Thursday, November 9, 2017

Washington Gridlock Test of the 2018 Nissan LEAF.

As we all know, I drove the 2018 Nissan LEAF on a predetermined course in Las Vegas a few months ago and that course was specifically designed to highlight Pro Pilot and it worked very well as one might expect.

But I wanted to try a test drive in "not so friendly" conditions AKA "Puget Sound Gridlock" the acid test of any ACC. (Adaptive Cruise Control) But my original meet time was for Southcenter Mall at 2 PM which meant there was a good chance that I would have to drive around the airport to find good gridlock at that time of day but as "luck" would have it, my job in Silverdale ran long so we decided to meet at the EvGO stations at Tacoma Mall at 4 PM instead where Jose, my host got a firsthand look at what I deal with every day which meant gridlock caused him to be 30 mins late. Considering I started it all by being two hours late, I was ok with it.

Grabbing a quick picture 15 mins before Sunset!

Since I had already done the test drive, I was familiar with most of the stuff so I decided a quick jaunt down I-5 to the 512 then up to Pacific Ave to 56th Street and back to the Mall would give me what I wanted.

Checking charge levels.  The default is 3.6 KW level 2 charging which is strange since that
 is NOT AN OPTION on the North American LEAF. Notice the 4 bubbles to the left? The
 2nd bubble is highlighted.  The 4 way NAV button on the left of the steering wheel
 navigates the screen options. Use left/right to hit different categories and the up/down for
 screens within the category. Here we have 4 views which includes a setting screen where I 
changed it to 6.6 KW charging. There is also DC options as well. 

For anyone who has had a Prius, this screen needs no explanation. Here we have a one hour history of efficiency in 5 minute increments.  A HUGE thing for people like me!  Since I know Jose 
came from SouthCenter, I can say for certain that the first 8 mile/kwh bar counting from the
 left is the Highway 18 intersection and the 4 mile per kwh bar @ 20 mins is just past the 
Highway 167 exit. This means the drive of roughly 6½ miles took 20 mins. That is sadly 
about the average. 

Battery Temperature. The Charger at eVGO was broken and the other one was occupied. I 
had kicked around the idea of doing a before and after shot and letting Jose QC the car
 before our test drive, but not to be... In retrospect, I should have gone thru and took pix of
 every screen  available. There are a ton of them. Anyone reading this who will be taking a 
test drive please do this. I would love it if you sent them. I could post them here (with your 
permission of course!) 

Before taking off, I set one pedal, Eco and B mode since this is how I would likely drive the car.  There is no creep at all. In fact, at low speeds, the car drags like the parking brake is on.  Not sure that I will want this all the time and made me wish the car was fully charged to see if it reacted differently like my current LEAF does when there is no regen. I am guessing friction brakes take over to minimize any differences in the driving experience.

At parking lot speeds under 10 mph, One pedal brings car to a full stop in 10 feet or less. This will take a bit of getting used to. Keep in mind, you can also simply release accelerator slowly for a more gradual stop as well. For me; I think I would have that mastered within a day. There is a great "feel" of the regen at work here.  IOW; Regen is MUCH stronger.

I enabled ProPilot as we turned onto Tacoma Mall Blvd headed to the 56th on ramp to I-5.  You need to be going a certain speed for this to work. Not sure what that speed is other than I couldn't do it when not moving but was able to do it while moving pretty slowly so guessing more than about 10 mph?  During the drive, I noticed that on surface streets with newly painted lines, any place that had the double yellow lines, the lane was not recognized. But if I moved over, where there is just the dashed white lines, it worked fine even on surface streets.

Here is the ProPilot Screen. Sorry for the blurriness. For anyone who lives here, they would
 know that at nearly 5 PM, its actually pretty dark. The ProPilot Controls are on the right side
 of the steering wheel and looks like normal cruise control buttons for the most part.  The key differences are the Pro Pilot button in blue on the right and the following distance button on the 
left (has the 3 lines under the car)

This is a screenshot from Las Vegas. Posted to illustrate that each screen has the status screen
 in the right corner. Here the car is parked at the Reveal so notice the lack of icons above the 
circular efficiency meter?  On the first Propilot screen the "--" is the ACC setpoint for speed. 
Since ACC disables after 3 seconds on a full stop. Its blank but as soon as I re-engage it,
 my setpoint returns.

When the lanes are recognized, you will see a green border on the road. This tells you Lane Centering is active. Despite what you may have read "directly from Nissan's site" ProPilot works from ZERO to Max speed.  A reviewer quoted Nissan's Webpage as saying ACC only works from 10 to 62 MPH. That is a COMPLETELY WRONG statement.

The ProPilot screen will also display cars it recognizes and this we will soon find out is a good thing.

Since we were in ProPilot mode, as the light turned green at the 56th Street on ramp, I simply tapped the "Res +" button and the car took off to hit its preset speed. (You can also just tap the accelerator to resume)  On the pix above; On the right is a circle with a MPH display. Here is where you can see what your ACC speed is set to.  A pretty cool thing especially when you are moving from a 35 mph street to a 60 mph freeway. I was able to adjust my speed to 59 mph (as if I thought I would actually go that fast...) as I was entering the on ramp well before highway speed.

In the pix above when the car is moving you will see lines in front of the car designating what your following distance is. Hitting the button on the left toggles from 1 to 2 to 3 and back to 1 again.  I found that 3 and 2 were simply too far so I set it to 1 on the freeway. As I toggled thru, I could feel the car adjusting its speed since traffic was not moving at 60 mph. (what a surprise... NOT!) A following distance of one worked well but still allowed too much room so naturally cars cut in which made for a bit of excitement especially since we were approaching the double exit to Highway 512 which meant cutting in AND slowing down.  Although the car beeped (I am guessing to alert me that PP saw the car) I decided some manual brake action was needed anyway.

