We’re now coming to the end of our six week trial of the Nissan LEAF courtesy of the GoUltraLow campaign, and I noticed the other day that we’ve now driven more than 1,000 miles in the 100% electric car. So I thought it was time I posted an update to let you all know how we’re getting on with it.
In our six weeks we have used the LEAF as our main car, only getting my beloved Nissan Note out when both of us needed to be in different places at the same time. This means that both the geekdaddy and I have used it to commute to work (my office is about 20 miles away, his is more like 10) and for various errands around town, including the weekly shop. I’ve driven it to my drama rehearsals three times a week in a nearby town, the geekdaddy drove it into Manchester several times for a training course he was on, and we’ve driven the kids around to their various activities. And we’ve also tried a longer trip, with a family outing to Alton Towers. This is pretty indicative of our typical driving, and means we’ve been able to evaluate how the LEAF fits in with our family lifestyle, which was one of the aspects we were asked to concentrate on when testing.
As we’ve had a lot of interest in the car we’ve also taken several of our friends and family members out for short runs in it so they can see what it’s like to drive an electric car. Everybody has had the same reaction. First of all people are amazed by how quiet the car is. You don’t get the “Brrrrrmmmmm” that you usually expect from a car when it starts up, you simply get a few beeps and then silence. But once people have got used to that they generally turn to us and say “But it’s just like a normal car!”. They sound surprised. But they’ve hit the nail right on the head. It is pretty much just like a normal car. It is a normal car. It simply runs on battery power rather than petrol or diesel.
The Nissan LEAF is a good sized family car. You may or may not know but LEAF actually stands for Leading Environmentally-friendly Affordable Family car, so it’s fair to say it’s well and truly aimed at the family market. I would say the LEAF is comparable in size to a Ford Escort. It will seat 5 comfortably, although you might struggle to get three children’s car seats across the back. At the moment the geekson is in a stage 2 car seat and the geekdaughter has a booster cushion. They both fit comfortably in the LEAF and we would be able to get a thin person sitting in the middle between them if we needed. The only slight problem that we’ve had with the car seats is that the LEAF we have for review has leather seat covers, which means the car seats slip around a little before the kids’ seat belts are done up. If I was buying for myself I would actually opt for the fabric seat covering instead. The front cabin is comfortably roomy – in my Note the geekdaddy and I sometimes find ourselves “elbow wrestling” for control of the armrest, but we haven’t had any such issues in the LEAF. The boot is a good size and easily held a full week’s shopping (which is quite a lot when I do it!). A little bit of space in the boot is taken up by two cases which hold the charging cables, but they are neatly stored and don’t get in the way.
In terms of performance, which was the other aspect of the LEAF we were asked to particularly focus on, the LEAF is probably the most fun car I have ever driven. It is so responsive and nippy. As the car is driven by an electric motor rather than a petrol engine there are no gears to worry about, and so you don’t get the same level of variable power you see with the petrol/diesel engine. You can pretty much put your foot down at any speed and it will pull away. The driver who delivered it to me informed me rather gleefully that I would be able to burn pretty much any car off at the lights should I so desire. Whilst I haven’t tested this feature extensively, I have had one or two fun moments with it 😉
Driving the LEAF took a little bit of getting used to when we first started. First of all it has a knob in the centre console which looks for all the world like a gear stick, except it’s not, because the LEAF doesn’t have gears. This is the way you select your drive mode – you push it forwards to make the car go backwards, and push it backwards to make the car go forwards. For some reason this seems to be the reverse of the way I expect it to be, and four weeks in I still haven’t quite got the hang of it, and keep almost driving the car forward into the garage door when I want to reverse off the drive. Once you’re going forward the LEAF has a few options to preserve battery life – first of all there’s an “eco” mode button – pressing this will cause the car to limit how fast you can accelerate, resulting in slightly longer battery life without too much decreasing of the “fun factor”. There’s also a “Regenerative Braking” mode – engage this and you will feel the car resists accelerating slightly, and slows quicker when you take your foot off the accelerator – this is because it is using the vehicle’s motion to recharge the battery. We’ve found ourselves using this mode in places where you would use engine braking in a petrol or diesel car.
Of course the big difference between the Nissan LEAF and a “normal” car is that it is battery powered, and that battery needs to be recharged. We had a home charging point fitted by British Gas (which was free at the time of installation, but I think that offer has now expired). This is supposed to take 8 hours to charge the LEAF battery from completely flat to fully charged. We very easily got into the habit of plugging the LEAF in every time we got home, and it always easily recharged overnight. In general we found that a single charge lasted us for our daily activity, and if we plugged the car in to charge overnight it would be back to 100% by the morning. We could have paid extra to have a faster charger installed which would have only taken 4 hours to charge the battery, but to be honest we have never felt the need for that, and the standard charger has suited us fine. The LEAF also comes with a charging cable that can be plugged into a standard home socket (note it must be a wall socket, not an extension lead). I found it handy to be able to “top up” the battery when visiting friends or family.
