Do you drive a practical car for practical daily tasks — and wish this practical car of yours ran on electricity? Then you may be one of the 16,000 people who’ve put down $99 towards a reservation for the 2011 Nissan Leaf, which will start delivering late this year. I am not one of these early adopters — but I was lucky enough to be one of the early test drivers of the Nissan Leaf, which made a visit to Santa Monica last week!

Now, I’m not a car fanatic. In fact I was car-free for a few years, and can best be described as a reluctant and infrequent driver who only gets behind the wheel when all other greener modes are terribly inconvenient. So for a car geek-friendly, data-packed review, head over to read MNN Transportation blogger Jim Motavalli’s take on the Nissan Leaf. This review is for those who care less about how quickly a car goes from zero to 60 and more about how practical owning a electrical vehicle will be.

Practical is in fact how I would describe the Nissan Leaf — so long as you have a home garage. For Californian homeowners, the car may be extra practical; the emissions-free Leaf will be allowed in the carpool lane even after those yellow HOV-lane stickers expire for Priuses and other hybrids come 2011.

Plus, the Leaf travels about 100 miles on a full charge — but can get up to 138 in great weather conditions (or as low as 62 in horrible weather conditions) — making the Leaf better-suited to California’s temperate weather, which won’t require you to use up its energy to heat up the car.

Nissan Leaf

How does the car drive? A lot like, um, other cars — except more quietly. I turned on the Leaf by pressing a switch (above), toggled the gear shift into reverse (below), navigated backwards without looking backwards by using the navigation camera feature, then shifted to drive and headed up Ocean in Santa Monica.

Nissan Leaf

Since the car has no internal combustion engine — and no gears — the ride is quieter and smoother. I didn’t do anything crazy with the car — just the usual turning and changing lanes one does in city traffic — and didn’t notice anything particularly different aside from the quiet. So for drivers who want to go electric without really feeling much of a change, the Leaf can be the solution.

The Leaf isn’t for me, however, because I’m a happy apartment dweller. To own a Leaf, you really need your own home and a garage that you can outfit with a charging system (average cost $2,200, of which $2,000 is covered by federal funds). If totally empty, the Leaf’s battery takes eight hours to charge via a home-charging system — or 18-20 hours using a portable trickle-charger that fits into any three-prong plug. There are plans for some public quick-charging stations that’ll juice up electric cars in 30 minutes — but that infrastructure isn’t there yet. For now, Leaf owners will have to treat their cars like homing pigeons, making sure to come back home to charge up every night.

Nissan Leaf

Of course, that's how most people live. Few people randomly head off to Vegas after work, "Swingers"-style — just as few SUV owners actually go offroading with any frequency. So if you own your own home and want to go about your practical daily life around town in an electric car — outfitted with seats made from PET bottles and bumpers made from old recycled bumpers — consider the Leaf. The car starts at $32,780 — but a $7,500 federal tax credit and $5,000 CARB credit for Californians sweeten the deal. Plus, electric cars generally have lower fuel and maintenance costs.

Are you one of the people who has plunked down the $99 to reserve a Leaf? What made you take the plunge?

Also on MNN: Lance Armstrong stars in new Nissan Leaf commercial

A practical test drive of the Nissan Leaf
MNN's Lifestyle blogger takes the electric Nissan Leaf for a leisurely test drive along the beach.