It’s as practical as any similar-sized hatch
Driving it is an easy, comfy, hushed affair
Plenty of water has flowed under the bridge since we took delivery of our Nissan Leaf Tekna about 15 months and 7200 miles ago.
We’ve seen the arrival of half a dozen new electric models – notably from Volkswagen, Ford and Tesla – and we’ve watched Renault extend the driving range of its Zoe supermini to a realistic 150 miles.
All the way, the Leaf has deservedly kept its position as the world’s best-known battery electric car, a practical, Golf-sized five-door with worldwide sales reaching 250,000 at the end of last year and now nearing 75,000 in Europe. That hardly makes it a mainstreamer, but the fact that most people know a Leaf when they see one shows Nissan’s success at publicising its pioneering model.
Our motivation for acquiring a latest-spec 30kWh Leaf (earlier models, going back to 2010, had 24kWh batteries) was to investigate what we saw as an emerging trend in electric cars, a tendency for them to be acquired as second family cars and soon – because of their convenience, economy and easy driving – to take the lead role. And so it proved. Our Leaf became a short-haul specialist, constantly taking people to the airport, home from work, on errands and generally proving useful. Its total mileage wasn’t impressive, but its number of journeys was dizzying.
The art of making a Leaf work is never seriously to test the range, claimed at 150-odd miles on the NEDC cycle but closer to 100-110 in sensible everyday driving. Depend on the Leaf for round trips of 70-80 miles and it is a smooth, quiet, convenient joy – complete with a decent ride, solid brakes (enhanced by its regeneration system) and light, enjoyable steering. But challenge it to go beyond 100 miles and you’d forget all the advantages (including silence, a decent boot and practical rear accommodation) as the sweat of range anxiety pops out on your brow. You don’t even count the meagre fuelling cost – somewhere between a fifth and a tenth of what you’d pay for petrol – as an advantage when you just don’t have enough of the stuff.
Early on, in a fit of enthusiasm, we tried to use the Leaf as transport for a 24-hour Three Peaks Challenge but failed miserably because convenient charging points, although theoretically available, were not. Our lesson was learned: the car came back to London and assumed duties that made sense. If we needed to dash to Edinburgh, we selected a convenient long-legged diesel motor, as Leaf-owning two-car families tend to do.
Such is the speed of electric car progress that, for all our Leaf’s endearing qualities, it did strike us as nearing the end of its time. Companies with electric models in the pipeline now talk of a 200- mile range as an emerging owner’s requirement. The Leaf’s performance isn’t exactly brilliant against others, and the cost — we’d have paid £28,380 after deducting the government’s £4500 incentive — is pretty solid for what you get, even if for your 8000 annual miles you’re saving the thick end of £1200 on fuel.
Our Leaf and its peers have made important points about the practicality of electric cars. But now it’s time for a new Nissan to take the matter further. Luckily, there’s one in the pipeline.
Response - clean, quick step-off from rest is one of the Leaf’s driving delights. Refinement - you won’t find greater smoothness or silence this side of a Rolls-Royce. Economy - power costs far less than it does in a petrol car, even at full tariff.
Range anxiety - this Leaf’s range is shorter than that of the most modern EVs. Charging - charging time tends to make owners impatient. Home charging is best.
Price £27,230 (after £4500 gov't grant) Price as tested £28,380 Economy 3.6 miles/kWh Faults None Expenses None
As our Leaf rolls on, impressing everyone who drives it with its comfort and refinement, I feel I’m becoming integrated into polite Leaf society.
In the course of our time with the car, I’ve spoken to more than a dozen owners (interestingly, the ones I’ve met have almost always been travelling at least two-up), all of them at charging points in the south of England, and started to learn the habits of the common or garden electric Nissan buyer.
The first I met was at Membury services on the M4; he was on a journey with his wife from Malvern to Reading. While we each waited for our 80% charge (this guy knew very well, and I’ve since learned, that pursuing the final 15% isn’t worth the extra time it takes), he explained to me that his other car was a Westfield V8, but this was the one in which he did most of his miles.
The one place you’re most likely to meet other members of Leaf society is at those free charging stations on motorways, at around 6pm. Owners in adjacent towns or suburbs tend to drive a few miles on the motorway to pick up free ‘tickle’, courtesy of Ecotricity, to get them to work every couple of days.
This is where you witness the closest thing to EV road rage, although it never comes to that, because these people tend to be supporters of an orderly society, not the sort who want to tear it down.
But what gets the Leaf owner’s goat (I’ve felt the annoyance myself) is arriving at a charging station and finding it occupied by a plug-in hybrid, already charged to the hilt, with its owner away having a languorous coffee. Here is a car that can proceed anyway, hogging the facilities. We pure battery car owners feel they’re breaching the rules of charging point etiquette.
As the EV constituency grows, which it is starting to do at a decent rate, it’ll be interesting to see how things evolve. Especially when Ecotricity starts charging for its facilities, as it surely must, and soon.
Nissan Leaf Tekna
Price £27,230 (after £4500 gov't grant) Price as tested £28,380 Economy 3.6 miles/kWh Faults None Expenses None Last seen 18.5.16
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