Review : A weekend with the Nissan Leaf


The Nissan Leaf goes back tomorrow, so I’d see how it performs as a weekend car, as well as my usual commuting chariot.

As you know from my last blog, the car suits me down to the ground in a workplace situation – my commute is less than 30 miles a day of stop/start extra-urban driving, and as I’m lucky enough to have a drive and garage, I have a ready-made charge point for the car. The compromises of a short range (compared with a petrol powered car) and lengthy recharges, therefore, pale into insignificance for me.

For that alone, I am sold.

However, I thought I’d play with it during the weekend, too. I know I’ve offset a fair amount of fuel during the week, so driving my SD1 or Alfa wouldn’t be a problem for me – but basically being a skint Northern skinflint, I thought I’d use the Leaf for running around shopping on Saturday, and then to run to the BMC/BL Rally in Peterborough on Sunday (a 60-mile round trip). On Saturday, it was fine – and once again, those who rode in it loved the silent smoothness of the thing, praising it to the hilt.

We had a near-miss with a BMW X5 driver, who decided it would be fun to try and overtake me through the 30mph Wollaston village just as I was about to turn right. My passenger said that it was probably because we were heading towards the open NSL stretch, and said BMW driver didn’t want to be stuck behind a beard-wearing hippy in an electric car… I just assumed he was stupid. But maybe that does raise a point – people do assume battery cars are slow; my experiences are far from that.

It was a 60-mile day of running around in the end, and when I got the Leaf home, it needed a few hours of charging from my low-capacity domestic mains electric supply.

Sunday’s run to Peterborough was more interesting. It was an early morning start, so no need to run air conditioning – and with a full battery, as I snicked the drive lever into D, it promised a 91-mile range. However, that came down quickly (in Eco mode) on the A14 dual carriageway, as there’s no chance for the clever regeneration system to work – but I went into this being determined not to suffer from range anxiety. Once onto the single-carriage A605, we were back to positive territory thanks to claggy, slow moving traffic – and more than a couple of times, the Leaf proved very handy at overtaking here.

We arrived at the show with 62 miles range showing – not a bad performance at all.

On the way back, the range did start to slip alarmingly in open space, unhindered by traffic, but once in the 40mph A605 flow, it once again proved more than capable of losing miles off its range more slowly than the actual miles remaining. The last leg of the journey – 15 miles on the A14 – were spent in D, flowing with the faster moving cars, and again, the range dropped quite quickly. But not enough to get concerned out, thus proving that the Leaf can cut it in today’s quicker traffic as long as you’re not on a long return journey.

I’m still slightly flummoxed by Top Gear’s handling of the Leaf. The idea that ‘the Boys’ would find themselves in Lincoln, stranded and without power, is slightly ridiculous. They’re clever blokes (far more so than me, as they make real money from writing about cars), and know the score, and yet the TG viewers are supposed to believe that they were caught unawares by their cars’ lack of range.

Methinks it’s more a case of not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. And that’s what TG is all about: three guys cocking around in the name of entertainment.

During my week with the Leaf, I’ve found it to be perfectly good at what it does. It isn’t perfect, but I do see this as being the beginning of what promises to be an exciting future. We’re offered genuine automotive choice for the future, be it battery, hybrid or hydrogen, and that’s something we’ve been unable to say for a very long time (it used to be petrol or diesel, like it or lump it). Battery cars aren’t there yet – we need 300-mile ranges and induction charging before they are really there – but the Leaf offers a glimpse of an oil-constrained future, and it’s maybe not as grim as I feared in the past.

I do believe that I could live with this car – but only in addition to my petrol powered classic/classics.

Keith Adams

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