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Nissan Leaf EV (2011) long-term test review

Published: 14 March 2012

Two sides to our Leaf – 14 March 2012

At once the Leaf is both soothing and stressful. Climb in, press the start button, and besides the dashboard lighting up to the accompaniment of a few bongs, you’d never know it was running. After any other car, the complete lack of vibrations is wonderful, so you glide along in relaxed comfort. You’re a little more aware of wind and suspension noise without a cacophony of explosions under the bonnet masking their sounds, but overall the Leaf is wonderfully refined. Good ride comfort too, comfy seats as well, inviting cabin at night, and your world is calm by the time you arrive home.

But while the actual driving experience is utterly relaxing, everything either side of actually being behind the wheel is more stressful than in a car with an engine. There’s the cable that needs to be unplugged and coiled into the boot before setting off – it feels like the 21st century equivalent of hand cranking your car. And it’s invariably wet, and drags leaves with it, so you dump it in the boot (rather than putting it into the special pouch) which keeps your hands cleaner but gets your boot dirtier.

Plus there’s the constant worry about running out of electricity. Battery life is definitely poorer in the cold weather, and I don’t think our constant charging is helping either. I let my phone all-but-die before plugging it in (which still needs to be done each night) but as the Leaf is whorred amongst the CAR office, and thus its usage is different every night, I can’t run it down if Tim Pollard is taking it on the school run the next morning.

Though at the moment it needs charging each day regardless. Work, to home, to my gym, home again, and work the next morning. Total distance: 45 miles. Remaining range as I arrived at work, having left there the night before fully charged? Five miles. The supposed range is 109 miles...

By Ben Pulman


Nissan Leaf vs VW e-Up – 8 February 2012 

Nissan might have been first to launch a mass-produced electric vehicle (it’s my Leaf, if you’re wondering) but the almighty Volkswagen Group is readying its own EVs. In 2013 electric versions of the Golf and Up will go on sale, and I tested a prototype of the latter in Germany last week; the pair share the same motor, but the smaller e-Up has a little less power than the e-Golf.

The 60kW electric motor sits in the nose of the Up, and the lithium-ion batteries are stored beneath the seats. That means less room for back-row passengers’ feet, but no reduction in boot space. It’s over 200kg heavier than the three-cylinder petrol Up, but with an instantaneous 155lb ft it’s pretty perky from low speeds. The Up’s a charming car already, and despite the loss of the characterful 1.0-litre triple, the sweet looks, high quality interior and great visibility make the e-Up an excellent little city car.

But it’s all very well turning up, testing an EV, and then going home again; it’s another story when you have to live with it day-to-day. As I keep discovering with the Leaf, life with an electric car isn’t easy. And it would be the same with the e-Up. A quick charge system can juice the Up in 30 minutes, claims Volkswagen, but have you ever seen one? And a regular household plug will still take around five-and-a-half hours to replenish the 18.7kWh battery. Plus the VW e-Up's range is only 80 miles; the Leaf’s claimed range is 109 miles, but in reality it’s about 60 to 70. I doubt the e-Up would go the distance, either.

Here’s the reality. In order to get from CAR HQ in Peterborough to VW HQ in Wolfsburg, I had to take a flight from London Heathrow to Hanover. And I couldn’t drive to LHR in the Leaf because it wouldn’t make it there on one charge.

Up versus Leaf? The Nissan is quicker, bigger and more spacious, but as both are ultimately limited by their range, it’s the Up that feels more right for nipping around urban environments. Problem is, besides blacks cabs clogging up their particulate filters, how many cars live solely in cities? Most of us do more suburban stuff, like our lives in and around Peterborough, and the e-Up would struggle like the Leaf.

I promise some positivity next time – we’ll talk about why getting behind the wheel is a calming and relaxing experience.

