Review : A week with the Nissan Leaf


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 toAutocar 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

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