We’ve driven the all-electric Nissan LEAF extensively over the past year, but what’s it like to live with as part of daily life?
Our week-long experience with the car came at a perfect time, just after a house move from the Cheshire countryside to suburban Manchester, and the LEAF was thrown straight into the important duties of carrying out daily runs to the children’s nursery .
Over recent years we’ve driven just about every car that you can imagine, and we can categorically state that there is probably no better car in existence than the Nissan LEAF for driving in urban areas.
The LEAF is quiet, smooth and refined. It has excellent acceleration, which is delivered in a completely linear way. In other words, petrol and diesel cars start their acceleration with low levels of power, then the engine will build to peak power, and then it’s likely to fall away. You’ll then change gear and the whole process starts again. The LEAF doesn’t have any of this rise and fall of power. It has 100% of torque available from standstill all the way through acceleration, giving a completely linear increase in forward progress, and it’s a more satisfying feeling than you will experience in many sports cars.
The LEAF has a single-speed transmission, so there’s no clutch, and no gears to change. This is a huge benefit in urban areas where there is constant starting, acceleration, braking, and stopping. Let’s be clear – a Nissan GT-R (assuming that it was green, of course…) would be our preferred weapon of choice through winding country roads – but a LEAF makes so much more sense in built-up areas, where a car such as a GT-R makes no sense at all. Everyone who drives primarily in urban areas should try a Nissan LEAF for a week. After this, they would see how old-fashioned their petrol or diesel cars seem in comparison. If you would like to test drive, look at your local dealer ships near your area from Phoenix Nissan
to Austin Nissan, they will be glad to answer all of your questions.
Sitting at traffic lights – of which there seem to be many in my newly-discovered suburban world – is an excellent example of why the LEAF is so perfect. It’s completely quiet – and of course emission-free – as it is all of the time. Compare this to the large 4x4s either side of you that continue to churn out exhaust fumes while at a standstill, and they seem prehistoric. Even recent petrol and diesel cars with stop/start systems have to start up again to drive away, a process which is very unrefined compared to the silence and smoothness of the LEAF.
So the LEAF has a perfect powertrain for urban driving, and even the steering is very well weighted for city use. It may be a touch on the light side for drives on winding country roads, but most people don’t want heavy steering for the city, and the system still has decent levels of feel. The brakes also feel very effective – unlike some hybrids, which can have a strange braking action.
Handling is another important attribute in the city, just as it is in the countryside, and here the LEAF has another trick up its sleeve. There’s no tall, heavy engine up front to result in nose-heavy, front-wheel drive understeer and excessive roll through corners. Instead the battery pack is mid-mounted, low down under the floor, which results in well-balanced handling.
How about life in the interior? Well, it’s a very pleasant place to be. It has clean and modern design, with lots of technology such as satnav, and it feels high quality. The only concern is that it is very light in colour, and we imagine that it may show dirt over time. There is plenty of space for driver and passengers, and even a decent amount of room for luggage in the deep boot.
The exterior is also modern and the majority of people seem to think that it is a good-looking car. Our test car came with the one option available for the LEAF, a small solar panel on the rear spoiler which helps to power the air conditioning.
Recharging the car in your own time at home actually seems preferable to having to find a petrol station, stopping, refuelling, queuing and paying. It’s just a simple matter of plugging one end of the lead into the electric supply at your house and the other into the car, and leaving it to recharge.
In terms of the range, then yes, you do have to be aware that this is a car that is primarily designed for urban use, with a particular range. Just as you wouldn’t drive a petrol car that had a 300 mile range into an area of the world where there are no petrol stations for 600 miles, you wouldn’t drive a car with a range of 100 miles on a 200 mile journey and be surprised when it runs of out of fuel – unless you’re Jeremy Clarkson of course.
The official range of the LEAF is 109 miles, but we found that the range often dropped to around 80-85 miles only a few miles into a journey, but with careful driving for the rest of the journey this revised range would be easily attainable.
It can easily be an 11 hour recharge time if the range drops to around 20 miles, and this is obviously in contrast to a couple of minutes to refuel a car with petrol or diesel. However the upside is that it is much cheaper to recharge with electricity than petrol. It’s estimated that it would cost on average around £1.50 for a charge sufficient to cover 100 miles. A car that averages 50 mpg would cost in excess of £10.00 to cover this distance, so the LEAF is likely to be around five times cheaper in terms of fuel running costs than an average petrol or diesel car. Electric cars also require less maintenance as there are so few mechanical parts. The only unknown is how the battery will be performing in around 10 years’ time, and what impact that will have on the value of the car then.
It should be noted that the LEAF should be charged on electricity that is on a renewable energy tariff to ensure it is truly zero-emission in terms of CO2. If the LEAF is recharged using the typical mix of UK energy, then according to our calculations, it could be emitting the equivalent of 94 g/km CO2. There are hybrids and diesels that emit lower levels of CO2 according to the official NEDC cycle, although it’s unlikely that they would achieve these low levels of emissions in reality in everyday driving.
It’s all looking very positive for the Nissan LEAF so far, however the final issue is the purchase price. The LEAF costs £30,990. This is around £10,000 more than some equivalent-sized petrol cars. However the LEAF is currently eligible for the government plug-in car grant of £5000. This takes the price down to £25,990. This is still fairly expensive, and even with the massively reduced running costs, it will still be difficult to justify the purchase of the car on a whole-life cost basis. If you live in London you’ll save on the Congestion Charge and this will certainly to help to justify the car from a financial point of view.
But people are likely to buy the LEAF because they want to. They will like the idea of owning a pioneering electric car. Some people will simply not want to own an electric car, or their driving needs won’t suit an EV, and there’s little point spending effort trying to convince them otherwise. It’s the people in the middle – those who are not sure about electric cars – who should arrange a test drive at their nearest Nissan EV centre, and if they do so they’re likely to become electric car converts.
Fuel economy extra urban:
Fuel economy urban:
Approx 94 g/km average UK electricity; 0 g/km for renewable g/km
VED band A – £0
Company car tax liability (2011/12):
£30,990 (qualifies for £5,000 government grant)
See our other Nissan LEAF articles:
See the results of the TSB electric car trials .