2015 Nissan Leaf SL: A Global EV For The Masses

I Bought One

Nissan took a big risk in developing the Leaf, and we think it's paying off. Although it's the oldest mainstream electric vehicle, Nissan's Leaf is also the best EV south of a Tesla Model S price tag. Competition is heating up in this space, given entries from VW, Fiat, Kia, BMW and GM. Still, the Leaf strikes a good balance of range, features, pricing and proven reliability. By launching this car globally long before its competitors, Nissan had time to refine its EV with tweaks and upgrades to address early issues.

As a car, the Nissan Leaf drives well. Accelerator response is good, and you get enough space for a family of four. The torque-rich electric motor makes the car entertaining from light-to-light. As far as handling goes, the car is nose-heavy, and you really feel it when driving aggressively. Nevertheless, the Leaf isn’t performance-oriented; it drives as an economy car should.

Pricing on the Leaf is a touchy subject. The as-tested MSRP of our loaner was $37,540, which is unquestionably expensive for a car that’s more Versa than Maxima. But there are a lot of rebates available. Nissan offers $3500 cash for vehicles financed through Nissan Motors Acceptance Corporation (NMAC), its finance arm, and 0% financing for up to 72 months. There’s also the $7500 tax credit you get from our lovely government for EV purchases. Each state has their own incentives as well. Washington, for example, charges no sales tax on EV purchases, which amounts to $3000 or so in savings. With all of that added together, you're looking at an economy car in the mid-$20,000s, which is a lot more reasonable.

Still, EV ownership isn’t for everyone. It requires a complete change to your driving style. Only after two weeks was I able to shake my range anxiety. I learned to plan ahead, check the status of public charging stations and not be cocky guessing driving distances.

If most of your trips are with the Leaf's range, or you have easy access to public charging stations, this is a compelling car. And although the initial costs are significant, an EV should save you money over time. Engine-powered vehicles require oil changes, gasoline, water pumps, fluid flushes and other recommended maintenance items. Nissan's Leaf needs very little maintenance other than tire rotations, cabin filters, brake pads and possibly brake fluid changes. So, if you’re looking to jump into an EV, the Leaf is still a great choice. It’s not the fanciest car, and the infotainment system is perhaps more rudimentary than most of what we review at Tom's Hardware. But it works well and has proven itself over the last five years.

As a car enthusiast, the Nissan Leaf isn’t as fun for me to drive as our Project 5. But after spending two weeks in the press car, I signed the papers for a black SL premium package, which my wife will be driving. We did the math on fuel and maintenance savings compared to her 2011 VW Routan and found the EV to be a better fit for our family. Most of the trips we take have free public charging along the way, and where it's lacking, we've seen CHAdeMO stations. I also still have the Mazda 5 project car for longer trips. 

I didn’t blindly buy the Nissan Leaf after testing one EV, either. I've driven every electric vehicle available at a Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) event, and found the Leaf to be an optimal balance of reasonable price, range, public quick-charge capabilities, amenities and space to fit my family. 

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  • pyoverdin
    Despite deviating from the regular tech reviews I found this article surprisingly enjoyable.
  • dstarr3
    So is Anh T. Huynh replacing Clarkson in the next series?
  • dweiser
    Great article, nice mix of honest pros and cons. I've owned my 2015 Nissan LEAF SV in the mountains of western NC for almost 3 weeks now and I am loving it!
    My only quibble with your review is that both 2015 SV and SL have the faster 6.6 charging as standard.
  • JPNpower
    Electric cars are just so cool. Practicality is getting there, but even if that doesn't match gas cars yet.... they're still so cool!
  • SVoyager
    Great article!! The Leaf is certainly an excellent electric car and I am very happy that they are selling as much, nice to see an article on toms about it too, cars are getting techy enough for us :-). The next gen leaf is looking great too with possibly 200 miles range. With that much range and with how battery tech is evolving, I hope the regular gas cars have something ready to counter it because electric cars are coming, this time for good!!

