2018 Nissan Leaf SL: first impressions

So Carvana arrived today, and delivered my new car and took my old car away. The whole process was really straightforward and simple, and of course they gave me time to do a test drive before committing to the exchange. It was kind of sad to see my Mazda3 go away but I’m sure whoever ends up with it next will make much better use of it than I did.

Anyway! So now I have a shiny black vehicle from the future. It is really fun to drive, but also very different. It’s so weird to turn it on and to not hear an engine rev. It’s weird not having an engine to rev. It moves smoothly. One-pedal mode feels like how driving should have always been, and supposedly it’s better at power consumption so I will probably be using it a lot, at least for my city driving.

In a lot of ways it feels like a shitty economy car fell through a time warp from the future and landed in the present. But shitty economy cars are great. Many of the cars I’ve owned in the past have been shitty economy cars. And the future’s shitty economy car is still a great drive compared to a midrange car from today. Heck, the Leaf gets 0-60 in 6.9 seconds, which beat the hell out of my Mazda3. (Of course the Mazda3 has a much better top end and a bit more oomph when passing on the freeway. But my opportunities to really open up the Mazda’s throttle were limited, and I’m not expecting the Leaf to be any different.)

The infotainment system is kind of subpar compared to Mazda’s, but Mazda’s always been pretty top-tier with that. It’d also be nice if there were a proximity auto-lock option like the Mazda3 had (although the Mazda3 was pretty inconsistent about whether it actually activated so maybe it’s not that big a deal anyway). Navigating the menus is annoying and definitely not something I’d want to do while driving. Pairing a phone by Bluetooth was pretty arduous (although to be fair, that’s pretty janky on the Mazda3 too). Most of the time I’ll have it in CarPlay anyway so I don’t think it matters so much, and it seems way more responsive about entering CarPlay mode than the Mazda did. On the minus side, CarPlay seems to be touchscreen-only; I really liked how on the Mazda I could use the car’s center console menu controls which kept my eyes on the road and my hand near the stickshift.

But there’s no stickshift to be near, anyway.1

When the car was delivered it had a 90% charge and claimed a 125-mile range, which is way more than I need. I only drove it a few miles to test it out, and it claimed 124 miles remaining at the end of it. It’ll probably take a while for the computer to figure out what the actual range will be, but regardless, it’s very rare that I drive more than 20 miles in any given week so I’m not too worried about range.

Plugging the car in to charge it is pretty easy. The charger itself is heavy and annoying. I’ll probably want to get a wall-mounted one to keep in the garage so that I can have the L1 charger in my trunk as a spare. Pressing the trigger on the charger doesn’t cause it to disengage like it seems like it should, and I have to press a button on the dashboard to make it let go. That’s something I’ll have to read the manual for.

The wraparound camera so far feels like a gimmick although it’s probably handy while parallel parking (which I haven’t had to do yet). Also the front camera is currently disconnected; apparently it’s common for those connections to come loose, so I need to figure out how to open its cover and jiggle the connectors. Hopefully that’ll algo show me a nice option for installing my dashcam in a non-spaghetti way (although when I do a permanent install I’ll probably use this method.

I think I also want a slimmer dashcam first anyway; my current one is a bit obtrusive and much harder to hide out of sight with how the Leaf’s windshield is arranged.

I haven’t taken it on the highway yet so I don’t know if the blind spot indicator is audio or if it’s just visual. I didn’t see any settings for a volume control on it so it might only be visual, which would be unfortunate.

The backup camera doesn’t feel like it has as good of a field of view as the Mazda3’s, and I am much less willing to trust it for leaving my driveway. Especially since I don’t know if there’s an audio alert for the blind spot monitoring. I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.

Speaking of blind spots, I feel like the A-pillars block off too much of my view, especially with how curvy many of the roads are around here. Maybe I need to find a better seating position. I’m already uncomfortably close to the wheel though. This seems to be a common complaint.

Little fit-and-finish things that I’m somewhat annoyed by already:

  • No good place to keep my window wipes (the cupholders are too small for them)
  • The in-door storage is kind of awkward all around
  • There’s only one USB port on the center console, and no hidden power points in the center armrest

Things that are surprisingly nice:

  • Heated steering wheel
  • There’s a little emergency kit cubby hole in the trunk and it comes with a tire inflator (although I already have one that I bought for the Mazda which I think is better? I haven’t compared them spec-for-spec)
  • I felt no anxiety while driving it around even in spots where I usually get very anxious so I’ll probably get way more use out of this car than out of the Mazda anyway

That said, I do hope Mazda eventually makes more than a token effort on their EVs in the future. They have the car design stuff down; if only they’d bring that into the modern era!

But hopefully this will be the last time I buy a car for a long time. I got a good 5+ years out of the Mazda3, let’s see if this one satisfies me for another 5.

Anyway. It feels strange to not be able to rev the engine while idling at a stoplight. But I’m sure I’ll get over it.

  1. This doesn’t stop me from reflexively reaching for it when I accelerate. But the vast majority of internal-combustion cars also do this to me; it’s a bit silly how long I held out on stickshifts, in general. Basically, I found it soothing to fidget with it while driving and felt that it gave me something to focus on to distract me from my anxiety. But there is no reason for a BEV to even have a shifter. 


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