are not purchase-decision deal breakers, but seemingly could be easily remedied to raise the overall impression of the car a bit higher.

Driving Experience: On The Road

This car is quick, whether it is from a standing start or at speed when accelerating to pass, and that is in the regular drive mode. For more oomph you can press the Sport mode button that pumps out even more torque, but at the expense of battery charge and driving distance.

The Spark EV 2LT comes with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), remote start, ABS, 15” aluminum wheels, traction and Electronic Stability Control. So how does all this technology affect the drive? The Spark EV handles with a very tight turning radius and loves a sharp corner, all helped by the low center of gravity due to the batteries being located under the seats. But what makes for good handling comes at the expense of the ride, which can be harsh due to the stiffly sprung suspension designed to accommodate the  620 pound increase in weight from the Spark EV’s gasoline sibling.

Pricing

I was driving the 2014 Spark EV 2LT, which included all available options on this four-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback, priced at $27,820 including the $810 destination charge. The Spark EV qualifies for Federal and State tax credits that could reduce the final cost up to $10,000 in California. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a Spark EV purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits and how they may benefit you. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.

Spark EV base pricing before any Federal or State tax credit programs, but including the $810 Destination Charge is:

Model EV 1LT        $27,495

Model EV 2LT        $27,820

Also worth noting is that in California the car qualifies for the coveted car pool stickers allowing the driver, with no passenger, to use the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State.

The 2014 Spark EV comes with these warranties:

Basic:          3 years/36,000 miles

Battery:       8 years/100,000 miles

Drivetrain:   5 years/100,000 miles

Roadside Assistance:      5 years/100,000 miles

Bumper-To-Bumper:       3 years/36,000 miles

Scheduled Maintenance: 2 years/24,000 miles

Observations: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV 2LT

The Clean Fleet Report staff gets asked this question frequently: “Is an electric car right for me?” The decision to purchase an EV begins with your lifestyle and driving patterns:

• Is your driving range compatible with an EV’s limitations?

• Do you have access to an electrical outlet to plug-in at your destination?

• For trips longer than 75 miles one way, do you have access to a conventionally powered vehicle, such as gasoline, diesel or hybrid?

If these three can be checked off, then the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV could be on your shopping list. The car handles great, seats four adults comfortably, has all the creature comfort options found in more expensive cars and is

Spark-EV-Chevy

2014 Spark EV

attractively priced, especially considering you will never buy gasoline ever, ever again. Wow, saying that out loud leaves a nice taste in your mouth!

Enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

Other related stories you might enjoy:

Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segment’s Future

How To Find The Best Price For An Electric Car

Fiat 500e Road Test

 

 

Road Test: 2013 NISSAN LEAF

Road Test: 2013 NISSAN LEAF

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2013 Nissan Leaf

This electric car is not for everyone, but it’s a great car for more folks than you would think

Nissan may be the most honest car company out there today because you will actually hear them say that the 2013 Leaf may not be the right car for you. What is this, a Miracle on 34th Street Gimbles and Macy’s lovefest?

So if the Leaf isn’t for everyone, who is it for and are you one of those that should own one? This is where the fun begins because if your lifestyle and driving pattern falls within the Leaf’s sweet spot, then the answer is a resounding–YES!

If you are not familiar with plug-in technology let’s lay down some basics:

• There is no engine so there are no tune-ups, filters and belts to change, oil to check or add, etc.

• There is single-speed transmission so there are no fluids or filters to service

• You will never, ever buy any type of petroleum product to make the Leaf go down the street

That last one is a doozy and should get your attention, especially if you are currently spending $300 – $500 monthly on gasoline for your work commute and around town driving. So with all this great news, what do you need to know since Nissan has already said the Leaf may not be right for you?

The single biggest consideration is how far you drive daily and, secondly, if you can you recharge the battery at your destination. It doesn’t sound like much, but these factors are no small thing when owning a plug-in car. Your days of leaving the house with a 1/4 tank of gas knowing you can stop and fill the tank at hundreds of stations in mere minutes are over. If you run out of electricity in the Leaf you will need to find a charging station and wait until the car has sufficient battery charge to get you to your destination (or back home). Is this enough to scare you away from considering owning a Leaf? Let’s talk about the car and what to consider before pushing the start button, then we will come back to whether a Leaf should be in your garage.

