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Is a BEV in Your Future?

by Jason Fogelson

I recently reviewed the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus for AutoTrader. It’s a fine vehicle in many respects. With an estimated 226 miles of range on a single charge, it can serve as an able commuter. It will require minimal maintenance over the course of its lifetime – just consumables like wiper blades and fluid, tires, brake pads and the like. No oil changes, transmission fluid, antifreeze, clutch adjustments – truly minimal routine maintenance. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t use any gasoline, and can be charged in a reasonable amount of time on a 240-volt home outlet. But I still can’t recommend that you buy or lease a Nissan Leaf Plus, or any other current battery-electric vehicle (BEV), unless you are a committed early adopter.

That’s because some quick math has convinced me that the BEV equation still doesn’t work.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

A Leaf Plus will start at around $37,000 – still a guess, until Nissan announces prices when it launches the vehicle to dealerships in March 2019, a few weeks from now. There’s still a Federal tax credit available (up to $7,500) and some states offer additional credits. So, let’s assume that Leaf Plus nets at about $30,000.

Compare that to a base 2019 Nissan Sentra, which starts at $18,480 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That Sentra is rated by the EPA to achieve 32 mpg combined. If gasoline costs $2.50 per gallon (today’s average, according to the AAA, is $2.394), you’ll be able to buy 4,608 gallons of the stuff for the difference in price between a Sentra and a Leaf Plus – enough to travel up to 147,456 miles in a Sentra before you begin to recoup the difference in price between the Sentra and Leaf Plus. Of course, you’ll need to do some maintenance on the Sentra. Nissan recommends oil and filter changes every 5,000 miles/6 months. That’ll run about $60 a year at your local Jiffy Lube. You’ll need to replace the air filter every 30,000 miles/3 years for about $20 if you do it yourself. At 105,000 miles, you’ll need to replace all four spark plugs for about $7.50 each/$30.00 total. Let’s add in three batteries at $200 each, and a major service (timing belt, CVT fluid, radiator fluid, etc.) at the dealer every 50,000 miles, for about $500 a pop. We’ll ignore maintenance items that are common to the gasoline and battery vehicles, like tires, brakes, brake fluid and such.

2019 Sentra SR TurboHere’s a basic cost breakdown to keep the Sentra maintained for 147,456 miles, then:

Oil/Filters: 30 services @ $30 each: $900.00
Spark Plugs: 4 @ $7.50 each: $30.00
Battery Replacement: 3 @ $200 each: $600.00
Major Service: 3 @ $500 each: $1,500.00

Total: $3,030.00

Assuming that you drive somewhere near the national average of 15,000 miles, that’s just over $300 per year in maintenance for ten years of service.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Charging an electric car is not free. This is where my math gets really fuzzy and estimated, because electricity rates vary so widely based on a number of factors. Residential rates average about $0.12/kWh, but there are different rates for different levels of usage, times of day, and other factors. The best estimates that I’ve found assume that it costs about $2.50 to bring an average electric car (whatever that is) to a full charge from empty. Charging at commercial charging stations can be by kWh, by time, or flat rate, depending on the system. A Level 2 charge can be as little as $2.50, while a DC Quick Charge usually starts at about $10.00. To make the math really simple, let’s assume that the Nissan Leaf Plus can be charged for about $0.10 per mile. That’s probably a low estimate. So, over 147,456 miles, electricity will cost you at least $1,475.

2018 Nissan Sentra

There are other factors to consider. The Leaf Plus battery is going to degrade over the course of use. Nissan’s warranty covers it for eight years or 100,000 miles against defects and excessive capacity loss, so those last 47,456 miles will be uncharted territory. My assumption is that it will take more electricity to get the same distance over time – and higher electrical costs as a result.

You might have access to free charging at work, or at a public station in a liberal metropolis. But if BEV adoption rates increase at predicted rates, those resources will become harder to come by as competition for charging stations intensifies.

You may be considering the installation of solar panels, which would benefit both your general home electricity bill and your vehicle charging. I can’t even begin to do the math on that.

But the basic math between a Nissan Sentra and a Nissan Leaf Plus does not provide a definitive answer.

Here’s my basic breakdown for ten years/150,000 miles of ownership:

2018 Nissan Sentra

2019 Nissan Sentra:
$18,480.00 purchase price
$ 3,030.00 unique maintenance costs
$11,718.75 gasoline (150,000 miles @ 32 mpg X $2.50/gallon)
$33,228.75 Total

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
$30,000.00 net purchase price
$ 0.00 unique maintenance costs
$ 1,500.00 electricity (150,000 miles @ $0.10 per mile)
$31,500.00 Total

This is back-of-the-envelope stuff, and not entirely scientific. The Leaf Plus would appear to pay off – but just barely. And there are tons of variable here. Gas prices could vary wildly over the next ten years. So could electricity prices. We don’t really know how well the Leaf Plus batteries will hold up over 10 years – Nissan warns that range will decrease with time and use, which means that costs will increase. We have a pretty good idea that a well-maintained Sentra is capable of 150,000 miles of trouble-free operation, though. According to Kelley Blue Book, a 2009 Nissan Sentra S with 150,000 miles on the clock lists at $4,799, while a 2011 Nissan Leaf (the first year of production) with 100,000 miles on the odometer lists at $5,290, so depreciation is also something to think about.