    I own a 2014 chevy Volt and while it is not 100% electric, it is as close as you can get and still get a gas engine for the longer runs (best of both worlds imho). Winter is pretty much done now and I can say goodbye to the gas engine for about 6-7 months. We had a rough winter and my average MPG was close to 200 (the worst was at 75mpg when it was -30 Celcius). In my case, I am saving so much in fuel that it costs me LESS to own this car. You can check the stats here (links allowed?) http://www.voltstats.net/Stats/Details/4835
    So, electric cars just rock. Check what type of driving you do, look for the right EV (in my case, EV with range extender) and you'll never regret it!!
  • apache_lives
    Benchmarks?
  • turkey3_scratch
    Lol it does actually look like a Bulbasaur.
  • kenjitamura
    The competition will really heat up when the Tesla Model 3 hits. A $35,000 electric car with >200 mile range.
    #2017...Hopefully
  • palladin9479
    Something that need mentioning is that your house doesn't generate electricity out of thin air, instead it gets it from a distant power plant which is likely utilizing coal. So in essence almost every "EV" is really a coal powered car with a poor efficiency rate due to long haul line losses, unless you happen to live within a hundred miles of the primary power plant. EV's are still far to expensive and from an engineering stand point very poor for anything other then bragging rights.

    The comment on regenerative braking is also wrong as not stopping is always supperior then having to stop and restart. It takes less energy to keep an object in motion then it does to accelerate it from a rest state.
  • CaedenV
    Awesome review. I have been rather fascinated by EVs for the last few years, and now that I am soon going to be in the market for a 2nd car I am seriously considering getting one of these for my wife and taking her 10 year old car to drive into the ground the rest of the way. She only has to drive some 15-25 miles per day, so we would really only need to charge it once every few days. Still need to find out what availability/financing/charging options are available in Cincy though before biting the bullet.

    Never mentioned how much that level 2 charger costs retail... I mean, I could look it up, but it may be nice to add to the article.
  • none12345
    Id love an electric car....except for 3 things....

    1) Most of them have no guts. Its not that elecric cars are weak, power to weight ratio, electric utterly destroys gas/desel/etc. Its just that they usually put an underpowered battery and/or engine in them. Im a HUGE fan of electric, and the auto industry has done a huge injustice to electric by building such low performance electric cards.

    2) Nearly all of them look so bad, id never buy them. Just god awful. Including this leaf, just butt ugly. It seems by and large they want to make a point that electric is different. So they get some art student to come out with some wacky/cutesy/fufu design. It looks like crap, and i dont want it. Another complete injustice to electric cars.

    3) The only one that doesnt look absolutely horrible is the tesla. And one of the few that doesnt suck performance wise is the tesla. And i cant afford that. Its not that the tesla is overpriced, i think its a great value for its price.

    So....oh welll....

    What i see as minimum necessary for an electric car. ~200 hp of electric motors. Ideally 4x50 hp one in each wheel. Second to that 2x100hp, one front, 1 rear. Last choice would be 1 motor in the rear. If its pure electric id want at least 200 miles range, 300 would be a lot better.

    I am also willing to accept only 50 miles of range with a range extension method. Be this a fuel generator, or a primary battery(non rechargable, ie 'air battery'), or something else. As long as its strictly for power and does not touch the drive train. The drive train needs to be 100% electric. I do not want a fuel engine connected to the drive train mechanically; it needs to be strictly a power generator. For instace, a non rechargeable battery that gives me another 500 miles of range and costs say $30 to replace, is completely acceptable. Thats about 50 miles/gallon(@$3/gal) equivilent. Or a gas generator that could do 500 miles on 10 gallons, would also be acceptable.

    And it needs to not look like utter crap, ie it needs to look like a normal car. Not some different fufu piece of crap. And stay under $35k(possibly higher before tax breaks)
  • Astrokolea
    Quote:
    Something that need mentioning is that your house doesn't generate electricity out of thin air, instead it gets it from a distant power plant which is likely utilizing coal. So in essence almost every "EV" is really a coal powered car with a poor efficiency rate due to long haul line losses, unless you happen to live within a hundred miles of the primary power plant. EV's are still far to expensive and from an engineering stand point very poor for anything other then bragging rights. The comment on regenerative braking is also wrong as not stopping is always supperior then having to stop and restart. It takes less energy to keep an object in motion then it does to accelerate it from a rest state.
  • Astrokolea
    Actually, one of the things that we like about our Leaf is that our house does generate all of the electricity we need, via PE panels. We are leasing our car with an allotment of more miles than we are likely to use in a year, so there is essentially no marginal cost any time we decide to use it.
  • palladin9479
    What you just listed isn't possible, your literally asking for a car made from unobtainium.