The 2013 Leaf is the second generation model; the first was introduced in the USA in December 2010. It has a 24kWh Lithium-Ion battery (Li-ion for short) powering an 80 kW AC Synchronous motor with 107 horsepower. Charging the Li-ion battery is accomplished through a regenerative braking system and two plug-in ports offering three charging speeds:

2013-Nissan-Leaf-electric-car

Nissan Gets Charged Up

• Trickle 110V                 21 hours: Discharged to a full charge

• Normal 220V                4 – 7 hours: Discharged to a full charge

• Quick  480V                 30 minutes: Discharged to an 80% charge

The regenerative braking system converts braking or coasting into electricity, which is stored in the battery. You will come to enjoy monitoring the battery charge and mileage range (metered almost instantly with dashboard gauges) when driving around town or coasting down hills. It is quite common to start an in-town journey, of stop-and-go driving, to return with more or only a few miles depleted from the beginning range. However, where the regenerative braking system does not offer any help in charging the battery or adding to the driving range is when on the freeway. Cruising along at 55 – 65mph over an extended period will result in the battery charge and driving range decreasing right before your eyes. And if you decide to drive like everyone else on the freeways (at least in SoCal where I live) then you will be driving 75 – 85mph, which has a decidedly negative effect on your battery charge and driving range.

So how do you drive a Leaf? The first goal is to keep it fully charged before taking any trip of length. Then, before even getting into the car, you must calculate the distance you will be driving before you would have the ability and time to plug-in again. It could go something like this…

You leave for work in the morning, commuting one way 45 miles, with 95 miles driving range. When at work you can plug-in at the trickle charge or 110V level for eight hours. You will get approximately 45 miles over this period put back into the driving range which means your return home commute is completely covered. This scenario does not account for any stop-and-go traffic which could result in driving miles being added through the regenerative braking system; if you hit enough slow traffic, you will have used very few miles of the original 95 you started with.

If this sounds close to your five-day-a-week routine, then you could replace your current car and never, ever have to stop at a gas station again. And since your weekend miles are most likely fewer than your daily commute, the Leaf would deliver miles and miles with no out of pocket (gasoline) fuel expense. But what to do when you need to drive someplace further than the Leaf can accommodate?

1)   Suddenly, the Leaf becomes your “second” car

2)   Rent a car

3)   You sign-up for Nissan’s One-To-One Rewards Program where your dealer may provide a set number of days in a conventionally powered Nissan car. Note: Not all Nissan dealers participate in this program and each have different loaner car policies. Shopping between dealers to see which one in your area offers the most desirable One-To-One Rewards Program benefits should be part of your Leaf purchase research

One other safety net if you live in California and are a AAA member (check your state’s local AAA club) is that you can get an emergency Quick charge from one of their service trucks. Just like if you ran out of gasoline and AAA dumped a five gallon can in your tank, select AAA trucks are equipped with the 480V generator that will give you about 20 miles driving to get you to a dealer or other charge station. Please, though, do not rely on AAA to get you to your destination – just plan better.

Technical Elements

When taking delivery at the dealership there is a 2+ hour education and introduction process provided by a factory-trained Leaf Specialist. You learn about all the systems, charging, driving and safety aspects of owning an all-electric vehicle. So rather than try and go over everything you would learn in that session, let’s hit some of the basics to give you a feel for the car and it’s technology.

I was driving the fully optioned SL model which came with the three charging options listed above, hard drive-based navigation with voice activation in a 7-inch color LCD display, Bluetooth, Bose Premium 7-speaker audio system with USB, Pandora link and Sirius XM, Homelink and Intelligent Key, which allows for locking/unlocking the front doors with the push of a button on the door handle.

The SL model has all the comfort and safety features you would expect on a nicely optioned car such as front, side and roof-mounted (curtain) Air Bags, anti-theft alarm system with engine immobilizer, heated front (bucket) and rear (bench) leather appointed seats, 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, split-folding rear seatback, heated and tilting steering wheel, power and heated outside mirrors, power door locks and one-touch power windows, rear view camera, fog lights, LED headlights and a Photovoltaic solar panel (for charging the 12V battery) mounted on the roof spoiler.

Nissan also has a technology called Carwings Telematics which allows, from a smart phone, to remotely check your battery charge and estimated driving range, begin and end charging (with a Timer function) and activate the climate control system.

The 2013 Leaf comes with three warranties:

Basic:                             3 year/36,000 miles

Battery:                          8 year/100,000 miles

Drivetrain:                      5 year/60,000 miles

Driving Impressions

The Leaf SL comes with 17-inch 5-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, MacPherson independent strut front suspension and torsion beams in the rear, with stabilizer bars at both ends, electronic stability and traction control. Combine this with a low center of gravity, because the batteries are under the seats, and this car handles very well. The tight turning radius of 17 feet handles most neighborhood streets without resorting to a three-point turn.