By Ben Pulman


Our Leaf's big journey – 19 January 2012

I’ve haven’t exactly ventured far and wide in my Leaf since it arrived five months ago; I doubt it’s ever been further than 20 miles from the CAR office. So, my challenge this month (which I created and subsequently accepted) was to drive to Silverstone, and then back again too. Hardly an Everest expedition or the crossing of the Alps on elephant I’ll admit, but not exactly easy either.

Unable to charge the Leaf up at my house, and with places to go and things to do at the weekend, I picked the fully charged Leaf up from work on Sunday night and gently drove home. And next morning I gently cruised to Silverstone, never once exceeding the speed limit and rejoicing at every traffic jam that meant I could crawl along rather than draining the battery at 60mph. When I left work the Leaf was proclaiming a 103-mile range; when I got to Silverstone, after 54.3 miles, it was down to just 21 miles.

The Leaf’s telematics system didn’t think there were any charging points at Silverstone, but a helpful Twitter follower had sent me a link to a website that lists all the public plug-in spots around the UK. Confident I could charge my car, I pulled into Silverstone’s public car park and up to a ChargeMaster tower. And read: ‘Please hold RFID card on target above for 2 seconds’. Ah…

I’ll admit to not doing any research before this epic trip, but if you’re out and about in your combustion-engined car you expect to be able to pull into a petrol station and refuel. And if you’re caught short in an EV and suddenly need to juice up, I expected the same. Granted you’ll spend a little more time than you would on the forecourt, but I hoped to park up, call a parking-esque service on my mobile, give them my credit card details, receive a pin in return that would led me recharge, and then get a bill on my monthly statement. No chance.

Abandoning that, I drove round to Porsche’s Silverstone Experience Centre, introduced the instructors to The Future, and pleaded with them to plug it in around back near the bins. They duly obliged, and I left the Leaf to fill up while Ben Barry and I thrashed 911s to (ahem) assess the Porsche Sport Driving School’s Warm-Up course. Three hours later our rigorous test had finished, so we had lunch, and then the other Ben went home. (Not entirely convinced by the Leaf, he’d come separately in our Infiniti M; honestly, you just can’t be environmentally friendly if you’ve got to have chase car for every long journey.)

Not surprisingly, Porsche weren’t forthcoming with a GT3 RS 4.0 for the night, so I hung around for another three hours before I reckoned there was enough charge to get back. And I couldn’t do any work during this time as my four-year old laptop with its four-year old battery can’t survive for more than five minutes without being plugged in; Greg Fountain has subsequently suggested internal combustion-engined Macs for the team.

Time to leave, with the Leaf showing a 73-mile range. Into Eco mode and it claimed 80 miles, and then 90 by the time I was off Silverstone’s perimeter road. And back at the office, having averaged 45mph, not because of traffic but because I dared not go any faster? A 28-mile range. That’s 111.2 miles in a day, with half of it spent re-charging. I think I’ll stick to the local commuting.

The Porsche Sport Driving School’s Warm-Up course is £395 for three hours of tuition in your own car; a 911 Carrera S can be hired for £230

By Ben Pulman


Abandoning the Leaf over Christmas – 20 December 2012

Just plotting who’s taking which set of wheels over the holidays, and it seems the Leaf will be very much spending Christmas and New Year in the CAR car park. With friends and family to visit across the country, all of us have journeys longer than the Leaf’s (supposed) 109-mile range; my family is congregating in Liverpool, and because I don’t fancy an overnight halt in Birmingham, I need something else.

Does it sound bad that we’re leaving one of our long-termers unloved over Christmas? Perhaps, but the Leaf is designed for a specific purpose: for short urban journeys. Nissan reckons that 80% of daily driving in Britain is below 30 miles, and for that the world’s first mass-produced EV is perfect. But unless you never leave your big city – or are rich enough for the Leaf to be your second car – then it’ll inevitably be found wanting from time to time. Nissan knows this, and boss Carlos Ghosn openly admits EVs are just one of many future mobility solutions.

