Blog : my week with an electric car

Keith Adams

Leaf doing its bit to offset my lovely V8 powered Rover.
Leaf doing its bit to offset my lovely V8 powered Rover.

On Monday morning, I took delivery of a Nissan Leaf. It was probably the result of a chance drive at Gaydon and then a subsequent blog about how owning one of these could well fit in with my life. I’m not going to get involved with the ‘long cable’ emissions argument, and neither am I going to get all preachy with you about how  you should buy one of these… because, let’s face it, a Leaf might not work in your circumstances, no matter how well-intentioned you might be.

However, for me – in my current situation – the Leaf works brilliantly, and if I were in the market for a £25K commuter (or more precisely, if my company were), then I’d be seriously tempted to have a crack at going electric.

Firstly, what’s the Leaf like to drive?

The notion that electric cars are modern day milk floats was blown out of the water when the Tesla made an appearance here back in 2008. Back then, I drove this car, and fell in love with its power delivery, even if I knew it came at a hell of a price. Three years on, and the game’s moved on somewhat and Nissan’s Leaf offers the same blend of instant usable performance and driveline refinement – but at a much more attainable price, and in a more practical package.

You get in and are greeted with an interior that might be slightly too geared towards the iPad generation, but then we’re looking at a alternative vehicle designed for early adopters. But the fancy interior graphics aside (which all do serve a purpose aside from the faintly ludicrous tree icon you build the more economically you drive), the interior is a lovely place, and exceedingly well screwed together. It’s light and airy, and you’ll find it a nice place in which to spend time. Given the car is designed with the commuter in mind, that’s no bad thing.

The spookiest part of Leaf ownership is turning it on. You hit a power button, it chimes like a hi-fi system and you’re ready to go. There’s no mechanical noise at all, and this feels alien to electric car newbies. Creep around in forward and reverse as you would an automatic petrol/diesel car, and it’s utterly silent. Keep the window down, and be prepared to shout at people nearby unaware of your presence.

On the move, the Leaf doesn’t disappoint after a Tesla. In D mode, it rockets forward with real purpose, and 0-60 comes up in 10 seconds. That figure doesn’t really tell the story, as it’s incredibly lively and unfettered by those conventional issues of gearchanging and power drop-off. Basically all your torque (207lb ft) is available from zero, and that makes this a brilliant town car. In Eco mode, things are a lot more leisurely – the throttle response, the performance – but Octane colleagues who drove it seemed to find it enough, using this most of the time, reserving the lively D setting for getting round busy roundabouts. And the advantage of Eco is that regeneration is much more aggressive, lengthening range considerably.

Me, I left it in D all the time. But my commute is short.

The first couple of days had be studiously watching the range indicator, but once I realised that I wasn’t actually going that far, I relaxed and got on with it. One of my colleagues commuted to Peterborough and back in it, and found it thoroughly enjoyable, so it’s obviously far more useful than my 30-mile round trip.

Out of town the Leaf feels far from out of it depth, and it feels as though it would crack an indicted 100mph, and sits happily at the motorway limit. Obviously, the range suffers at these speeds, but it’s good to know that should you need to take a three-lane diversion on the way to work, the Leaf cuts it in the outside lane.

So, it drives well, but could I live with the Leaf?

Hell yes! And here’s why. My commute’s short. But there’s no public transport, and it’s too far to walk or realistically cycle. It’s a boring mix of slow/very-slow/slowish traffic in what the legislators like to describe as ‘extra-urban’ conditions. I’ve no range anxieties. I live in a house with a drive and a garage, and convenient power source. And I enjoy my personal space. And for long journeys, I have access to other cars. And at the weekend, I have my classic to play with. With all those factors ticked, I can move on to stage two.

Which is the psychological side of battery car ownership. I am increasingly finding the act of filling-up with fuel one of the least pleasant acts of modern life that we encounter on a regular basis. There’s the queuing, the jostling, and the potentially dirty hands. I generally run diesels, and accept they have compelling advantages, but I do hate the smell and stains on my nice shoes. Then there’s the cost of filling up these days. Quite simply, it’s unacceptable whatever way you look at it – a medium sized hatchback costs £70 to fill; and larger one, nearer £100. No thanks. Sticking two fingers up at the oil companies by boycotting their dirty, cramped filling stations with a new car sounds like a very good idea to me… and the Leaf allows me to do this.

