Living with the Leaf

Friday 31st July 2015

This is the third part of a series about electric cars. I started with the awesome but flashy Tesla Model S, then the lovely but ugly BMW i3, and now the Nissan Leaf. I'd love our next car to be electric, but I'm starting to wonder if they're good enough yet.

The Leaf is globally the most popular electric car on the market today, with roughly 7,000 of them in the UK. It's not as much fun to drive as the i3 or the Model S, but it's an awful lot cheaper, and it feels more like a car I might actually own. 


The good bits

The first good point has to be price - a brand new top-of-the range Leaf is £20,590.

Second, it looks pretty sensible, much more like a normal car than either the Tesla or the BMW. It's simple and effortless to drive, and doesn't feel like you're driving an electric car. You can definitely hear the electric motor at all times, which actually makes it feel more normal.

It comes with a nice range of options: leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, front, rear and 360º parking cameras, and a good infotainment system, although the sat nav made some strange decisions.

The best part is that they put the battery under the seats (take note, BMW) and so it's got a decent sized boot that would happily accommodate our dog.

And hooray, it's a got a sensible key!


The bad bits

The major issue here is range. We need a car that can get us to see our parents in the south east. We don't do the journey very often, maybe four times a year, but it's an important consideration.

Nissan say it will average about 90 miles on a full charge, and then at a fast charging station it'll take 30 minutes to charge 80% of the battery, getting you ~72 miles before you need to stop again. This means you can drive for about an hour and then stop for half an hour, if you plan your trip in advance and know where the fast charging stations are.

Here the wonderful Zap-Map is your friend. So I plotted the trip back to see the radio rentals, stopping at real life places that have fast charging stations, and it came out like this:

To me, that's a pretty depressing journey. At the moment we usually stop once around Bristol to swap drivers and have a wee, but the idea of having to stop three times, for half an hour each, fills me with horror.

However, the clever chaps at Nissan have come up with a solution to this. According to their website:

If you need an extra car for a special occasion, you can now borrow a petrol or diesel engined Nissan free of charge (vans not available). Your dealership can make one available to you for up to 14 days a year, for the first three years of your ownership. To take up this offer all you need to do is cover the fuel and insurance costs and give us seven days’ notice.

Apart from range, my other main complaint is that the gear selector is back to front - you have to pull it back to go into drive, and push it away from you to go into reverse.

Apparently this is common with automatics, but I had the car for three days (thanks Nissan!) and several times while I had the car I almost put it into the wrong direction.

There are other, smaller problems, which possibly apply to the other cars I tested too, but only became apparent in the Leaf because I got a chance to drive it in real life, as opposed to a couple of hours:

  • The boot lip is very high, the dog had problems jumping up into the back

  • The charging point on the car is at the front, and the cable is fairly short. This means we have to park with the bonnet towards the house and makes it hard to pull into our parking space

  • The dashboard display is a little fancy for my liking, it's very colourful and looks like a website designed in the late 1990s

  • Finally, it's a bit underpowered for me. It has a 110bhp motor, and although it's got reasonable acceleration, it doesn't make me grin when I put my foot down. Yes, I know it's eco and all that, but Tesla have proved that green can be fun.


My ideal electric car

Having driven three electric cars, I feel like I've got a good idea of what I want, but it doesn't seem to exist at the moment. Here's what I mean, the items in italics are where the cars fall short for me.

Item Model S 70D BMW i3 REx Nissan Leaf My ideal car
Range (miles) 275 150 90 150 or more
Power (bhp) 329 168 110 130 or more
0-60mph (secs) 5.2 6.5 10.2 9
Luggage space Loads Very little Okay Loads
Style Flashy Weird Normal Normal
Cost (my spec) £61,000 £36,000 £22,040 £35,000



I'm wondering whether a pure electric car is really the right thing for us at the moment.

It's a pretty nice car, it's not too expensive and it's good to drive but lacks sparkle. The loan car option makes up for the short range, and this is a serious contender for our next car.

Have you driven one? If not, give your local Nissan dealer a call and have a go!



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