    First realize that you can't possible compare EV to ICB in the realm of PtWR because EV's don't generate power, that's generated by a huge steam turbine powered a thermal reaction involving Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. Battery's just store power and then release it at a later date. Now the lower powered electric enginers are that way because of cost and weight. Making them more powerful requires the use of more rare earth elements (REE), 98% of which come from strip mines in China because China is the only country that doesn't care about the ecological consequnces of mining REE's cheaply. The electric engines inside an automobile can't be your standard electromagnet drive, they need to have extremely high torque with really low mass and that requires very special and very expensive materials. The battery also suffers from a similiar situation. Lots of capacity can be obtained cheaply from using lead acid batteries, they have a high reutilization rate but come at cost of mass. Going smaller to high density storage comes at a cost, NiMH works but it's still too bulky so we move on to LiB which has really good energy density but requires large amounts of expensive lithium. You can go even further but then your getting into expensive exotic stuff where the battery alone would be more expensive then any car on the market.

    That's just the material science that forces you to accept certain preconditions to designing the rest of the vehicle. Your going to take a low power solution to keep costs down and still be functional, which forces you to design the vehicle to not waste energy. Thats why EV and cost-conscious hybrids always look they way they do, they are reducing the amount of forward facing surface area while also reducing drag and maximizing other aerodnamic effects to get the most out of their limited power.

    At the end of the day, from a purely engineering stand point gasoline / CHO fuel is a far supperior mechanism to design around. It has over an order of mangitude higher energy density then anything possible with any known technology short of nuclear batteries. Most of the efficiency increases seen in hybrid / EV design's revolve around the use of a low power engine. Take the same 100~150HP engine and put it in a small, compact, light weight ICV and you get similiar results but at a drastically reduced production cost. Heck you can even syntheisize the fuel from bicarbonate and H2O (both freely available in Ocean water), just need a power station nearby and it still comes out cheaper.
  • Shankovich
    Cool but ugly imo. I have faith the Model 3 will be good looking and will meet the $35,000 USD price. By then I will have paid off my student loads :p
  • mrmez
    I've got no problem with these cars, but why do they have to look so bloody awful?
    Looks like a catfish with buck teeth.

    And since when is a Nissan GTR considered a 'gas guzzler'?
    It's as economical as a jeep wrangler, and while they don't sell it for super car prices, it certainly has super car performance.
  • tuanies
    Quote:
    Despite deviating from the regular tech reviews I found this article surprisingly enjoyable.


    Thanks! I'm going to work on getting more EV and alternative fuel content in the future.

    Quote:
    So is Anh T. Huynh replacing Clarkson in the next series?


    I don't have the hair and all the hosts are old enough to be my dad ;)

    Quote:
    Great article, nice mix of honest pros and cons. I've owned my 2015 Nissan LEAF SV in the mountains of western NC for almost 3 weeks now and I am loving it! My only quibble with your review is that both 2015 SV and SL have the faster 6.6 charging as standard.


    I'll double check that. I thought I mentioned the SV had it.


    Quote:
    Electric cars are just so cool. Practicality is getting there, but even if that doesn't match gas cars yet.... they're still so cool!


    It depends on where you live. Some areas are a lot more practical than others.

    Quote:
    Great article!! The Leaf is certainly an excellent electric car and I am very happy that they are selling as much, nice to see an article on toms about it too, cars are getting techy enough for us :-). The next gen leaf is looking great too with possibly 200 miles range. With that much range and with how battery tech is evolving, I hope the regular gas cars have something ready to counter it because electric cars are coming, this time for good!! I own a 2014 chevy Volt and while it is not 100% electric, it is as close as you can get and still get a gas engine for the longer runs (best of both worlds imho). Winter is pretty much done now and I can say goodbye to the gas engine for about 6-7 months. We had a rough winter and my average MPG was close to 200 (the worst was at 75mpg when it was -30 Celcius). In my case, I am saving so much in fuel that it costs me LESS to own this car. You can check the stats here (links allowed?) http://www.voltstats.net/Stats/Details/4835 So, electric cars just rock. Check what type of driving you do, look for the right EV (in my case, EV with range extender) and you'll never regret it!!


