The Nissan LEAF was one of the original mainstream pure electric cars and it has sold well; now there’s a 30kWh version with a longer NEDC range of 155 miles.
When Nissan launched the all-electric LEAF back in 2010 other manufacturers were watching with mixed feelings, and they were wondering if Nissan was mad, or if they should they be doing the same thing? Six years later, virtually all other car manufacturers are racing to catch up with the electrification of their cars, so it turns out that Nissan was a visionary pioneer, but it also turns out that Nissan now has a lot of very good competition in the electric vehicle space.
The latest Nissan LEAF doesn’t appear much different in visual terms to the original model. There have been a number of detailed improvements since 2010, but the big news is that this model being tested is the new 30kWh version, with a longer, 155 mile NEDC range. However other recent rivals have now got longer ranges, such as the Hyundai Ioniq with 174 miles.
Under the surface, the basic recipe is unchanged; the large lithium ion battery is in the floor of the car and this provides energy to the electric motor. This means that there is a low centre of gravity. It also means that the packaging of the car should be better compared to competitors with internal combustion engines.
With motoring journalists jumping in and out of different cars on a regular basis it’s easy to forget the finer details of some cars that may not have been driven for a while. And so it is with the LEAF – only when you come to adjust the steering wheel do you remember that it doesn’t have any reach adjustment. As soon as this was realised, I jumped into a colleague’s Renault ZOE and confirmed that the ZOE does have reach adjustment on the steering wheel. So why on earth doesn’t the LEAF have this? Regardless of the reason, when combined with the high seat, you’re left with a driving position that is far from ideal for many people.
Once you’ve pressed the ‘on’ button, and the silent powertrain springs into life, if you try to engage Drive in a rush, you’ll be met with a delay.
You then have to press the ‘OK’ button on the touchscreen – every time you drive – to view the infomedia screen. If you’re expecting futuristic, science fiction-style graphics on the satnav mapping, then you’ll be disappointed with what appears to be a slightly old fashioned visual mapping style.
Once the above initial minor frustrations are out of the way, you’re on your way smoothly and mostly silently (a whine is occasionally evident). One area that has changed with the new 30kWh LEAF is the initial pick-up in acceleration; with the previous model it was eager, and it was enough to convert many people to EVs within a few seconds. However this latest model feels like it has had the initial step-off acceleration dialled down.
From this point all is good in the world of electric motoring. The LEAF, along with the majority of other electric cars, is very refined and has responsive acceleration. There’s no clutch or gear changing. It’s comfortable, and the low centre of gravity, thanks to the position of the battery in the floor, results in good handling. For driving in urban areas, there really is no better vehicle to drive than a pure electric car such as the LEAF.
The heated seats and heated steering wheel are helpful in cold weather, especially as the heating isn’t as effective as in a petrol car. And when you’re adjusting the heating it seems that the LEAF doesn’t display the interior temperature, unless the heating is set to ‘auto’.
The boot isn’t huge – no helped by accommodating two bags of cables – and the access into the boot is tight, with a large lip to lift objects over.
So here’s where the Nissan LEAF comes into its own. The media has been talking about climate change for many years now, and the LEAF helps with a solution as it doesn’t emit any CO2 at the tailpipe. You still need to recharge the battery with electricity, but you can buy a renewable tariff, and even if you don’t, the electricity generated in the UK is becoming lower carbon each year.
However the media has moved on from CO2 and climate change, and has finally woken up to the issue of local air quality, thanks to a helping hand from Volkswagen and its dieselgate scandal. The Nissan LEAF has zero emissions that impact on local air quality. So it’s the ideal car for driving in urban areas.
But the main reason for testing this latest 30kWh Nissan LEAF was to live with it for a week and see if the improved real-life driving range now makes it a more viable proposition.
The last Nissan LEAF that we tested, back in July 2014, was delivering a range of between 80 to 100 miles in real-life driving, based on an NEDC range on 124 miles.
In our view electric cars need a real-life range of a minimum of 100 miles to get over the phsychological range anxiety concerns of many drivers. So what did the new 30kWh LEAF deliver in real-life, bearing in mind that the official NEDC range is 155 miles? The range read-outs when fully charged were between 108 and 126 miles, with an average of 117 miles. So the new 30kWh LEAF succeeds in providing reassurance that you have at least 100 miles of range when charged. This also means that you don’t feel as though you have to charge the car every night if you’re only doing short urban journeys.
You need to plug the LEAF into the mains to charge the battery, and the best way to do this is to have a home charger. Plugging an EV into a 3 pin socket is not advisable, and it takes a long time to charge. To extend the range of the LEAF you can use the public charging infrastructure. We know lots of people who use public charge points successfully and consequently they use their LEAF for long journeys. However we also know lots of people who have turned up at a charge point to find it isn’t working or that a Mercedes 4×4 is parked in the bay. Cars need to be convenient and reliable, and at the moment unfortunately you can’t quite rely on the public charging infrastructure.
Electric cars are much cheaper to run than petrol cars – around one-fifth of the cost. And of course the BIK rate for company car drivers is much lower than petrol or diesel cars.
Our overall view of the Nissan LEAF hasn’t changed; we think it’s a great car. However you can’t get away from the fact that it does have a driving range limitation compared to, for example, a diesel car. So one of the traditional challenges with getting people to buy EVs is that they don’t want to pay a lot of money for a car that hasn’t got a huge driving range. The Nissan LEAF 30kWh costs £31,730, which may be seen as quite a lot of money compared to more conventional hatchbacks. Attractive leasing deals are also available. The LEAF qualifies for the £4,500 government plug-in car grant. It also enjoys 100% discount on the London Congestion Charge.
The Nissan LEAF will always be looked back on as the first mainstream pure electric hatchback, and as such it claims its place in the history books. It’s great to drive overall, and is ideal for use in urban areas thanks to having no emissions that impact upon local air quality. The latest 30kWh LEAF succeeds in promising a driving range of over 100 miles when fully charged, and that makes a real difference compared to having an electric car that will never offer 100 miles. However the average range of 117 miles that we experienced is still not enough for many people, so the LEAF remains an ideal car for urban use, or as a second car if you also have, for example, a diesel estate in the household, but it’s not yet something that many people will see themselves buying as their one and only vehicle.
But the main issue is that when the LEAF was launched, it had virtually no competition. Today that has all changed; there’s a rapidly increasing number of electric vehicle options, and there are many very good ones. So although the Nissan LEAF is still an ideal car for use for relatively short urban journeys, it needs more than a 30kWh option to keep it ahead of the rapidly developing competition. The Nissan LEAF 30kWh is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10 – and it needs to watch its back.