Regenerative braking systems can sometimes be grabby as they are not only stopping the car but converting energy to electricity. The Leaf’s four-wheel antilock disc brakes (with ABS) stopped straight and true.

The Leaf gets-up-and-goes with smooth acceleration and 100 percent torque at any speed through the direct drive transmission. Merging onto SoCal freeways and getting up to 65 mph were not an issue. Once cruising at freeway speeds the Leaf is quiet, more like silent, and smooth with only minor wind noise. The low 0.29 drag coefficient comes from underbody flat panels, a rear roof spoiler and those “bug” headlights that are designed to redirect the airflow away from the car. The result of all this with the lightweight wheels and low-rolling resistance tires delivers a combined city and freeway EPA MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) of 116: 130 city / 102 highway.

At slow speeds the Leaf emits a whirring sound to alert pedestrians that this completely silent car is nearby. In reverse, a pleasant version of the annoying beeper found on delivery trucks lets people know the Leaf is backing up. Both are very useful as driving an all-electric car includes the responsibility of realizing that no one knows you are there and that you need to protect them.

Interior

Finding a comfortable seating position with the 6-way adjustable driver’s seat and adjustable steering wheel was easy. Headroom in the front is ample, even for the tallest drivers. The front bucket/rear bench seats can

2013-Nissan-Leaf-electric car

Leaf’s Dash Is Full of Useful Data

accommodate four adults with good head and leg room. The large glass area provided an open, airy feeling with good visibility. The cabin environment is as quiet as the exterior.

Pushing the start button results in a pleasant chime that lets you know the car is ready to be driven. The two level dash layout includes all the gauges necessary to monitor driving range and battery charge levels with the video screen centered for easy reach and viewing. The gear selector is a round knob in the center console that gives you three options – Park, Drive and Reverse – and is operated similar to a joystick. You can also shift into B-Mode where the regenerative braking force and brake response are increased. Nissan has designed a simple-to-understand and use cockpit with all buttons, knobs and switches within easy reach.

Exterior

When you look at the Leaf one thing comes to mind: aerodynamics. This car was built to slip through the wind with the least amount of resistance. Most critical comments center around the headlight design, but just like the Mini dash and the Juke front end, all styling tastes are personal and you will either like the Leaf headlights or not. Otherwise, the car has an identifiable contemporary shape with four doors and rear hatch, with the charging door on the nose.

Pricing

The 2013 Leaf I was driving was the fully optioned SL model with a MSRP of $36,910, which included a $850 Destination Charge. Depending where you live and your taxable income, you could potentially reduce your final cost by as much as $10,000 through Federal and State programs. It is recommended contacting your CPA before considering a Leaf purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.

Leaf pricing before any Federal or State tax programs, but including the destination charge of $850 is:

Model S       $29,650

Model SV     $32,670

Model SL      $35,690

For those in California, the Leaf automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker, which allows driving in the carpool lane solo. If you haven’t heard the stories, people buy the Leaf just for this benefit.

Observations: 2013 Nissan Leaf SL

The Leaf drives and handles as good, or better, than a conventionally powered car and is very, very quiet. Therefore, placing it on your shopping list comes down to how far do you drive and whether this would be your primary vehicle. If you fall into that 90-mile round trip daily (or one way with a charging station) driving range, then the Leaf should be seriously considered.

You will enjoy the smooth ride with tight turning and the instant torque at any speed. The Leaf delivers a comfortable ride experience with peppy acceleration.

What you will fully enjoy and embrace is whizzing by gas stations and not having to pay attention to the odometer for your next oil change or major service appointment.

There is much debate on whether owning an electric or hybrid vehicle makes financial sense, and the payback timeline. Early EV and hybrid owners were trendsetters, but that has all changed. Because of improved range and technological advances, consumers today are buying an EV or hybrid because of their drivability, comfort, performance and of course, their low impact on the environment and the idea of reducing imported fossil fuels. This “Statement Ownership” has been recognized and encouraged by the government through tax breaks on electric vehicles and home fast charging systems.

So, where do you fit in as a future EV owner? If the majority of your driving is the in-town or short freeway jaunts and you have access to a conventionally powered car, then you are the perfect candidate to purchase an EV. Make sure to take a lengthy test drive, which replicates your longest and most common trip, as this is the only way to truly see if the Nissan Leaf is right for your lifestyle.

And of course…Happy Driving!

2013-Nissan-Leaf-electric car

The Socal Selling Point for the Leaf

For related stories, check out:

Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segments Future

California Helps Drivers Plug-in and Replace Clunkers

How To Find the Best Price For an Electric Car