    I like the Volt but the size packaging wasn't great for a family car. The trunk couldn't fit our single or double strollers.

    Quote:
    Benchmarks?


    There's the dyno sheet on the engine page. Is that not enough?

    Quote:
    Lol it does actually look like a Bulbasaur.


    Its a funky design. My wife wants to replace the Zero Emission badges with Pikachu shooting out thunderbolt stickers.

    Quote:
    The competition will really heat up when the Tesla Model 3 hits. A $35,000 electric car with >200 mile range. #2017...Hopefully


    I'd say MY2018 vehicles in late 2017, hopefully.

    Quote:
    Something that need mentioning is that your house doesn't generate electricity out of thin air, instead it gets it from a distant power plant which is likely utilizing coal. So in essence almost every "EV" is really a coal powered car with a poor efficiency rate due to long haul line losses, unless you happen to live within a hundred miles of the primary power plant. EV's are still far to expensive and from an engineering stand point very poor for anything other then bragging rights. The comment on regenerative braking is also wrong as not stopping is always supperior then having to stop and restart. It takes less energy to keep an object in motion then it does to accelerate it from a rest state.


    I live in Washington State. My power company sources 90% power from hydroelectric dams and only 1.16% from Coal, so for the most part its clean.

    Quote:
    Awesome review. I have been rather fascinated by EVs for the last few years, and now that I am soon going to be in the market for a 2nd car I am seriously considering getting one of these for my wife and taking her 10 year old car to drive into the ground the rest of the way. She only has to drive some 15-25 miles per day, so we would really only need to charge it once every few days. Still need to find out what availability/financing/charging options are available in Cincy though before biting the bullet. Never mentioned how much that level 2 charger costs retail... I mean, I could look it up, but it may be nice to add to the article.


    I recommended my friend get a Leaf for his work commute. He has a 10 mile commute and charges for free at work every 2-3 days. He can go a week during the summer, but the cold winter and greater heater use takes away quite a bit of range.

    The Bosche 30 Amp / 18ft charger is $575 right now from Amazon Prime - http://www.amazon.com/Bosch-EL-51253-Electric-Vehicle-Charging/dp/B00FM7B1AO

    Quote:
    Id love an electric car....except for 3 things.... 1) Most of them have no guts. Its not that elecric cars are weak, power to weight ratio, electric utterly destroys gas/desel/etc. Its just that they usually put an underpowered battery and/or engine in them. Im a HUGE fan of electric, and the auto industry has done a huge injustice to electric by building such low performance electric cards. 2) Nearly all of them look so bad, id never buy them. Just god awful. Including this leaf, just butt ugly. It seems by and large they want to make a point that electric is different. So they get some art student to come out with some wacky/cutesy/fufu design. It looks like crap, and i dont want it. Another complete injustice to electric cars. 3) The only one that doesnt look absolutely horrible is the tesla. And one of the few that doesnt suck performance wise is the tesla. And i cant afford that. Its not that the tesla is overpriced, i think its a great value for its price. So....oh welll.... What i see as minimum necessary for an electric car. ~200 hp of electric motors. Ideally 4x50 hp one in each wheel. Second to that 2x100hp, one front, 1 rear. Last choice would be 1 motor in the rear. If its pure electric id want at least 200 miles range, 300 would be a lot better. I am also willing to accept only 50 miles of range with a range extension method. Be this a fuel generator, or a primary battery(non rechargable, ie 'air battery'), or something else. As long as its strictly for power and does not touch the drive train. The drive train needs to be 100% electric. I do not want a fuel engine connected to the drive train mechanically; it needs to be strictly a power generator. For instace, a non rechargeable battery that gives me another 500 miles of range and costs say $30 to replace, is completely acceptable. Thats about 50 miles/gallon(@$3/gal) equivilent. Or a gas generator that could do 500 miles on 10 gallons, would also be acceptable. And it needs to not look like utter crap, ie it needs to look like a normal car. Not some different fufu piece of crap. And stay under $35k(possibly higher before tax breaks)


    They're slow from a 0-60MPH standpoint. But once you get going and you need to pass, there's plenty of passing power as it doesn't need to kickdown and rev up, the power is instant. There's more usable power.

