Being ‘half-daft’ to contemplate running an EV, states Iain Robertson, is no longer a prerequisite, as he proves by driving the latest version of the Nissan Leaf, which promises in excess of 230-miles of range in a largely intelligent and intuitive car.
In case you are curious, the answer is ‘Yes’. I have been on an evangelistic tour of the EV scene, thanks to a meeting of minds with Octopus Electric Vehicles, the UK’s standalone, all-enveloping fuel, funding and total EV service provider. Being of the belief that anything related to environmental protection, of which EVs are a vital part, must be a shared responsibility, not brand-dependent (or biased), I consider that the actions of Octopus are not merely apposite but are for the ‘greater good’.
Despite the title of this story, in many respects, Nissan dealers do not deserve the consumer requests made of them. On more than one occasion, both from personal experience and from comments and reports made to me by others, popping into one’s local Nissan emporium to ask about Leaf (the ever so successful EV), I am aware that an average response has been, ‘Would you not prefer to look at a Qashqai instead?’. Largely self-defeating, it is a response arising more from either ‘fear’, a result of insufficient knowledge, or perhaps personal anti-EV bias, than any market responsibility.
Currently THE best-selling EV in Europe, the Nissan Leaf has been part of the UK motoring scene since 2011. In typical EV style, it was an unusual looking machine, with an organic wave-form on its flanks, a pugnacious nose and a fat bottom. Dependent on model, it could even have a small solar-panel on its roof. For the eco-conscious, it was a dream turned reality but suffered from early battery capacity problems, which meant that its nominal range was comfortably less than 90-miles. Yet, it did not stop a rash of potential business customers from hopping on-board Nissan’s (and sister operation, Renault’s) bandwagon, although a fairly resolute attitude may have been required.
The latest version is markedly more conventional hatchback in appearance, although it still possesses enough visual clues to its ‘zero emissions’ status, even if you do not spot the declaration on its tailgate. Fortunately, Leaf also reflects the tremendous technological in-roads that have been made in the past eight years, not just in driver safety addenda but also with convenience and operational benefits.
In Tekna trim, which is the top specification, its 40kWh Lithium-ion battery pack delivers a strong performance envelope, with around 150bhp and a healthy slug of torque, helping to despatch the 0-60mph benchmark in an excellent 7.6s, running out of ‘steam’ at a restricted 89mph. Interestingly, the Leaf is the only volume-produced EV in the UK, with almost 90% of its total production being exported from the company’s Sunderland factory. Its proposed driving range is posted at 235-miles, although around 200-miles may be anticipated safely from its efficient drive-train, which can be fast recharged (80%) in around 40 minutes, or overnight trickle-charged from a 7kW wall-box (100% capacity) in around seven hours. As to costs, the per-mile rate for a single kWh of electricity could be an average of 13p, although Octopus can provide renewable energy from as little as 5p per unit.
Helping to regenerate electricity on-the-move, the Leaf features the intriguing and revolutionary e-Pedal technology that transforms the way people drive, by enabling acceleration, deceleration and full stop with the simple increase, or decrease, of the driver’s foot pressure applied on the accelerator pedal. When releasing the accelerator, the car will decelerate and come to a complete stop, even hill holding, without the need to press the brake pedal (it is also reverse-energising the battery). With a deceleration rate of up to 0.2G, the e-Pedal eliminates the need for drivers to move their foot constantly from the accelerator to the brake pedal, when reducing speed, or even stopping. While it can take a little time to become familiar with it, the e-Pedal helps to reduce fatigue and stress in daily city driving and allows the driver to use the brake pedal up to 90% less than in conventional motorcars.
In Tekna trim, the new Leaf also features ProPilot, which is a distance cruise control that works semi-autonomously, requiring only limited driver input, even in heavily trafficked conditions. It is supported by Pro-PilotPark, which is a ‘hands-and-feet-off’ automated parallel, or forwards/backwards bay parking assist system. Naturally, Leaf is a model packed with both driver aids and safety programs, as well as an around-car monitoring system, which makes its popularity entirely comprehensible, as prices start at a reasonable £26,690, rising to £29,890 across three trim levels (including the government plug-in grant). It is the best value EV presently on sale in the UK.
Fortunately, the latest generation Leaf benefits from markedly better steering feel and suspension that is more forgiving. It is not perfect, as its ride and handling envelope does betray the hefty lump of battery beneath its cabin floor, displaying the occasional slew of wheelspin from an over-enthusiastic junction departure and the suspension can be caught out on some of the less savoury road surfaces in the UK, with an audible clatter. However, it is vastly improved over the original iteration and is significantly more driver-friendly. In fact, work the Leaf efficaciously and your anticipatory driving style will improve in leaps and bounds.
Its interior décor is ‘plastic-fantastic’ but interesting all the same. The main digital instrumentation is driver-configurable and, once you familiarise yourself with the twist controller and other switchgear, as well as the plethora of ‘touch-screen’ functions, it all works harmoniously. However, Nissan has always struggled with its car interiors and for the steering column to be only rake but not reach adjustable is a sad omission. The driver’s seat is also limited in rearward travel, mostly because Nissan wanted to create space in the rear (perfect for taxi drivers!), which makes the command position somewhat less than accommodating.
The business proposition is a positive one. Price-wise, the Leaf can be acquired for about the same rate as a regular family car. Its trade-in values are becoming stronger all the time. Reliability is not an issue, as breakdowns are infrequent and there is an eight-year warranty just in case. However, there is zero road tax and, if you are a city driver, no congestion charges. Planning for ‘refuels’ is easy on trips and, as Octopus will inform you, there are ways and means of ensuring your electric way of life is unsullied.
As one of the pure-EV pioneers, the Nissan Leaf has transitioned from avant-garde newcomer to mainstream normality. It drives very well, although the amount of space for front seat occupants could be more generous than it is.