2018 Nissan Leaf SL: Will this charge our batteries?
Price: $38,510 as tested (splash guards, carpets, and paint added up to almost $700; ProPilot Assist added $650, and it is explained below).
Marketer's pitch: "World's best-selling electric car."
Conventional wisdom: And likely to stay that way, especially now that Elon Musk seems to have more bad social-media days than some other famous Twitterphiles.
Reality: This electric stuff is kinda fun, once you get the hang of it.
What's new: The electric-powered Nissan Leaf has gotten a new design and added range — up to 150 miles with the range extender, packaged in an attractive new look.
Air quotes: But those "150 miles" are not regular miles; they are something I call Leaf-miles. I coined this term after I drove a 2015 Nissan Leaf with a 68-mile range.
That first Leaf came to me during a cold snap. I exited the garage with 68 miles on the computer. I arrived at the post office four miles away with 45 miles available. I never published that review. I put the Leaf back in the garage and drove my own car instead. Nice try.
This time, I took the Leaf 27 miles to work. That seems to have gobbled 45 Leaf-miles.
Matching mileage: But that was a hot day. Later in the week, on a 74-degree day, on that same commute, the Leaf used about 30 miles of range. But on that day, a slowdown on the Schuylkill also helped keep the charge as well.
Subsequent trips on more temperate days again matched the Leaf's expected mileage.
Up to speed: Now, perhaps I have a lead foot. Perhaps I run with traffic on 202, which is going just a hair over 55 mph (more like, say, average June daytime high temperatures). Perhaps if you're in front of me, I'm complaining because you're going too slowly. So part of my fast battery discharge could be my own fault.
And the Leaf can inspire inefficient driving. Turn off Eco mode, and there's lots of pickup — 0 to 60 in 7.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Eventually I reminded myself of the joy of driving delicately. I would baby the Leaf up to about 20 mph and then momentum was with me. I'd watch carefully for opportunities to save power, by slowing down in advance — for turning cars and red lights that might turn green — things I think I do anyway but only halfheartedly.
On the curves: But I let myself loosen up in corners — I could save energy by not slowing down as much. Whee!
The Leaf handles like a nice subcompact on the fun roads. The tires and wheels are small — it's more efficient that way — so the cornering and zigging don't inspire a lot of joy.
On the highway: The Leaf debuts Nissan's EcoPro driver assist program. This special adaptive cruise control impressed me a year or so ago on a Rogue Sport after a day of driving.
ProPilot Assist ($650) adds steering assist, automatic acceleration, and automatic braking — on the right kinds of roads — to the usual adaptive cruise control program. I enjoyed the steering assist immensely for highway travel.
And ProPilot Assist makes stop-and-go traffic easier, always a bonus. I could let the vehicle glide to a stop and then resume traveling without having to worry about "brake-gas-brake-gas."
I was less impressed with e-Pedal, which allows drivers to automatically brake just by lifting off the gas everywhere. It might take more than a week's test to realize its benefits.
Shiftless: It's electric, so there's no need to adjust the power curve for power or efficiency; it's all torque, all the time. Smooth.
The gearshift — shift ball, actually — follows the Prius up and left for reverse, down and left for drive, straight back for braking mode, and a button for park.
Play some tunes: The infotainment center is a definite upgrade from standard Nissan fare. It has a nice ebony panel that's the hot ticket now and touchscreen controls that are a little small and hard to hit. Knobs control volume and tuning, although they're so short that they're a little hard to operate, and occasionally Mr. Driver's fingers graze onto the panel and change the settings. Sadface.
Sound from the system is a little weak, probably a B or so.
HVAC: The controls are Nissan's standard now — a little hard to read, with buttons for everything.
Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers better be economical as well — i.e., short. Foot room and even headroom for 5-foot-10 Mr. Driver's Seat were extremely tight, although legroom was acceptable. Entry and exit were difficult, though, as the rear wheel cuts hard into the door and foot space is minuscule.
Cargo space is 23.6 cubic feet with the rear seat up and only 30 with it down — a number I had verified by Nissan because it's so unusual. Typically a fold-down seat will double cargo space, and I don't remember the Leaf's being especially bad.
Where it's built: Smyrna, Tenn.
How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts the reliability to be a healthy 4 out of 5. It's gotten 4's and 5's in recent years.