    For normal looking EVs, there's the Kia Soul EV and VW Golf EV, which we will have reviews of in the future.
  • tuanies
    Quote:
    I've got no problem with these cars, but why do they have to look so bloody awful? Looks like a catfish with buck teeth. And since when is a Nissan GTR considered a 'gas guzzler'? It's as economical as a jeep wrangler, and while they don't sell it for super car prices, it certainly has super car performance.


    IMO they try to make it look different so it stands out so people know you're driving an EV.

    I'd say 16/23MPG city/highway makes it a gas guzzler. I saw more 16MPG than anything when I drove it. It's a fantastic car though.
  • leeb2013
    Australia doesn't give any EV or small car incentives, that's why most people still drive 5-6l V8s and 4l I6's. You'd pay the same road tax for the leaf as for a 6l V8 Holden. The government only pays lip-service to the environment and only uses it as a way to generate revenue.

    Double glazing and loft insulation are new technology here!
  • mrmez
    I don't know what a mile or a gallon is. We use L/100km ;)
    My previous 5.7L v8 averaged ~12/100 which is about what a GTR will do. That's about all they'd have in common though.
    Current 2L turbo diesel averages ~8/100 with 1-2 hours off road a week.

    I'd seriously consider a Tesla if they made a 4wd I could take off road. Stunning looking cars, that are even better inside. Different I understand, but there are plenty of 'different' looking small cheap cars that look fantastic.
  • palladin9479
    Quote:
    I live in Washington State. My power company sources 90% power from hydroelectric dams and only 1.16% from Coal, so for the most part its clean.


    http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/media/state-regs/pdf/Washington.pdf

    70.7% Hydro
    10.7% Natural Gas
    7.1% Coal
    6.3% Nuclear
    3.4% Wind
    1.2% Wood / Biomass

    Washington state is also a very unique case and represents over 25% of the USA's total hydro power.

    http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3

    This is the total US electricity generation as of 2013.


    Coal 39%
    Natural Gas 27%
    Nuclear 19%
    Hydropower 7%
    Other Renewable 6%
    Biomass 1.48%
    Geothermal 0.41%
    Solar 0.23%
    Wind 4.13%
    Petroleum 1%
    Other Gases < 1%

    Coal and NG account for 66% of electricity generation, add in nuclear and your looking at 85%. The important thing about Coal and Nuclear is that they are base load generators while gas and the rest as swing or peak load. At night, which is when your recharging, swing and peak generators are either turned off or idled down while base load are always on.

    That is what I meant by coal powered car.

    The Leaf, and others like it are $10~20k USD cars with an overly expensive drive train that results in an exploded production value. Because it's so expensive they can't target the majority of consumers like other economy cars do and so instead they need to focus on "style" and "ohh cool" things to justify it to the same people who frequently enjoy $8 USD coffee from Starbucks.

    Seriously, a 10~15K economy car with a 100~150HP ICE would provide far more value to the consumer. At 35~40K USD your entering the luxury brand category as you can get a BMW 3 series or X1 for the same price. The BMW X1 sDrive 28i with premium package (includes all the same technology and then some) has MSRP of $38K USD. I'm just using these numbers for comparisons of what else is in that price range.
  • Astrokolea
    On the matter of range: we recently took our 2015 Leaf around Oahu. With some small side trips, we went just over 100 miles on one charge, with 7% battery charge remaining. This trip involved some moderate hills (twice going from sea level to 1000 feet and back), and we weren't driving especially conservatively.
  • Eximo
    It is a bit odd on the styling. Makes little business sense to me. What a lot of automakers have going from them is a particular look or style. BMW surprised me with the i3. They had every opportunity to make a nice looking electric car. In fact the pilot vehicles were just that, basically an M3 with the rear seats occupied by batteries.

    Only smart companies seems to be Ford and GM with the Focus electric and Volt. Though the volt does share some design features from the Prius.

