A traffic warden's dream
The Nissan Leaf, as you are probably aware, is the world’s first volume selling fully electric car. I was interested to see how viable one would be for my daily commute of 50 miles. So I borrowed one on a 24-hour test drive from Nissan. I was keen to see how much range would remain - worst case scenario. So my test was to drive to work flat out, wipers swishing, headlights blazing, heater blowing, Bose stereo thumping. My commute consists of congested dual carriageway for the first half where speed is limited to 50mph; light traffic for the next half, giving the Leaf the potential to reach its top speed of 100mph.
I charged the Leaf overnight and plugged the charger in at 7pm. The Leaf’s standard 12hr wall charger saps 3.3kW of power, which is like leaving your kettle boiling constantly for 12 hours! British Gas will install a 6.6kW charger worth £800 free, which will charge the Leaf in 4 hours. It not only saves power by charging the battery in 1/3rd of the time while only using twice as much electricity, but if you are conscious of the peak and off-peak tariffs for electricity, fuel bills can be reduced further still. If you charge with the standard 3.3kW charger, from 7pm for 12 hours, this means 5 hours at 16p per kWh, which equates to £2.64, then 7 more hours at the off peak rate of 6p per kWh is £1.39, equating to £4.03 per nightly charge.
With a 6.6kW charger, you can plug your Leaf in and set a timer via an app on your smart phone to start your 4-hour charge during off peak rates. So a nightly charge with cost you a mere £1.58. The cost of my commute in a 50 MPG diesel car is £6 per day, so that is almost a quarter of the cost. Fast charging points are popping up all over the place claiming to charge the Leaf from 0 to 80% in 25 minutes for a £90 annual fee.
I started my journey by first unplugging the charger from the front of the Leaf and bundling it into the boot, hoping I wouldn’t need it. I clicked shut the little charging door and got into the car. You don’t need to put a key in the ignition, so with the key in my pocket I pushed the brake pedal like in any Automatic IC (Internal Combustion) car and pressed the orange starter button. The car dash lights up ice white and blue, and chimes futuristically. Another gadget is a little tree icon on the dash that sprouts more branches the more economically you drive. Unfortunately for the tree, today it was to remain as pruned as a telegraph pole.
A nice quirk about electric cars is that from cold, rather than drive sedately for the first 10 minutes to allow your oil to get up to temperature to reduce engine wear, you can mash the go pedal and surprisingly, it will wheel spin. Due to the nature of the electric motor supplying maximum torque from zero RPM, 0-10mph is blisteringly quick. This characteristic makes it the right weapon for those odd occasions when you’re in the wrong lane and need to out-drag your fellow motorist from the lights and emboss your victory by snatching their lane.
A gear free drive-train make acceleration as smooth as a muted passenger jet, and when it hits 100mph (I am told) it seems to be limited to that speed. It accelerates right up to the mark where acceleration stops; conversely to IC cars that take a mile or so to squeeze out the last few remaining mph. I see this as a good thing. If the police clock you at over 100mph you’ll find yourself in court faced with a driving ban; so the Leaf not only saves the planet, but licences too.
The Leaf has a few driving modes to play with; the first is Eco, which you’d put it in to grow that tree on the dash and leave no doubt in the minds of your awe-struck passengers that you ARE Captain Planet. Eco makes the car feel lethargic and dim witted; best leave it in ‘Normal’. Via the silver Tunnock’s Teacake gear selector, the car can go in either ‘D’ (I guess for Drive like an Automatic IC car). Or ‘B’ which is where the motor will Brake for you when you release the accelerator, acting as an alternator recharging the batteries. Premium electric cars tend to have a motor per wheel that control the accelerating and braking, so no potential energy is wasted; the Leaf just has a motor where the engine would be and regular energy-wasting disc brakes. To compensate ‘B’ mode will slow the Leaf as though you were using engine braking. This is perfect for the motorway, because when the car in front of you brakes, you just lift your foot from the accelerator and the car decelerates. This is more relaxing because you’re not riling up any murderers tail gating you by tapping your brake lights, and you know you are saving a bit of battery power without having to sacrifice journey time.
When I arrived home from my 50 mile tree burning commute, the Leaf estimated a range of 16 miles. The Leaf was expecting me to drive the last 16 miles in the same way as I had driven the first 50. It’s possible I might have travelled double that estimated range had I suddenly turned botanist.
The Leaf is very capable around the bendy bits due to all the batteries in the chassis keeping the centre of gravity low. The 2014 revised model has had suspension tweaks for British roads, making it less boaty than the former version set up for our American cousins.
Many people believe the battery is a ticking time bomb that will cost you your soul to replace. The Leaf’s battery is actually made up of 192 small batteries. If the battery prematurely turns south it’s because one battery needs replacing, not all of them. They will all eventually reduce the range over time, but it won’t be a shocking surprise when they do. There are reports of a Leaf that has now covered more than 100,000 miles since it was launched in 2011.
I would predict that the Nissan Leaf would prove to be a very reliable car over the long term. If you’re launching a completely new concept and trying to persuade the masses to take on a car that will travel 1/3 of the distance, engineering its components to fail in order to make profit from repairs is not an option.
I like the Leaf and I honestly enjoyed driving it, but for me, depreciation takes the sheen off the shiny Leaf. Firstly you’d need to buy one brand new to get the best of the battery. Drive it out of the showroom and its value will free-fall like most new cars. But after 5 years when its diesel competitor’s parachutes deploy, due to battery fears the Leaf will continue to plummet, eventually ending up a crumpled wreak in a scrap yard.
Compare a brand new mid-spec Golf Blue Motion with the top of the range Leaf at £20,000. Cover 120,000 miles over 10 years and it will be worth £3,000. So it will cost you £17,000 plus £12,015 in fuel (8900 litres at £1.35 per litre average 60 MPG) so £29,015 in total.
The Leaf will cost £20,000 and let's suppose it is worth £100 scrap value after these 10 years. Suppose you charge it every day for a decade at £1.58 per charge. It will cost you £5,770. Equating to £25,670 in total.
In summary, buy a Leaf, drive it for a long time and it will save you money overall. An added bonus is that it will help preserve the planet. You could work as a traffic warden, bringing misery to the public on a daily basis, preying on the innocent bystanders branding them with fines. But then you could hop in your Nissan Leaf, light up the tyres safe in the knowledge that despite your day job, you are still making the world a better place.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 1st May, 2014