The Nissan Leaf arrived late in the day for a weekend test drive with its Li-ion battery in the depleted zone (well under 17% of full charge, as indicated on the display gauge). But this was no problem, because the car comes equipped with a charger "cord" having a standard EV charging connector that uses a household 110V, three-prong grounded outlet. Power conditioning and control electronics are in a box on the cord about eight inches from the three-prong plug.
It turned out this arrangement was awkward in that the combination of the short cord from the electronics box coupled with its weight tended to pull the plug from the outlet. This would not have been a problem had the outlet been closer to the floor (as is standard inside a house) so that the box could have rested on the floor. But in a garage where electrical codes often dictate outlets be located about chest high (convenient for workbenches and away from moisture), some arrangement has to be made. A hook or restraint on the electronics box housing might help to attach it to a support, or Nissan could have made the distance from the plug to the box longer so it could rest on the floor. I used a cardboard box on a garbage can to support the electronics box.
Upon plugging the charger into the Leaf's receptacle under a small door on the hood, the onboard computer told me it would take 26 hours for full charge (and about half that if I had a 220V charger available)! Turns out it was 35F outside air temperature (OAT) when I plugged in the charger in the evening, so the computer likely based charging time on that temperature. The actual full charge took about 20 hours, which is what Nissan says is nominal when using the 110V (1.4 kW) "trickle charger."
Most Leaf owners would not want to put up with such a long charging time, unless they could limit their driving so as not to go below about half a full charge. But the others will probably opt for the available "home charging dock" (3.3 kW) that runs off a 220V line (view video)
. This unit costs roughly $2,200 (installed in new construction, but "the customer is eligible for a 50% federal tax credit up to $2,000," according to Nissan) and allows a full charge in eight hours, adequate for commuters topping up overnight. A $700 option on the car provides a receptacle next to the standard charger socket that will mate to the cord on publicly available DC charger kiosks (50 kW) to give an 80% charge in 30 minutes. The Leaf also has a feature that can be set to only charge the battery to 80% capacity to extend battery life.
As the car battery is recharged, a set of three blue lights on top of the dash cowling and visible through the windshield light and flash through a sequence to indicate the level of charge. By late afternoon of the second day these lights were out, and the battery "topped up." The dash display indicated a maximum range of 93 miles. The map display (navigation is standard on the Leaf to help with battery management and in locating charging stations) showed the 93 miles as well as a smaller, "anticipated" range circle of 65 miles. These numbers are based on how the car was driven in previous charging cycles and battery capacity (based on its temperature). OAT (46F at the time) could enter the calculation as well.
I turned on the headlights and windshield wipers to see if these power draws would affect the range numbers, but the figures stayed the same. (The Leaf uses high-brightness LEDs
for its low beams to minimize their power drain on its low-voltage 12V battery.) However, when I turned on the climate control, the max range number dropped to 82 miles. But the car can run with outside air flowing through the cabin without the climate control on (much like back in the day when most cars did not have air conditioning).
Later in the evening, I set out on a short drive, which produced the following results:
- Start with OAT at 42F and 91 miles max range figure (with climate control off).
- After driving 2.7 miles over town roads up to 40 mph with heater and headlights on, display indicates 77 miles range left.
- Return trip diverted to use Interstate for three miles at 65 mph. Exiting Interstate at 7 miles total, max range is given as 70 miles.
- Drive home on town roads at 30 mph. At a final driving distance of 8.9 miles, max range stays the same at 70 miles.
- Turn off climate control and max range number jumps to 83 miles ("anticipated" range number then is 58 miles).
- Battery power is down to 87% and usage was 2.8 mi/kWh.
The remainder of the time I used the Leaf for short trips around town and kept the charge topped off so it could be driven to the next journalist who would test it.