    I'm a huge fan of conversions. Though not everyone can implement this: Manual transmission car, plus motor, plus batteries equals whatever electric car you want. Or kit cars, but they aren't as fun.
  • tuanies
    179891 said:
    Quote:
    I live in Washington State. My power company sources 90% power from hydroelectric dams and only 1.16% from Coal, so for the most part its clean.
    http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/media/state-regs/pdf/Washington.pdf 70.7% Hydro 10.7% Natural Gas 7.1% Coal 6.3% Nuclear 3.4% Wind 1.2% Wood / Biomass Washington state is also a very unique case and represents over 25% of the USA's total hydro power. http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3 This is the total US electricity generation as of 2013. Coal 39% Natural Gas 27% Nuclear 19% Hydropower 7% Other Renewable 6% Biomass 1.48% Geothermal 0.41% Solar 0.23% Wind 4.13% Petroleum 1% Other Gases < 1% Coal and NG account for 66% of electricity generation, add in nuclear and your looking at 85%. The important thing about Coal and Nuclear is that they are base load generators while gas and the rest as swing or peak load. At night, which is when your recharging, swing and peak generators are either turned off or idled down while base load are always on. That is what I meant by coal powered car. The Leaf, and others like it are $10~20k USD cars with an overly expensive drive train that results in an exploded production value. Because it's so expensive they can't target the majority of consumers like other economy cars do and so instead they need to focus on "style" and "ohh cool" things to justify it to the same people who frequently enjoy $8 USD coffee from Starbucks. Seriously, a 10~15K economy car with a 100~150HP ICE would provide far more value to the consumer. At 35~40K USD your entering the luxury brand category as you can get a BMW 3 series or X1 for the same price. The BMW X1 sDrive 28i with premium package (includes all the same technology and then some) has MSRP of $38K USD. I'm just using these numbers for comparisons of what else is in that price range.


    My power company is slightly different (Tacoma Power)

    Fuel Type Percentage Used
    Hydro Power 90.55%
    Nuclear 6.10%
    Coal 1.16%
    Natural Gas .45%
    Other (biomass, gas, petroleum, waste, wind) 1.73%
    Total (rounded) 100%

    I'd say after rebates and everything its a low-to-mid-20s compact, and with all the features and amenities, you're equipped pretty well as a compact in that price bracket. I paid ~$32k out the door and when you factor in that $7500 tax credit, its at $24,500. It's not as fun or dynamic as say a Mazda 3, which also returns excellent gas mileage for the price but if you look at it in the grand scheme of things, the only maintenance I have to do is rotate the tires and change the cabin filter. There's a 60K service to check your brake fluid but that is really it. Paired with the regen in the city, the brakes shouldn't have to be replaced as often as a car either. No fluids to change or cooling systems to flush, water pumps or belts to replace.

    If you just look at the cost of the vehicle, it doesn't make sense. However, I've saved about $150-300 in fuel costs with virtually no changes in my electricity consumption.

    1947647 said:
    On the matter of range: we recently took our 2015 Leaf around Oahu. With some small side trips, we went just over 100 miles on one charge, with 7% battery charge remaining. This trip involved some moderate hills (twice going from sea level to 1000 feet and back), and we weren't driving especially conservatively.


    That reminds me of the one Nissan Leaf video / commercial that shows a guy running up a Hawaiin mountain in his Leaf, runs out of power and just regens all the way down every day. I want to try that with a run up to Mt. Rainier but its about 45minutes to the base of the mountain for me.

    378860 said:
    It is a bit odd on the styling. Makes little business sense to me. What a lot of automakers have going from them is a particular look or style. BMW surprised me with the i3. They had every opportunity to make a nice looking electric car. In fact the pilot vehicles were just that, basically an M3 with the rear seats occupied by batteries. Only smart companies seems to be Ford and GM with the Focus electric and Volt. Though the volt does share some design features from the Prius. I'm a huge fan of conversions. Though not everyone can implement this: Manual transmission car, plus motor, plus batteries equals whatever electric car you want. Or kit cars, but they aren't as fun.


    The problem with the Volt and Ford Energi's is the super slow charging times. The Volt takes 6 hours to charge and get 40 miles of EV range. The C-MAX / Fusion Energi take the same amount of time to get 20 miles of range. In the same amount of time it takes to get the low amount of range, you can fully charge a Leaf to 100%. So unless your daily commute is within the 20-40 mile EV range, its not very practical at all.

    And on the Ford side, you lose half your trunk space so you're better off just getting the hybrid that already gets great gas mileage and similar maintenance intervals.