And in case you were wondering, yes you can charge it in the rain:
The limiting factor of the LEAF is, of course, the battery technology. We were advised by Nissan that if we drove the car in the most efficient manner possible we should be able to get up to 124 miles out of a single battery charge. In our experience, based on the way we’ve been driving the car, we estimate we could probably get a maximum of 80 to 90 miles out of a full charge – but we haven’t fully run it down to test this. The furthest I’ve taken it on a single charge is from home to work to my Mum’s house to the theatre and then home again – a total of approximately 65 miles. After that journey I arrived home with 20% battery remaining, which backs up my view that 80-90 miles is realistic. But it really does depend on the way you drive it – we took the LEAF to Alton Towers with us, a journey of approximately 40 miles each way. I expected us to be just about able to complete the journey on a single charge, but as a contingency had planned a couple of places on the way back where we could stop and use public charging facilities. I was quite surprised when we arrived at Alton Towers that we only had 34% of the battery left, and was worried about getting to our contingency charging stops on the way home. Alton Towers don’t have any public charging facilities (yet?) but the staff were amazingly helpful and allowed us to plug in to a standard socket in the loading bay of the Hotel. The car charged back up to 99% whilst we had a fun day enjoying the rides, and we got home with no trouble. I noticed that the battery seemed to run down noticeably quicker when I was doing 70mph than at slower speeds, and in fact this was confirmed to us by Nissan after the event – when we queried how fast the battery had run down they told us that we’d have been much better doing 65mph. Since then I have been making sure to drive no faster than 65mph, and have noticed the battery usage has been much more consistent.
I have a lot more to say about making longer journeys in the LEAF, so I have written my thoughts as a separate blog post which you can find here. For the purposes of this review what I will say is that we have found it difficult planning journeys that require charging stops, mostly due to the number of disparate charging networks, all of which (in this area anyway) require you to be pre-registered with them and carry a card to use their chargers. Registration usually costs a nominal fee of £10 or £20 per year, but it means you have to be a lot more organised about planning long trips than you would be with a petrol or diesel vehicle. I discovered I actually got quite stressed about the idea of taking the LEAF out for a long journey, especially with young children in the car, and when we went away to South Wales this weekend I was quite relived to be taking my Note rather than the LEAF.
Nissan have informed me that they don’t want “range anxiety” to be a barrier to purchase, and so customers who purchase a LEAF will be entitled to borrow any model from their Diesel range for up to two weeks per year – so if you do want to drive long distance for a holiday you can still do that.
The Nissan LEAF has a 24kWh battery, so as we currently pay 12.92p per kWh for our electricity that means it would cost us £3.10 to charge the battery from completely flat to fully charged. At 90 miles per battery that equates to around 3.4p per mile. Obviously the costs will vary depending on your energy tariff, and if you’re on a variable rate which gives you cheaper electricty overnight you’ll be pleased to learn you can set the LEAF to charge only when your cheaper rate is active. For comparative purposes my Nissan Note which does a highly respectable 47 miles to the gallon costs £45 to fill with petrol and a full tank gives me a range of 360 miles, making my cost per mile twelve and a half pence. So the LEAF is very much cheaper to run. And you pay no car tax on the LEAF either. The only costs I haven’t researched are insurance costs, obviously these depend on many different factors.
When you buy a LEAF you can choose to either buy the battery outright or to lease it. Leasing it means you pay less for the car, but have an ongoing monthly payment for the battery. The advantage of this is that if the battery fails you will get it replaced without additional charge. If you choose to buy the car and battery outright the battery is covered by a 5 year warranty. Currently the UK government is also offering an incentive of £5,000 off the cost of a new LEAF. The cheapest LEAF you can buy is the bottom of the range model with a leased battery and that will have an “On The Road” price of £16,490 with a monthly battery lease cost of between £70 and £113 depending on the length of the lease and your annual mileage. If you choose to buy outright rather than lease the battery then the base model LEAF has an “On The Road” price of £21,490. I think this is more expensive than comparable petrol or diesel cars in the same class, but you need to offset the vastly cheaper running costs against the higher purchase price to work out if it is a good deal for you.
Our Verdict of the Nissan LEAF
Both the geekdaddy and I have loved driving the Nissan LEAF, and are going to be really sad to wave goodbye to it. It’s fun to drive and practical, and for the most part suits our lifestyle perfectly. The only times we had any issue with the LEAF was when thinking about taking longer journeys in it, but that was really due to the complexity of the current public charging infrastructure rather than any issue with the LEAF itself. We’re optimistic that public charging availability is something that will improve with time, and we’re hopeful that battery technology will continue to improve so that future LEAFs (or should that be LEAVES?) will get even more miles out of a single charge. At the moment we would definitely recommend the Nissan LEAF as a great second car, but we’re not quite sure we’d be comfortable if it was our only means of transport. We’ll be due to replace the geekdaddy’s car in a couple of years time, and I am confident the Nissan LEAF will be on the shortlist.
This video gives you a quick tour of the Nissan LEAF:
About the #GoUltraLow campaign
I am one of five bloggers participating in the #GoUltraLow campaign. Each of us has been given a different vehicle to test, and we’ve all been sharing our experiences on our blogs. If you want to find out more about the other cars, here’s where you can find them:
- Juggle Mum tested the Vauxhall Ampera
- Mari’s World tested the BMW i3
- Actually Mummy tested the Renault Zoe and
- Mummy Barrow tested the Toyota Prius Plugin.
‘Go Ultra Low’ is a consumer campaign to help motorists understand the benefits, cost savings and performance features of the wide range of ultra low emission vehicles (ULEV) available today, including electric, plug-in hybrid and extended range vehicles. The campaign was launched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and is backed by the government and leading car manufacturers BMW, Nissan, Renault, Toyota and Vauxhall. More information is available on the Go Ultra Low website, where you can also book a test drive of an ultra low emission vehicle.
Disclosure: We have been lent a Nissan LEAF for 6 weeks as part of the #GoUltraLow campaign. All opinions are my own.