Sure, the Leaf is cool, but can it haul all my stuff?
We are dedicated frugal car owners — all we really demand is economy and reliability. Oh, and enough head room for my 6-foot-3 husband. Ever since giving up the 7-seat 1993 Camry wagon our kids dubbed the Blue Moose, we’ve also been looking for small cars that can still haul lots of stuff — like our 2007 Honda Fit, with its unique flip-up backseat that lets us pack a couple of adult bikes inside. So in test-driving a Leaf, my first concern wasn’t range, but space. Could the Leaf be the family workhorse we’re looking for?
Fortunately, the SmartCar image in my head was wrong. My spouse was delighted to find he could sit up comfortably, and the two adults and a teen we drove home from a birthday party Friday night thought there was decent leg room in the backseat (made, oh-so-greenly, of recycled pop bottles). For economy buyers like us, all the bells and whistles (backup camera, satellite radio, heated steering wheel, built-in navigation, etc.) and glorious gliding silence were a treat for a couple of trips from Oakville to east-end Toronto and back. We got over “range anxiety” quickly when we figured out that, except for the occasional out-of-town run, our usual journeys are within the 140-km or so range that a full charge promises — even my husband’s 90-km daily round-trip commute from Oakville to Vaughan. (We averaged 5.1 km/kWh, which at off-peak hydro rates means that commute would cost about $1.15 a day.)
But the real test came Saturday, with a typical suburban big-box run. Our mission: supplies for a garden trellis and other items at Home Depot, a mirror for the powder room (home décor store), bagged dirt from a nursery, and a week’s worth of groceries. We flipped down the back seats and loaded ’er up. Nissan may cringe looking at the picture, but yup, we got a bunch of 8-foot boards into the Leaf, with Jeff riding shotgun to make sure they didn’t shoot through the navigation screen on a sudden stop, along with a couple of big bins of groceries, the mirror and the dirt, with tons of room to spare. (And yes, we brought along an old blanket to keep the Leaf as pristine as her zero emissions!)
As other testers have noted, Leaf math can take a little getting used to. On our runs down the QEW and Gardiner, we found the kilometres ticking down faster than the car’s computer predicts, but on this sort of urban stop-and-start driving, the recaptured energy from braking really boosts that prediction. When we left, the car said we had enough charge to drive 134 km. On our return, the odometer said we’d travelled 18 km. But the car’s prediction was still 134 km! Though it was nevertheless telling us we were now four hours away from a full charge (on our wimpy 120V plug), that did take the sting out of having to drive back to Home Depot when we realized we’d left a bag of screws behind at the checkout.
Husband: “It’s kinda dirty. Maybe we should run it through the car wash. Oh wait, I’d have to pay full price because I’m not buying gas!”
Doreen (driving on the QEW): “Whoops. I forgot to latch the plug-in door properly and now it’s flipped up. I’ll pull over at the Shell station and fix it. … Hey, if I owned this car, I’d never have to stop here again!”
Doreen Martens, City Team Editor