After four months of owning the electric Leaf, I enjoy driving the car almost as much as our Mini Cooper S. (Not quite... nothing is more fun than a Mini Cooper in my utterly biased opinion.)
It's quiet, smooth, responsive, and handles well. The turning radius seems as small as the Mini's. The interior is light, open, and well-designed. For a $26,000 car, after federal and state tax credits, it's got appealing features: navigation system, satellite radio, great-sounding audio system, cool driver displays.
We have two other cars. So we only use the Leaf for our around-town jaunts, which must be over 90% of our driving. I know that even though we live in a rural area about six miles from the Salem city limits, the Leaf is going to get me where I want to go and back again, no problem.
When I researched the Nissan Leaf before my wife and I decided to sell our Prius and get a fully electric car, I read some horror stories about how little range the Leaf had in cold weather -- since the heater, lights, and everything else (including the motor, of course) runs off of battery power.
Use more of those other electricity drains and there's less left to propel the car.
True. But here's a real life example of why range anxiety isn't a problem for us even in mid-January, when Oregon got about as cold as it ever does here in the mid-Willamette Valley. Consider the facts of a drive back and forth to Salem I made on January 13, 2012:
Throughout the entire trip the Leaf's thermometer showed the outside temperature as ranging between 30 and 35 degrees F. The trip odometer showed that I went 20 miles, total. And that was with three stops: at the Mail Depot to drop off a package, at LifeSource Natural Foods to do some shopping, at the River Road Courthouse Athletic Club to exercise.
Our Leaf was fully charged when I left home. Meaning, all ten bars on the "fuel gauge" were showing electricity available. The estimated range indicator showed 106 miles after I turned on the car.
When the Nissan salesman who sold us the car was showing us how it worked, he said "Don't pay much attention to that" when he pointed out the digital Remaining Range indicator. I've learned to do just that.
Coming home from town, we drive over a mile mostly downhill. The Remaining Range tells you how many miles you probably can go given how you've been driving recently. So freeway driving at 65 mph drops the range rapidly. Driving in town at 30 mph boosts it back up. The lesson is to pay more attention to the "fuel gauge." (Even though it also isn't completely accurate.)
I drove the entire 20 miles with the automatic climate control set to 70 degrees, so the heater was blasting away the entire time. The LED headlights and radio also were on. When I got home, five of the ten bars on the fuel gauge were still left.
So, yes, in cold weather, with about half of a 20 mile drive being at 40 to 50 mph and the rest at city speeds, the Leaf's range isn't anywhere near the 100 miles or so cited in Nissan literature. However, I was able to accomplish everything I wanted to do on a freezing day, and still had half of the car's charge left.
Plus, the Leaf fuel gauge has three red bars after the ten aforementioned bars. We rarely let the car get into this area, so I don't know how many miles it's possible to go in the "red zone." Probably, quite a few.
The Remaining Range indicator showed "49" when I drove home into our carport. That's optimistic, since as mentioned above the last miles I drove mostly were downhill. But the recharge only took 2 1/2 hours, whereas Nissan says a fully depleted battery takes about seven hours to recharge on a home quick charger.
So I suspect I'd used considerably less than half of the Leaf's battery power on my 20 mile, three-stop, trip into Salem. Again, in 30-35 degree F. temperature, at night, with the heater blasting the whole way.
The cost was 64 cents, given our electricity rate. That's 3.2 cents a mile. By contrast, our Toyota Prius hybrid got about 42 miles a gallon on mixed driving like my Leaf trip. At $3.40 a gallon, that translates into 8.1 cents a mile. The Leaf, even in the dead of winter, is two and a half times cheaper to drive than a Prius.
And the Leaf needs much less maintenance that a gasoline-powered car. No oil changes, tuneups, and such.
Range anxiety? No big deal for us.