Plot one of those cricket-style wagon wheel maps that show where the batsman have hit the ball, and from CAR HQ in Peterborough, the Leaf will have only been into the city centre, to Stamford, to Oundle, and on three longer journeys (Rockingham, Silverstone and Santa Pod).

If CAR was based in London the Leaf would probably be having an easier time of it, but our rural location is exposing its limitations; a full charge in our capital city could get you around most of town, but out here you’ll use most of the range just to get to the next big town.

Much more on the actual experience of driving the Leaf in 2012, but for now it’s taking away one of the things we all hold so dear about the car: the freedom of mobility. At least that’s how it feels while the oil’s still plentiful; when it runs out and we’re using renewable energy to power EVs then it might suddenly feel wonderfully liberating.

By Ben Pulman


The car that powers your house – 29 November 2011

Haven't driven the Leaf in weeks – but only because I haven’t been in the country. But I have just been introduced to a use for my car beyond a means of transport. It’s called ‘Leaf at Home’, and you plug your electric Nissan into your house, with the idea being that your car’s lithium-ion batteries have enough charge to power everything inside. Nissan reckons the average Japanese household uses 10-12kW per day, and as the Leaf has a 24kWh capacity, the lithium-ion batteries have enough juice for a couple of days.

Why would you want to do this, when your house is already plugged into the grid? Because it means you can store energy produced by the solar panel on your roof during the day (if you have one), or charge up your Leaf at night when the electricity rate is low, and then during the day use that energy rather the mains to power your house. And, as the engineers poignantly pointed out, since March 2011 a large number of the Japanese public have suddenly realised they might need an emergency power source for a few days – and the Leaf can be that source. Nissan’s still researching the impact it’ll have on the battery, but it reckons it’s a much less severe use than driving.

It’s all managed by a big box called a Power Control System, which talks to your house, your car, your solar panel, and the electricity grid. Nissan hopes to have the system on sale by the middle of 2012 (after it’s sorted out some standardised regulations with various governments on exactly how it can link into your house and the local grid) and for now it costs about £4k, but that price will come down over the coming years.

And at the same technical briefing we were also introduced to Nissan’s wireless charging system. Simply, you drive your Leaf over a big pad on the ground and it starts charging without any physical link between the two, and you set it going via a control panel (or an iPhone or iPad) to make sure your neighbour doesn’t pinch your power.

You can’t charge any Leaf though, as a special pad needs to be fitted to the underside of the car too. And at the moment that pad can’t be retrofitted to existing Leafs. But engineers hope that issue will be solved, as by the time the wireless technology makes it to market in a few years time there’ll be thousands of Leafs on the road. Or at least that’s Nissan hope: it’s sold 17,000 Leafs since launch, but plans to have sold 1.5m EVs by the end of 2016.

– this is a good thing…

By Ben Pulman


Forgetting the Leaf’s electric – 11 November 2011

A couple of things have happened in the past 24 hours which make us think we’ve fully acclimatised to the Nissan Leaf. First of all, art director Andy Franklin appeared at work yesterday as usual, designing his beautiful magazine pages and generally colouring in, only to start spluttering into his mid-morning cuppa when he realised he’d parked up in a ‘normal’ car bay and not the electric EV bay. Yes – he’d forgotten to charge up the Leaf.

Sheer absentmindedness, he reckoned, but I reckon it reflects on how we view the Leaf. If we forget for even a minute its electric powerplant, that’s some achievement. It’s just another of our cars.

Damn annoying though if you’re due to go home in the Leaf that night. Andy’s round commute is some 40 miles, so I would’ve struggled to get home myself last night had he not remembered to go and move the Leaf into a charging bay. When electricity charging points are in short supply, you really do have to take advantage of every opportunity to top up.

Especially when there happen to be three - three - Leafs (isn't that Leaves - Ed) in the Bauer car park at present.

