As drivers we have to accept the future. Whatever we may think, change is coming so we might as well embrace it. As they say – the future’s bright; the future’s electric – which serves as a suitable introduction to our featured car – the Nissan Leaf.
The Leaf has been around for over five years and is now generating the sort of sales worldwide that must have Nissan executives sighing with relief. It’s been a hard road for this car because of the ever present range issue of which more shortly. Despite the early negative vibes the Japanese company persevered and have arrived at the most complete version yet, available through a wide network of dealers including the UK’s Largest Nissan Dealer Group, West Way.
Let’s get the old range issue chestnut out of the way first. The fact is that, in the real world, on a majority of days of the year, we don’t really drive very far at all. Our American friends across the pond, who prefer to drive everywhere, still only travel on average 33 miles in a day. The Leaf will average 84 miles in a day. That’s actually Nissan’s figure and it seems fair because they are allowing for the multi-various aspects of driving that can affect range. In short, they are not making exaggerated claims. Further, news just out is that Nissan have announced more battery improvements which will come from squeezing more energy into the Leaf’s lithium-ion power pack. The new battery will be the same size as the current 24-kilowatt-hour power pack but deliver 30kwh, further enhancing range.
Motorists should also know that, should a longer journey be necessary, issues over who supplies electric charging posts on our major routes have now been resolved and EV drivers should see a proliferation of charging points soon. Even my local supermarket has two. Couple this with improved and faster methods of charging and longer trips become, with planning, a possibility.
Charging your Leaf at home is easy with a Nissan 240-volt home charging dock (extra cost). All you have to do is plug it in. It takes about five hours to go from empty to a full charge with the 6.6 kW on-board charger and you don’t have to wait for the battery to be completely drained to charge it. The car also comes standard with a 110-volt charger that plugs into any regular outlet which takes around eight hours for a fill-up. You can’t drive when you’re sleeping. At some outlets fast chargers are becoming available that can give you an 80% top-up in just thirty minutes – and no, it doesn’t damage the batteries.
On The Outside
The new Nissan Leaf is smart and presentable without being in any way flash. It’s shape is defined by what it is. This front-wheel drive hatchback uses a dedicated EV platform with the batteries now housed in the floor for optimum vehicle packaging and weight distribution. The body design includes a rigid-mounted battery frame, which helps provide greater body rigidity compared to a conventional compact car. It does make a difference and, out on the road, it is surprising just how well the car handles: not exciting necessarily but it does inspire confidence if you want to crack on a bit.
Select drive, release the foot-operated parking brake and performance is instant. Gears are a thing of the past to the Leaf driver. Acceleration can be very brisk although your right foot needs to be governed by the clear and concise power, regeneration and range readout on the dashboard. On test, brakes were crisp and well modulated.
Electric cars are eerily quiet, we all know that, but Nissan have decided that if the car is hushed then the occupants don’t want to be bothered by supplementary noise from around the vehicle. Thus some clever windscreen wipers are deployed so that nobody has to suffer that irritating ‘whip-whap’ noise that gets on your wick after a few miles. Further, to minimise wind noise the Leaf sports some clever aerodynamics which Nissan have chosen in the past to call ‘smart fluidity’. This is apparently a fusion of sophisticated aerodynamic management and aerodynamic acoustics with the freedom provided by the EV layout. The bonnet is low, rising through the sculpted shoulder character line and on toward the large rear spoiler.
This distinctive Leaf look is characterized by long, up-slanting headlights. The headlights cleverly split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, reducing wind noise and drag. It works. At motorway speeds there is barely a whisper of wind around the mirrors. At the back, the slim aero LED tail-light design and crisp corners combine with the aerodynamic rear bumper and a rear diffuser to manage the aerodynamics of the rear end without compromising rear interior roominess. Not sexy then but very efficient.
Inside The Car
Moving the batteries to the floor means that the deep boot will now swallow a decent 370 litres, although with a high lip. Certainly there is room for the family luggage and this roominess extends to the back seat as well. It’s one of the benefits of designing this car from the ground up that passengers are well served. Thanks to the absence of a conventional engine the cabin is very roomy. With the driver’s seat set for me, I was able to sit very comfortably behind myself with legroom to spare. The Leaf is a genuine five-seater.
The car comes in three specifications; Visia, Acenta and Tekna, the last being the most well specified and is the model for our example. Prices range from around £16,500 for base models up to £25,000 for the top spec. This allows for the current government grant. The tested model from West Way Nissan at Oxford Motor Park had very comfortable leather seats and, as mentioned, handled well on the road. The central cascading dashboard had all the usual features with Bluetooth and climate control on board. Obviously the amount of kit is specification and price dependent.
It’s around this point that I would talk about emissions and the like but I can’t because there aren’t any. Nissan are understandably keen to point out the low running costs and convenience of the all-electric Leaf. Despite the grant, the Nissan Leaf still remains a slightly more expensive proposition than conventional internal combustion cars however there is the benefit of no fuel costs so it is up to prospective buyers as to how they want to invest in the future. Yes, for drivers who are new to electric driving it is tempting to keep glancing at the range readout and fretting but this is something that we will all adapt to as the future becomes the present. For now, the honest question buyers must ask themselves is, ‘does this car fit my lifestyle?’ For most drivers I suspect the answer is yes.
Car supplied courtesy of the helpful folk at West Way Nissan Oxford.