Nissan Leaf battery powered electric car
Yes, you can live with an e-car. We have
Review Spending a couple of hours at the wheel of a new car at a press event is all well and good, but to really get under a vehicle's skin you need to live with the thing on a day-to-day basis. This is especially true of one with an alternative drive train.
So it was with some interest that I watched a shiny new white Nissan Leaf roll off a trailer outside my house for a week-long trial. Tony covered the Leaf’s technical aspects more than thoroughly when he briefly drove it back in April, so if you want the basic details, take a shufti there.
Looks and feels a bit too American
The self-imposed brief was simple: dock the Mercedes and live with the Leaf as my only car. This would involve a fair amount of motorway driving, a quick trip to Leeds plus my usual urban and suburban local running about.
Leeds and back from Manchester? Not as daft an idea as it sounds because dotted across the British Isles are 32 Leaf dealers the majority of which have an 80A fast charger that will get your battery to 80 per cent of capacity in 30 minutes.
Ninety miles is your limit
At the moment, charging is free, as I found when I rolled up to suck at the e-teat of Leaf dealers in Stockport, Preston and Halifax.
Now, I grant you crossing the UK in leaps of around 70 miles with a half-hour wait between each bound isn’t the ideal way of driving long distance. But it certainly allowed me to visit my alma mater for free and only added an hour and a visit to Halifax each way to the trip.
Why 70 miles? That’s certainly the farthest I’d plan on going on a charge, 39 miles short of Nissan’s claimed 109 theoretical maximum.
Fast charge it in 30 minutes for free
To be honest, I’m not sure where the 109 comes from. Even when fully charged, the Leaf’s digital dashboard never told me I had a range of more than 90 miles. Fire up the climate control on a chilly day and the estimated range will straight away drop by 20 miles.
Fair weather friend
Run with the headlights and wipers on and the range drops again, though by much less. What this means is that a charge will get you further down the road in June than it will in August when it's hot - and much further than it will in January when it’s cold, wet and dark, and the solar panel on the tailgate can only serve as a styling accessory.
Cold weather is not the long-distance driver's friend
My week of Leafing coincided with the arrival of winter with a capital W in Manchester so the majority of trips involved the heater, demister, headlights and the wipers. The end result was an average range of around 60 miles depending on the amount of motorway driving, which, at a steady 70mph, eats into the charge almost visibly.
An economy-bashing side-effect of the silent motor’s 80kW of power and 280Nm of torque is the tendency to creep unawares towards the Leaf’s 90-odd top speed on the motorway. In an electric car, cruise control is your friend, especially if you don't want to make enemies of speed cameras.
The solar panel is eff-all use in a British winter
To take some of the strain off the battery, the climate control can be launched while the car is still connected to the mains supply using Nissan’s Carwings telematics system. In cold weather, this makes a contribution to comfort as well as range, but only adds a couple of miles to the latter.
Lacking the home-charge installation that Leaf owners get, I made do with an industrial extension cord across the garden and into the house through the cat flap. Hardly the perfect infrastructure, but it worked.
Charging in Stockport in the snow and rain
Compared to the Renault Fluence ZE battery powered e-car I drove recently in Portugal, the Leaf is a little softer in the chassis and suspension. The extra give pays dividends when driving along the rutted, potholed and generally piss-poor roads in Britain’s towns, with the Leaf gliding serenely over all but the most vicious bumps.
Dash for apps
Leaving aside the likes of the Jaguar XJ and Mercedes S Class, at low and medium speeds the Leaf is one of the most comfortable cars you can buy. Since inner-city driving in Europe and suburban cruising in California are, I suspect, the two most likely uses for the Leaf, I’d say Nissan has got the setup about right.
The inevitable vehicle management apps, for Android (left) and iOS
To remind you that the car is in drive mode, the Leaf’s front fog-cum-running lights stay lit continuously when the car is switched on. Which is exactly what I told Greater Manchester plod when I was pulled over at a road check aimed at stopping people using their fog lamps for aesthetic reasons in times of good visibility.
The Leaf is very well connected thanks to its GPS and 3G radios, which tell Nissan where you are and how your Leaf is holding up.
Time to find a power socket
The 7in touchscreen Windows Embedded Automotive-based combination satnav/media player/Bluetooth phone and reversing camera unit is extremely good at all its jobs. As a satnav, it’s extraordinarily easy to use, and shows your range and the location of any nearby charging facilities.
Drivers can access and manage the Leaf’s charging profile remotely from a web browser or using an iPhone app. The Android app is currently restricted to US customers, but Nissan UK told me it will be available to the rest of us early in 2012.
Interior in pictures
The cabin is a bit too beige for my taste
Plenty of room in the back
The boot is big but the battery prevents the seats folding flat
Fast charge on the left, slow charge on the right
Expensive leap of faith
My conclusions? After a week with the Leaf I’ve come away more impressed than after the two previous occasions I’ve driven it - both times when I spent hours rather than days behind the wheel. The excellent level of refinement is more obvious after prolonged usage and the supple ride more impressive over roads I know can shake fillings loose.
All doors open: the Leaf will carry five and luggage
I’m still not sold on the Leaf's styling, though, and the interior, despite being well equipped, feels a bit cheap compared to the likes of the new Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf. I’ve said it before: it all looks and feels a bit too American, and in cars that is not a good thing.
Some of you may well be frothing at the mouth wondering how I can rate the car so highly when the range I got was so badly affected by the weather. Well, I wouldn’t buy one to do the sort of driving I actually did, nor would I suggest that you do. The Leaf is a second, town car and must be judged as such.
Runs smoothly over Britain's pothole-plagued roads
At its intended role, it’s very accomplished, even in sub-zero conditions. At the end of the week, it did everything I asked of it without me changing my driving style or making too many compromises other than getting chummy with Nissan staff across the North West and sampling the delights of Halifax.
All that said, of course, compared to the electric cars from Nissan’s sister company, Renault, the Leaf still represents a rather expensive leap of faith.
Unlike Renault, which will sell you the car for £17,850 but lease the battery, Nissan is selling the whole kit and caboodle for £25,990 - both figures after the UK’s £5000 e-car grant. That won’t be an issue for wealthy early adopters who, I suspect, won’t lose sleep over possible battery degradation in six or seven years' time. But for the rest of us, Renault’s separation of car and power-pack may prove the wiser option. ®
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