Fortunately, the Leaf’s charging times appear to be pessimistic because the battery was fully charged by 6.00pm after just half a day’s connection and the range meter suggested we had some 80-odd miles in the cells. Thing is, I then hopped in and was about to start up without unplugging the lead before I remembered at the last minute to remove the cable. Could’ve been messy.

We really are treating the Leaf like a normal combustion engined car. I think – on balance – this is a good thing…

By Tim Pollard


Public plug-in points – 26 October 2011

Was in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago with Anthony ffrench-Constant and Ben Barry for the Porsche Panamera Diesel, Audi A7 3.0 TDI, Jaguar XJ D and Mercedes CLS350 CDI group test you’ll find in the latest issue of CAR. There’s a good car park in the middle of town that we used as a base (there’s a great curry house just down the road, too) and on the ground floor are four electric car charging points. And not once have I ever seen anything parked in them but combustion-engined cars.

Granted I’ve never seen any EVs in Birmingham either – and to most people I presume they’re just tempting empty spaces – but if I’d have been in the Leaf I might have blocked them in to prove a point. But I wasn’t in the Leaf, because I don’t think I can get to Brum on a single charge. (The Porsche got me to St Andrew’s in Scotland the following weekend on less than a tank.)

Nissan’s own research reckons 80% of all daily driving in Britain is below 30 miles, for which the Leaf is perfectly suited. But what about the other 20%? There’s no rental scheme in the UK that lets you have access to other Nissan vehicles when you’ve got a longer journey ahead of you, so to own a Leaf you’ve either got to live exclusively in a city, be rich enough to own a second (petrol or diesel-powered) car, or be happy to use public transport to occasionally travel the length and breadth of the country.

All in the office are very much aware of the Leaf’s fitness for purpose, and that our suburban and countryside location is an atypical situation for an EV, but it’s going to be interesting to see how our blue Nissan copes with CAR’s unusual circumstances over the coming months.

By Ben Pulman


Knots and not remembering to plug in – 6 October 2011

Got up this morning, got dressed, had breakfast, drove into work, parked my Leaf, walked into the office, sat down at my desk, booted up my computer. Then walked back outside, got back in my Leaf, and moved it across the car park to one of the dedicated EV charging bays, and plugged it in. Doh!

And no matter how I coil away the charging cable each night, it’s a Spaghetti Junction-esque knot each morning. To be honest, I’ve now given up trying to be careful, or putting the cable into the padded bag that’s in the boot, and just chuck the inevitable tangle in. Which means the boot is now full of leaves, dirt, and all the other debris and detritus that the cable curls through on the car park floor.

Not sure about the positioning of the heavy control box that’s part of the charging cable either; the big and heavy pack dangles above the ground when the Leaf is plugged in at work, keeping it clear of the damp, dirty ground, but surely that’s putting a bit of a strain on all the wiring.

Lots more to discuss, but bear with me as there’s so much to say and think about when running an EV it’s going to take a good few months to cover everything. What's already clear is that the Leaf itself is a genuinely good car; whether electric cars are the (or at least a) is another matter...

By Ben Pulman


Causing a stir with the Nissan Leaf in the Bauer car park – 7 September 2011

It’s a quiet little thing the Leaf, so much so it’s quite the attention seeker in the Bauer car park. People look on in amazement, stop you in your tracks and fire comments aplenty: ‘What is that?’ and ‘That’s weird!’ We haven't scythed any pedestrians down quite yet, but we tread gingerly around car parks. It's going to take people a while to catch up with this new era of silent mobility.

Passengers find it eerie, too, and are constantly agog at the deafening silence. But it does make the Leaf a wonderfully relaxing place to be. Sometimes a little too relaxing, I'm finding, as the smooth acceleration tips you over the 75mph mark on the motorway – and that's curtains to the range.

We're at a crossroads here. Comparing the silence of the Leaf with the lairy sound of a sports car engine, like the Ferrari 458 we had in recently, shows just how fundamentally different the new motoring landscape could be. Our education continues apace.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison


The Nissan Leaf is here – 5 September 2011

I don’t think I’m overestimating it when I say the Nissan Leaf is arguably the most important long-term test car ever to grace the pages of CAR Magazine.