After reviewing my math, I still have a hard time recommending the purchase of a new Nissan Leaf Plus – for now. Stay tuned.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Photos (c) Nissan

2017 Ford Super Duty Pickups

by Jason Fogelson

There are a few vehicles that dominate their class. The Ford Super Duty Pickup Trucks crush the competition, and the 2017 Ford Super Duty will maintain that dominance.

One of the most interesting statistics that I heard from Ford during a recent launch event in Denver, Colorado was that 90 percent of Super Duty owners use their trucks for towing. At first, I balked at this figure. How could that be true? But then I considered the truck’s capability, and realized that it made sense. If you’re not going to be towing, or if you only tow a light load, an F-150 or competitive light duty truck is robust enough, and you’ll get a better ride on a day-to-day basis when you’re not towing.

The gap has narrowed between F-150 and Super Duty (F-250, F-350 and F-450), however. The new Super Duty now has the same cab as the F-150, and a much better suspension system than before. The ride is better, and the available creature comforts are very similar.  Super Duty doesn’t punish you with a pogo stick ride when unladen, and new steering enhancements have improved low-speed handling significantly.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Super Duty trucks on the road as daily drivers and lifestyle vehicles in the future.

Read Jason’s 2017 Ford F-250 Super Duty 4×4 Crew Cab King Ranch Test Drive and Review at Autobytel.com.

Read Jason’s 2017 Ford F-Series Super Duty: First Drive Review at Autotrader.com.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition Real World Review

by Jason Fogelson

I’ve never owned a Jeep Wrangler, but I’m always tempted. The more that Jeep keeps tweaking the Wrangler, the more tempted I get. The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition very nearly ticks all of my boxes.

It starts with styling. The exterior of the Wrangler has been a near-constant for years, with just a few changes here and there. The basics have remained the same, from the seven-bar grille to the level fender tops to the big flat hood. Headlight shapes have morphed from round to square to round again. The 75th Anniversary Edition comes with cool badging and graphics.

Two major features have made the Wrangler more appealing and more usable on an everyday basis. The Unlimited part of things is the big one. The four-door variant first appeared as a 2007 model, and along with two additional doors it has a longer wheelbase than the standard Wrangler. Off-road, this presents a compromise, as it has a worse breakover angle and turning radius. But on-road, the Unlimited’s longer footprint makes it much more stable and inspires more confidence. Unlike the standard Wrangler, the Unlimited isn’t twitchy, and doesn’t feel like a quick change of direction at speed might upset its apple cart.

And speaking of speed, that brings us to the other major feature upgrade that I appreciate. For most of its history, the Wrangler has derived its power from a straight-six engine. The torque characteristic of this workhorse made it great for off-roading, but it was honestly a dog on the road. In 2012, Jeep gave Wrangler the 3.6-liter PentaStar V6 engine, and purists howled – but the dog was dead, and a new beast was born. Finally, Wrangler could merge onto crowded highways without holding up traffic. It was transformed.

2017JeepWranglerUnl75thJF-9Some may quibble with the additional interior amenities, like power windows and door locks, a steering wheel with integrated audio buttons and cruise control. Wrangler’s interior is almost civilized, which doesn’t hurt at all.

Wrangler still has a horrible canvas top that’s impossible to retract and put back up without a manual. It still rattles like a Tonka truck, and blows all over the road like a kite.

Despite its flaws and throwback technology, Wrangler is still cool. And that’s why it remains popular among off-roaders – and people who just want to look like them.

Read my 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Real World Review on Autotrader.com.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

Bondurant and Dodge SRT

by Jason Fogelson

Anyone can buy a fast car, but it takes skill and training to get the most out of your purchase. That’s why Dodge SRT has teamed up with the Bob Bondurant School of Performance Driving to offer SRT buyers a free day at the school in Chandler, Arizona.

LG016_001MBI got to attend a day at the school, and I wrote about the SRT/Bondurant experience for Autotrader.

I also wrote about the whole muscle car concept for Autotrader in “Why Muscle Cars Matter.”

When I got back from this trip, I felt like a better driver. I always do after driving instruction. Even if you think you’re a good driver, spending some time behind the wheel with a pro driver in the right hand seat giving you real time feedback can make you better — right after it makes you feel like you’re the worst driver in history and that you should never be allowed behind the wheel alone.

While I was in Chandler, I met Ryan Kim, SRT Brand Manager. I couldn’t really put my finger on what a Brand Manager does, so I arranged to do an interview with Ryan Kim, and ran it on Forbes.com. I’m still not quite sure that I know what a Brand Manager does — but Ryan is a really smart guy with real passion for SRT.

I’ll go to any driver training program, anywhere, anytime. It’s a great experience that pays off every time I get behind the wheel.

Oh, and did I mention that I got to meet Bob Bondurant, the legend himself? He’s a great guy, friendly and engaged, and can still drive the wheels off any car he chooses.

Photo (c) FCA North America

2017 Volvo S90 First Drive Review

by Jason Fogelson

Last month, I went to Malaga, Spain to drive the new Volvo S90 for Autotrader.com. I had never been to Malaga before. It’s on the Costa del Sol, splayed along the Mediterranean beach. A popular destination for European travelers, Malaga is a city with ancient roots and modern aspirations. The city has embraced tourism, and is packed with museums, historic sites, restaurants, cafes, bars and shopping opportunities. It is also close to great driving roads, with a variety of conditions that are perfect for a road test.

Read my 2017 Volvo S90 First Drive Review at Autotrader.com.

Photo (c) Volvo

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