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A highly usable range and impressive cost savings are just two benefits of the Nissan Leaf 30kWh. What has it been like living with the world’s best-selling electric car over the course of three months, and what other enjoyable qualities does it have? Richard Gooding has the answers
Just as we were getting into the swing of electric car ‘ownership’, our time with Nissan’s all-conquering Leaf came to an all‑too abrupt end.
Of course, the duration of the OY65 HTN’s period with GreenFleet was always going to be three months, but it’s surprising how quickly and easily some things fit into your life, and by and large, the Leaf did. Very well.
The 30kWh car arrived in mid-September when the weather was beginning to summon up its winter wardrobe, but with an official NEDC cycle range of 155 miles (read 125‑130 miles in real‑world conditions), that wasn’t going to be too much of an issue. My daily commute is a minimum of 50 miles, so, in theory, in the ‘real‑world’, the Leaf would only need charging every other day. GreenFleet’s previous Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV long‑termer needed topping up with electricity every day to get the best use out of it, due to its smaller 32-mile electric‑only range. When it needed it, though, just as with the Mitsubishi, it quickly became second nature to plug the Leaf in as soon as I got home, just as instinctively as it is to refill a mobile phone the same way.
Towards the end of its time with us, the car was being charged most nights, if not daily. This was in part due to the increasingly colder temperatures and also because as the days became shorter and the car’s lights and other winter ancillaries needed to be used, an additional minimum of 10 miles had to be calculated into any distance sums.
If not, there may not have been enough charge to reach the destination.
Of course, with an electric car, the remaining range is ‘elastic’ in the fact that if the car is driven with an eye on economy, that range increases. This was particularly true of my final commute. Every route on the satellite navigation displayed an empty battery at the destination, so I took a chance on the shortest distance home. Luckily, through careful driving and enjoying the comforts of only the heated seat and steering wheel (I was already running the car with no air‑conditioning on most journeys) I arrived home with 10 miles of charge remaining. One of the things that proved was that the Leaf was very adaptable to driving styles and it was comforting to know that little range ‘overspend’ I had at the start of the journey easily turned into a range ‘credit’ at the end.
Overall, though, the Leaf 30kWh’s range was almost perfect for day-to-day use, both around town and out of it. Over the course of the three months, my driving ‘style’ changed to get the most out of the car, too. When it first arrived, I ran it in ‘Eco’ mode all the time, with the extra ‘B’ regenerative braking setting (standard on Acenta models and above) also employed to put as much energy as possible back in the battery. This, however, may have been a misconception.
A couple of GreenFleet industry contacts stated that in ‘Eco’ mode, the car is trying to feed most if not all of the energy back into the battery, too, at the possible expense of ‘economy’. Nissan’s handbook bears this out, with instructions to run the car in ‘Eco’ around urban areas, and to use the standard ‘D’ drive mode when on the open road, selecting ‘B’ when the car is needed to slow down and stop. This worked perfectly, and ‘economy’ did increase a little. I also switched to using the car’s battery percentage display as this was noted as being more accurate as the standard range ‘guessometer’, which, just like an internal combustion-engined car, could be known to be a little optimistic. One unexpected benefit of the switch to driving in ‘D’ and ‘B’ modes was that the car felt more ‘interactive’, as it seemed you were changing gear’, much like in a manual petrol or diesel vehicle.
Kevin Fitzsimmons is another Leaf Tekna 30kWh owner who was after an electric car which could deal with a similar 50-mile commute to my own. He weighed up the options: “I looked at a few cars. A Tesla was a little out of my league unfortunately, a BMW i3 was a bit pricey, and Renault only offered the Zoe with battery leasing then which was going to work out expensive as I only drive around 15,000 miles a year. So the Leaf it was, and it is built in the UK too, which is a nice bonus”.
Like us, Kevin finds that in real-world driving conditions, his car’s range is around 130 miles. “On my normal commute I’m seeing 100 per cent charge as an estimated range of 131 miles, but I have seen it go as high as 141 miles. I don’t drive particularly conservatively, either – I drive it more or less exactly as I drove my old internal combustion-engined car. I do have ‘B’ mode on most of the time but mainly because I just like that extra ‘engine brake’ feel as part of the driving experience.”
Aside from range, another question which gets frequently asked is that of charging cost. And with that one, it’s a little harder to give a definite answer. The Leaf uses the convenient NissanConnect smartphone app which informs the driver of a host of usage figures and statistics, as well as enabling the pre-heating and timed charging functions. It really is thorough, and I used its electricity cost statistics to work out approximate charging costs. OY65 HTN was rarely charged from flat, and it featured the on-board 6.6kW charger which took the charging time down from nine to between four and five hours when using a 32A home‑charging unit.
My 7kW POD Point unit refilled the car in around four hours, and the NissanConnect app calculated an approximate cost of £1.05 per charge. This seemed at odds with my energy bills, though, which have seen a sizeable rise since the wallbox was installed in January 2016. It’s not an exact science, then, with POD Point itself quoting a cost of around £3.00 per charge (at a 10p per kWh electricity rate, which mirrors my own supply) when the 30kWh car is plugged in overnight. That is from empty, though, and even going on POD Point’s most expensive rate, the theoretical £192.00 the car has cost to charge over three months is still around only one month’s fuel cost for my internal combustion-engined car.
Kevin Fitzsimmons has found he has saved money, too. “My internal combustion‑engined car’s monthly fuel bill of around £165 has been replaced with £18 worth of electricity.” However, he has found that the NissanConnect app and corresponding website can be slow to update with the car’s data. That’s not something I experienced, although on one morning, the system did time out, but Nissan sorted it quickly.
There are plenty of things about the Leaf to like. “It’s a nicely-built car, with an understated quality feel to it,” said Kevin. “I like the slightly elevated driving position. The Leaf drives well, too, and is surprisingly good in corners, as well as being quite nippy off the start line if you want it to be.” That pretty much sums up our experience, too. Comfortable with a good driving position and nicely-weighted steering and controls, the Leaf feels like a very ‘normal’ car to drive. Of course, it’s no sports car, even if its 187lb ft/254Nm and speedy take-offs feel like it has the pace of one. Just before it left us, the traction control light blinked on a trio of occasions as the front wheels scrabbled for grip, but the car never felt unstable.
Niggles? There were very few. Tekna versions of the Leaf feature a lovely-sounding seven‑speaker BOSE stereo system, and being a music lover, it was one thing about the car’s high specification which I really enjoyed. The only trouble is, the sub-woofer is mounted in the boot, across the back of the rear seat which impedes the luggage area, reducing it by 15 litres and eating into the practical square shape. Another minor issue I found towards the end of the three months was that the A-pillars are very thick and force to look around them when cornering, even though the small windows ahead of the doors are there to partly prevent just that. But, neither of those were major problems.
All in all then, as is stands, the Nissan Leaf 30kWh is an impressive, practically usable, technology-laden, well-equipped and hugely capable electric car. The fact that it feels little different to an internal combustion-engined vehicle is not to do it a disservice, and is actually a huge compliment. Because of that, it slots into your life very easily with little fuss. If the promise of increased range as the development of affordable electric vehicles continues, then there will soon be even fewer reasons not to choose a car purely ‘fuelled’ by electricity. More driver education is needed perhaps to encourage take-up, but once you’ve experienced an EV for a not insignificant amount of time, the benefits soon become apparent. Quiet, ‘clean’, and potentially cheap to run, GreenFleet now has a Nissan Leaf-shaped hole which will take something quite special to fill it.