We’ve run cheap cars, expensive cars, fast cars, slow cars, reliable cars and models with more problems than Colonel Gadaffi. But I’d wager that history will count none of them as seminal as the Nissan Leaf.

Electric cars have been around for decades, but the Leaf is the first modern car from a volume manufacturer to go on commercial sale. And it’s the first of many models from Renault-Nissan, the company which has taken the bull by the horns and arguably bet the ranch on the new era of e-mobility taking off.

Its significance may be assured, but is the Leaf any good? It’s been on board for a few weeks now and everyone on the CAR team has driven it. It’s safe to say it’s one of the most hotly debated long-termers I’ve ever seen arrive in any editorial office I’ve worked in.

For starters, there’s the fueling process. As Ben mentioned below, we’ve – finally – got a couple of charging points installed in the office car park. Don’t underestimate the administrative burden of explaining to a large organisation why you need three-point plugs in the car park; it took us a year of persuading.

Ours are regular 240v household three-point plugs, which will recharge the Leaf in around eight hours. We don’t have a fast-charge point, but Peterborough’s Nissan dealership a couple of miles away does. We’ll make sure we swing by to experience the fast-charge process.

So the process goes like this. We arrive at work, and charge it up. Flip a lever in the cabin, a flap by the nose badge pops up, we lug surprisingly unwieldy cable from its case in the boot and plug in both ends. It’s not complicated, takes around 30sec and none of us feel scared by the electricity coursing through our hands. I haven’t charged up in the rain yet though.

Come home time, the Leaf has a full charge and its proclaimed 80-mile range is sufficient for all but one of our midst who lives nearer London to get home.

Early driving impressions are that this is one very refined, quiet, soothing car. I love its soft suspension, the permanent refinement, the fact that we’re doing all this on electricity. The Leaf is indisputably a feelgood car. The only arguments ranging in the office are over its range. Although when charged it always claims around 80 miles, you’ll never really achieve that living in the rural Midlands like we do.

But we’ll revisit that range anxiety a lot over the next year. Stay tuned for regular updates from the whole team.

By Tim Pollard


Speccing our new Nissan Leaf EV – 15 June 2011

What’s your routine on a weekday morning? A quiet, calm and perfectly ordered start to the working day? Or do you hit ‘snooze’ on the alarm umpteen times, then realise you’re late for work, and rush through the shower and breakfast so you’re neither properly clean, dry, or fed before you’re running out the door? I live my life in the latter camp, and starting in a just a few weeks time I’ve got another chore that’ll need adding to my rushed daily routine: plugging in my Leaf once I get to work…

Comeuppance after eight months in an M3? Not a bit of it. I volunteered to run the Leaf over a year ago, and have spent the best part of the last 12 months convincing the good people who own CAR HQ to install a couple of charging points in the car park; for various, complicated reasons we’ll cover in the coming months, I can’t charge the Leaf at home.

So, my car. It’s pretty standard really – after all, the engine (well, electric motor), interior, alloys wheels and almost everything else can’t be customised. Options? There are only two: the exterior colour and whether you want a set of solar cells in the rear spoiler, to help charge the battery on clear days. I’ve gone for blue, in the vague hope that it’ll look a little like Captain Scarlet’s SPV, and I’ve ticked the £260 box for the trick rear spoiler too. Total: £31,690. Or with the government’s £5k rebate, £26,690 – still more than a VW Golf GTI, or BMW 320d, or Toyota Prius.

Our car was already ordered, built and on a boat before the terrible events that befell Japan, so we’ll take delivery quite soon. And I hear it’ll be delivered on a truck, so it’ll be fully charged…

I've never, ever been more intrigued by a long-termer; the next six or so months are going to be very interesting indeed.

By Ben Pulman

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