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Latest report: Nissan Leaf long-term test

Date: 06 September 2018   |   Author: Pete Tullin

The Nissan Leaf is the world's bestselling electric car but is it a realistic business proposition? We'll be spending the next few months finding out.
Nissan Leaf 40KW 150 Tekna Auto
P11D price £32,835 including £4,500 government EV grant
As tested £33,930
Range 235 miles
Battery size/power 110kW/150hp
Mileage 6,412

Third report - Points of view

Before working for granitekitchen, I spent a large part of my professional career heading up the road test team at one of the big consumer titles. Our mantra was always 'customer, customer, customer'. In other words, anyone testing cars should put aside their personal preferences and concentrate wholly on the customer's wants and needs - and woe betide anyone who started a sentence with 'well, it's not my kind of car'.

So, although driving a Nissan Leaf doesn't particularly suit my lifestyle, mainly because I undertake too many long journeys and I'm not overly keen on repeated stops at motorway service stations to charge it up, I'm hanging in there, determined to appreciate just how a Leaf works for a typical owner. Not that I need look too far for inspiration, as I have a daughter who fits the Leaf profile to a tee, and she's only too happy to tell me exactly what she thinks.

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She is the chief marketing officer for a trending tech firm that is based in the hipster end of London, so her daily commute involves driving the kids to their respective school and nursery before making a beeline for the local station to join the hoards heading into the city.

On the odd occasion when she drives to Leeds to visit the in-laws she simply takes the view that she needs to stop to give the kids a break anyway, so a 40-minute plug in at one of the motorway fast chargers is fine. It's not only the charging regime and the Leaf's 168-mile range that suits her lifestyle.

The fact that the Leaf's cabin is spacious and airy is a proper bonus, and because the rear windows are big and the seats are elevated almost to SUV levels, the kids are happy checking out their surroundings; although the relentless games of eye-spy do get a bit wearing after a couple of hours. There's also plenty of space between the front and rear pews, so there's no chance of the little darlings kicking lumps out of the backs of the front seats when temper tantrums strike.

The boot is pretty accommodating too, and anyone who has kids and appreciates the amount of paraphernalia they accumulate, will know what a godsend that is. In short, my daughter absolutely adores the Leaf and can't wait to buy her own. She loves the way it's so quiet and comfortable, and so simple to drive, and she also feels good about doing her bit for the environment and the future of her kids' air quality. Of course, the Leaf's ultra-low running costs aren't lost on her husband. As I said, he's from Yorkshire.

 

Second report - Life's a compromise

I rarely know what I'm doing from one day to the next, so living with a Nissan Leaf has involved a few compromises. 

For the most part, it hasn't been too problematic, as a large percentage of my journeys involve travelling into a metropolis, so I can get there and back to my Hampshire abode on a single charge. 

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Also, because the charging network is growing on a daily basis, I can plot most longer journeys with a charge and coffee stop on route.  

Trouble is, some of my engagements involve travelling to diverse locations, like to deepest darkest Suffolk, and in that particular instance, I found myself driving like a pedant and hugging the inside lane to avoid a triple or even a quadruple hit of espresso. 

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That said, stopping more often is preferable to making that embarrassing phone call from the hard shoulder and getting a ticket from the fuzz for joining the motorway without sufficient range.

The Leaf's range is officially 235 (NEDC) miles but the 12-year-old in me can't resist punching the performance button just to watch the amazed looks in my rear-view mirror as the Leaf sprints away from the lights in double quick time. Of course, too many of these antics and the range drains in double quick time, too. 

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There are other aspects of the Leaf I find wholly appealing. It's big, comfortable, well bolted together and, it's the fastest three-point-turner in town. There are no gears to crash, so a flick of the mouse-like shifter makes the transition from forward to reverse in super quick and super
soft fashion. 

I've also become quite a dab hand with the e-Pedal. Backing off the accelerator without touching the brake pedal and judging stopping distances to perfection is more addictive than a game on Minecraft. 

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I'm not so blown away by some of the other driving aids, though. 

While the adaptive cruise control starts braking long before I get anywhere close to the car in front, meaning I have to pull out ages in advance to overtake it, the camera-controlled self-steering system has the Leaf drifting from white line to white line like a drunk on a unicycle. Consequently, I rarely, if ever, use these features.

First report - Plug and play

We can all recall significant events that changed the way we view the world. That first kiss, that frantic fight in the playground and throwing away those pesky L plates are just some of mine. 

Although driving a prototype Nissan Leaf in 2009 wasn't one of those life-defining moments, it did give me plenty of food for thought on the flight back from Japan. 

Could Nissan really expect us to accept an all-electric vehicle as our primary form of transport? 

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Would a restrictive range mean planning every journey with a map and compass? 

How many times would you be able to recharge the battery before it gave up the ghost, and as a consequence, how much would a Leaf be worth come resale time? 

More fundamentally, how much would it cost to charge the thing? Could a programme to install electric chargers throughout the country really come to fruition? And if so, would anyone really be willing to hang around drinking gallons of tepid coffee as they waited for the battery to re-energise? 

Questions, questions, questions.

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Fast forward nine years and a lot of those original questions have been answered but there are still a few nagging doubts surrounding EV ownership, so we'll be spending the next few months with Nissan's latest Leaf to see if these head-scratchers are deal-breakers. 

Nissan reckons most drivers don't do more than 50 miles per day, whereas business users and I often undertake journeys in excess of 100 miles in one hit, so that'll definitely put the Leaf's official 168-mile range under severe pressure. 

As for forward planning, well, my middle name is spontaneity - actually, it isn't, it's Arthur - but the thought of not being able to just drop everything in an instant, as I wait for the Leaf to charge, is something that will take some getting used to.

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So far, a combination of charging from home, a process that I usually let bake overnight, or charging from a 7kW box, which can take up to eight hours - many thanks to the gratis supply I get whenever I play a round of golf at the RAC Epsom - have seen me through the majority of my leisure trips. 

As for those longer business trips, the Leaf has an additional heavy-duty socket that will allow me to charge up to 80% from a 50kW motorway supercharger in about 40 minutes at a typical cost of £7.50. However, there is a rumour circulating that you can only do this once on an extended journey and any subsequent 50kW charges will take considerably longer, so I'll definitely be putting that one to the test. 

Despite the inconvenience of sniffing burgers in a motorway service's cafe, you don't have to be Einstein to work out that the Leaf is going to be significantly cheaper to run than an equivalent fossil fuel car. 

The Leaf's phone app that allows me to keep an eye on the battery's status also calculates how much I've forked out to charge it, so there will be no need to get the abacus out to calculate just how much it is costing to run. 

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I've already discovered that driving the Leaf takes a wee bit of getting used to.  There are very few reciprocating parts under the bonnet, so it is eerily quiet when you're cruising along and, when you lift off the accelerator pedal, you immediately feel the car slowing down. 

You can increase this effect by pressing the e-pedal button, which makes the regenerative braking effect so pronounced you barely have to use the brake pedal. 

Conversely, press the power boost button and, despite the Leaf's near 2t kerb weight, you're instantly propelled into hot hatch levels of performance. 

The Leaf is stacked with plenty of creature comforts and the latest safety kit, including a semi-autonomous driving feature linked to the cruise control that will steer and brake the car for you on the motorway, always providing you keep your hands on the steering wheel.  

So, all things considered, I'm looking forward to an interesting few months ahead.



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