updated 3/28/2012 12:51:53 PM ET 2012-03-28T16:51:53

On March 28, 2011, my wife and I took delivery of a European-specification 2011 Nissan Leaf, since we live in the United Kingdom. Now, a day short of our one-year anniversary with the car, the odometer has passed the 15,000-mile mark. But what have we learned about Nissan’s first electric car after living with it daily for a year?

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Reliability

As with most new cars today, our 2011 Nissan leaf has been extremely reliable over the past 15,000 miles. In fact, to date, we’ve not run out of charge or broken down. What we have experienced however, are some minor faults which we’ve had to refer to the dealer.

-- During early June, the cover on the USB port for the audio system snapped, requiring a replacement part.

-- Shortly after delivery, we noticed one front caliper had begun to rust because it was incorrectly sprayed at the factory. This was replaced under warranty at the 13,000-mile mark.

-- During winter months, all four windows were slow to operate. At its peak, the driver's side window refused to rise properly. This was remedied by a team of engineers from Nissan Japan and shown to be a defect in manufacturing.

All work was carried out under warranty.


Range, Predicted Range

Although our Leaf is used daily for a 40-mile round commute, we’ve regularly seen 70 miles from a full charge, even with a heavily laden car.

With careful driving, we’ve managed 80 miles on a charge several times and even traveled 120 miles with a few hours of top-up charging. We've gotten less than 50 miles only when the heating was on high during sub-zero temperatures and heavy, aggressive freeway driving.

During the past year, we’ve learned to not rely on the Nissan Leaf’s on-board range calculator. Notoriously inaccurate, it must have told us at least 80 times in the past year that we wouldn’t reach our destination, when in every case we did.

Carwings, Charging

Our biggest gripe has been with Nissan’s online and smartphone telematics service, called Carwings.

The service is designed to let you interact with your car remotely to check the state of a charge, plan routes and precondition the car as necessary. But we've found it to be severely bug-ridden, with continued connectivity issues throughout the majority of the year. The Carwings database of charging stations is patchy at best and inaccurate at other times.

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In fact, during the past year, Carwings has directed us to charging stations in the United Kingdom that were either non-existent or reserved for private use by the company who owned them.

A lack of awareness about current charging station infrastructure from Carwings combined with poor field support form third-party charging station suppliers has, at times, caused major problems. For example, although it isn’t the fault of Nissan, we’ve arrived at eight charging stations during the year that were non-operational. In three of those cases, we had to call for a tow due to a remaining range of less than 10 miles.

Most importantly, however, the Nissan Leaf charging cable has never let us down, charging the car every night from our 240-volt standard U.K. domestic outlet.

Durability

With two grade-school children and a dog, the inside of our 2011 Leaf has been given a tough time. Not even weekly grocery shopping, soccer practice runs nor family vacations have resulted in torn seats, carpets or trim.

But our Leaf has begun to show signs of a year’s worth of abuse from the family. This is especially noticeable in the rear, where the unusually thin carpet has started to scuff from regular vacuuming.

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Regular seat-cleaning with detailing wipes has helped keep the seats themselves fairly unscathed, although dark patches are now appearing around door pulls, the front arm-rest and seat squibs.

We’ve also noticed exterior paint, while generally of good quality, seems thin. In fact, our car has just picked up a small scratch from the local automated car wash’s rotating brushes.

Performance, Handling

As the months have progressed, our 2011 Nissan Leaf has loosened up significantly, leaving us with excellent road manners, handling and performance. Acceleration is, if anything, a little better than when the car was new, which we assume is down to a healthy, bedded-in battery pack.

The same is true for the car’s suspension and steering system. We would note that the car’s stock energy-saving tires are fairly easily damaged under aggressive driving and require regular 6,000 mile rotation to give optimum performance.

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Like other Leaf owners, we have yet to notice any deterioration in range or battery capacity after one year, despite regular rapid charging.

Our Verdict

After one year, our 2011 Nissan Leaf is still operating well within our own -- and Nissan’s -- expectations. So far, our dealer experience has been good, with our local dealer loaning us a courtesy Leaf whenever warranty or recall work has been carried out.

Moreover, based on European gas prices over the past year, we’ve saved an estimated $5,454 in gasoline over the fuel cost of our previous car, a 1992 Volvo 240 Wagon. Still, it should be noted that we’ve also had to pay nearly $10,000 in combined loan payments, insurance and electricity costs, while our maintenance bill so far stands at just $160.

Stay tuned over the coming few weeks as we tell you more about our first year owning the 2011 Nissan Leaf, including the five things we hate about it, five things we love, and five things that we’d like Nissan to change.

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