The single factor that will do most to set battery electric cars free, experts are always saying, is a meaningful increase in their range.
Not only will this boost their usefulness, but it will also shorten the period of popularity of arguably heavier and more expensive plug-in hybrids, seen by most as the low-CO2 stopgap we need on the way to true zero-emissions cars.
It’s why we’ve decided to run a Nissan Leaf on our long-term fleet again, having had one nearly five years ago when the concept was new.
The pioneering all-electric Nissan, British-built and now the world’s most popular electric car, has just become available with a 30kWh battery that gives it 25% more on-board power in a package no bigger or heavier than before.
As Leafs go, ours is a bit of a ritzmobile: a top-spec Leaf Tekna that comes complete with a Bose hi-fi, a handsome set of 17in alloy wheels and all the touchscreen telematics you could want.
It’ll warn you if your charge won’t complete a route. It’ll tell you what charging points are ahead on a journey and whether they’re free and working. And it’ll also tell you remotely about its state of charge via your smartphone.
If it weren’t for the government’s plug-in car grant (£4500 in this case), the Leaf would set you back £32,880. As it is, you’ll pay £28,380 (including an optional 6.6kW charger).
That’s still a solid price — £5000 more than our Vauxhall Astra SRi diesel, for example — but bear in mind that while the Astra will cost around £3000 to £4500 in fuel over a three-year life, the Leaf should cost £300 to £450 in electricity.
We’ve been driving it for only a few weeks, but our Leaf has already amassed 2000 miles without really trying.
The main driving characteristics are well known by now: it’s extremely quiet and comfortable compared with anything in the bracket and can beat many saloons costing twice as much for refinement.
However, even with its extended range (the statutory range is now quoted as 156 miles), you still have to work out its actual capabilities. And fight off range anxiety in your own head.
One of my main journeys is a 95-mile, mostly motorway schlep from London to Gloucestershire, and although many Leaf veterans insist the 30kWh model will easily beat a true 110 miles (cruising at the 65mph everyone seems to think is the optimal maximum), you still have to believe it’ll truly be delivered.
Yet there’s absolutely no doubt this Leaf is considerably more capable and practical than its predecessors.
With my kind of driving, which involves being careful about deploying power without making a fetish out of it, the reliable range is 110-115 miles. The only caveat is that you must beware headwinds.
If there’s a strong one blowing, it can cut 10-15 miles off your capability, and there’s nothing you can do about that. It also cuts your range if you’re driving a petrol or diesel car, mind, but the matter is never so critical.
As far as driving goes, our car doesn’t seem to have quite the strong, clean step-off I remember from the earliest cars.
It might be my imagination, but it’s no secret that the step-off from standstill uses such huge gobs of power that every electric car maker does its best to limit consumption by dulling accelerator response.
Still, this is a smooth, quiet, comfortable and convenient car and is now much more practical for a user like me. The latest change doesn’t quite set the electric car free, as it were, but you can now clearly see that one of these days it will.
Price £27,230 (after £4500 government grant) Price as tested £28,380 Options 6.6kW charger £1150 Economy 3.6 miles/kWh Faults None Expenses None