EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the company that suppliers the batteries for the Chevrolet Volt. The correct company is LG Chem.
The first thing you notice when you slide behind the wheel of the Nissan Leaf is that it's a real car, not just a science project.
That may sound obvious, but some pioneering alternative-energy vehicles, such as the first Honda Insight gasoline-electric hybrid for example, haven't had the same real feel.
A week ago, in my role as one of the 50 journalist jurors for the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards, I spent four days driving and evaluating a Leaf.
At first, I was apprehensive.
My daily round-trip commute is about 50 miles. The fully-charged Leaf can go about 80 miles under the right circumstances. But if you don't drive it in economy mode -- which seems sluggish -- and use the heater -- which is necessary this time of year -- the range expectancy takes a nosedive.
Plugging the Leaf into a standard 110-watt outlet adds about five miles worth of charge every hour. So plugging it in overnight and again all day at work made me a carefree commuter.