Now we are sitting at the entrance to Highway 512 coming off I-5 from the North which means its a 3 lane left turn.  Something that PEOPLE can have issues with keeping in their own lane.

Highway 512 West Entrance/I-5 South exit. I am traveling from the top of the pix
leaving the pix at the right. Pro Pilot pulled it off flawlessly

Now, its quite dark by now but and I am in the center left turn lane which means white dashed lines on both sides so when I resumed, I was more than a little shocked that the LEAF said "I got this!"  and started this challenging turn. Needless to say, I had my hands on the wheel and couldn't help but adjust the aim a little although I am not quite sure it was needed but was unwilling to take the chance!

This brings up another key point of the Lane Centering Function. Although you can easily feel the steering adjustments, they are effortless to overcome. The LEAF makes no large movement instead electing to make very fast small adjustments. When exiting I-5 to Highway 512, we were in the 2nd lane from the right so going straight was an option but as I turned off and the LEAF recognized this after a split second and then helped to make the turn.

Again, my speed is still set to 59 mph and it takes quite a while before traffic gets up to that speed. Two miles later, I exited the freeway onto Pacific Ave (Highway 7 for the out of towners) where I had hoped to see heavy traffic with stop lights every half mile or so.  Traffic was disappointing at first and I realized that ACC doesn't work well if you are first at the light. I "almost" (not really that close mind you) let the car follow the other car thru the light.  And yes, we did see a few people running red lights including one guy who went halfway into the intersection before deciding to stop and back up!

But it only took a mile or so for traffic to thicken up and I found that at 35 mph, a following distance of 2 seemed to work the best.  In the normal stop and go, the car worked very well. It was more relaxing than having to moderate speed which was kind of a surprise to me since I still had to steer, make sure there was a car to follow, monitor lights, etc. It didn't seem like the car was doing much of anything but later back in my 2016 when I had to do EVERYTHING I realized that it did take off some of the load!

One of the things that ProPilot needs to work on is its reaction time to merging traffic.  The time between when cars exited the street and the LEAF recognized it was a bit too long. But when the car did recognize the space, it sped up QUICKLY. The same thing happened when cars cut in.  Instead of a gentle metered slow down, it was a rather strong deceleration.  Now, I have to admit I failed to go thru the entire menu screens so there very well could be adjustments to address these issues.

I did kick around the idea of plugging in LEAF Spy just to get a few readings but figured they would not be accurate so decided against that.   One thing I want to find out is how much, if any, friction braking was involved in those strong deceleration events.  If its all regen, this would somewhat explain the delay since it would take what? a ¼ second to ramp up to the level required?  If that is they case, I might very well be ok with that.

Finally and yes, I was in a fully loaded SL (purposely avoided the surround view. Didn't want to be tempted!) so my impressions will probably be a bit slanted but after sitting in a dozen Bolts (several with leather) over the past few months, the LEAF simply feels like its in a different class.  The seats are firm (which I need) but VERY comfortable. I love range but the reality is 2 hour stretches in the seat are far too common for me to be able to compromise comfort.

In reality; it will still come down to price/features but I just priced a Bolt and it was still $37K after incentives for a lease to purchase after just under $4000 in incentives (buyers would get that PLUS the fed credit!)   The T3 would be waaaay down the line and priced a few thousand less  but lease to purchase is not likely and the WA State tax bill of $3K + would apply making it just slightly more than the Bolt but much better cargo utilization and SC network puts more than makes up the difference but still have to see one first. I can't/won't do a car with a low seating position.

So it comes down to the LEAF (again!) With half the incentives I received on the 2016, I am still looking at car in the $23-25 K range. That is simply too much money to ignore especially for my budget.  With several programs in motion to add public charging, I am hopeful that my 140-150 mile LEAF would do the job (My 30 kwh LEAF is doing a pretty good job now without the added future public infrastructure improvements!)

Again; for anyone doing test drives, grab them screens! Ask any questions below. Just because I didn't mention it doesn't mean I didn't notice it!

Test drives are in selected areas only but I don't live in one of those areas but close enough to drive there so meeting somewhere besides your home is an option. Sign up here to check for availability


  1. Dave,
    If the Republicans in Congress kill the EV tax credit, will you change your car plans? I was thinking about a 2018 Leaf, but without the $7500 price cut, I can't afford the lease, let alone buy a new car.

    1. Barry I am with you 100%. I would likely just buy the Bolt mostly because there is nothing else out there. In WA, we get limited choices because we are not CARB. I personally don't think there is a chance in Hell that the tax bill will pass but I did say the same thing about trump getting elected so...

  2. Dave, thank you for your informative review. I am not quite ready to buy a new car, but when I do it will be an EV. Price is important. I like the range of the Bolt, but the Leaf has the price edge. I also like the thought that the Leaf has been out a few years, gaining reliability in the process. I have solar on my home so, an EV will be a nice match. I have even seen inverters that plug into your car and then can power you home, like a battery back up. Unfortunately, I live in Indiana, where our state government seems to be stuck in a 1950's energy policy. I believe that also seem to put our state last on the list for Nissan and Chevy to send EV's our way. Thank you again for the info. Enjoy your Leaf ! Peace, JHC

    1. Price is the key for me as well. Chevy needs to reevaluate how they handle leases. They could be doing much better. But until they do, They fall to 3rd behind Nissan and Tesla for me