Okay, so it’s a daft argument, but it’s how I feel, and motivation enough convert my commute into a battery powered affair.

The leaf costs £25,990 after a £5000 government grant, and that’s not cheap. According to Autocar magazine, a typical Leaf finance package (£5775 up front, £400 a month and a balloon payment of £10,000 after 36 months) would comfortably get you into BMW 320d. But it costs a couple of quid to charge overnight and then nothing in road tax. As a company car, it exempts its driver entirely from benefit-in-kind tax, and servicing and residuals should also be very good too – so its financial proposition can work, too.

But it all comes down to this – does your work life and home circumstance fit in with a Leaf? Is your commute less than, say, 80 miles per day, and you’re able to charge it overnight? If so, going electric seems like a viable alternative. And no more miserable fill-ups for your commuter car…

I’m off for a play in it during the weekend now! I’ll toy with the SD1 next weekend.

Keith Adams


  1. I think a less compelling argument is made for electric cars when, rather than looking at what “regular” car you could get for the same money, you look at how much it would cost you to buy (and run) a car that is the same *size* as the Leaf. And how many years you could run it for before you pay out the amount of money that a Leaf costs to buy.

    I doubt it would make much financial sense for many people then.

  2. As a car to commute to/from work,pottering around town, shopping etc and then plugging it in to charge at the end of each day it makes near perfect sense,.On top of that serviving costs would be next to zero apart from putting air in the tyres , topping up the washer bottle and cleaning the batterys .That would probably explain the ludicrous initial purchase price which is no doubt the maufacturers way of clawing back potential future lost revenue. BUT and this is a big but.If electric cars catch on and we all start to desert our fossil fuel powered cars in droves does anybody really think you will be allowed to drive your electric car for the price of couple of pounds elecricity. Wake up people I will bet my army pension that the designated plug socket in your house that charges your car will have its own meter and you can bet it wont be on normal domestic rates. Furthermore the same will be said of publicly accessible charging points which will no doubt have the additional mark up for whoever is contracted to supply and run them. Furthermore a range of 100 miles followed by an overnight charge . Sorry I’m not entirely sold just yet. As it stands I still beleive Hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles are the way ahead

  3. The concept of the Leaf is good and it will be built at Sunderland near where I live, but – I cant see there being enough recharge points around in the short term, the drive range is still poor unless you stay in urban areas, the boot size will be small and the car’s relatively high cost combined with depreciation will be a negative factor.

    I really wish it well but I wont be in the market for one yet. I still think the GM/Vauxhall Ampera & Toyota Hybrids are a better option so far. Also I agree the Hydrogen fuel cell car shows potential.

  4. If everyone had electric cars and charged them overnight, I can imagine how much overnight electricity costs would go up by…the batteries won’t last forever either, so there are maintenance costs as well. The Top Gear report last Sunday may be biased, but some of the negative comments can’t be swept under the carpet as Clarksonisms.

    In certain circumstances I can see that the Leaf could work, but mainly as a expensive second car, probably to be bought by urban liberals, and why should I subsidise well off people to drive into London in a Leaf when I’m on the much more environmentally friendly Tube or bus?

  5. Keith, I’m curious, very cruious actually, about pure electric cars. I work in IC car engine research so I’m very familar with hybrids powertrains and how they work but we don’t touch pure electric cars. Please keep us updated how things work out with the Leaf.

  6. One question… we have electric car charging points in my home town of Milton Keynes (just look for Waitrose and you’ll find them nearby). Do all eltric cars use the same “plug” of do you need to carry an adaptor like tourist need to plug in thier electrical items when traveling the world?

  7. So in 10 years time – there are loads of electric cars – the wind stops blowing all these wind turbines around the country – where is the power going to come from to get all these expensive electric vehicles moving. We need the Hydrogen cell or something similar to power the vehicles of the future.

  8. The hydrogen cell is a dead end. Why? hydrogen is not easy to extract in the first place. The technology is also OLD! it was such a fuel cell that exploded on Apollo 13. Its been around a while and still does not work. I’m not saying the leaf is the future either (electric cars were about in the 1890s!) but the fuel cell has less chance

  9. I’ve said it before.

    The future of electric cars are hot-swappable batteries, similar to the current gas cylinder infrastructure, which are bought and swapped in filling stations.

    The electricity of course would have to come from Nuclear power for the whole thing to be properly non-dependent on decreasing resources of fossil fuel.

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