Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Other electric vehicles are available, but none makes quite as much sense as the battery-powered Nissan Leaf. Very few cars can offer such low running costs and all versions come well equipped, with sat-nav, a reversing camera, Bluetooth and keyless-go fitted as standard. The big talking point, though, is its range of 100 miles between charges, which when viewed purely as a commuting tool or a town car, should be plenty for most people’s needs. With an entry-level price of £23,490 after the Government's £5,000 grant, the Leaf is expensive compared to rivals like the Ford Focus and Honda Civic (and due to its relative exclusivity you won't find many for sale on the used market, either). But while it doesn't offer the flexibility of range-extenders like the Vauxhall Ampera and Chevrolet Volt, it is more than £7,000 cheaper than both.
The Nissan Leaf’s shape has been dictated by its quest for maximum efficiency. The slippery front end and long tail improve aerodynamics, while its tall bodywork is designed to accommodate the large battery pack under the floor. The Nissan badge on the nose hides the plug-in point, and you’ll notice there are no tailpipes at the rear. Love it or hate it, the Leaf looks unlike anything else on the road. Inside, the array of digital dials, the central screen and sci-fi sound effects when you start the car make it feel like a futuristic vehicle from the outset.
What’s surprising about the Leaf is just how fun it is to drive. The electric car produces 108bhp, but it's the 280Nm of instantly-available torque that makes the difference, so the Leaf is quick off the line. Top speed is just 89mph, and 0-62mph takes 11.9 seconds, but in the real world it feels much faster. The emphasis is on comfort, and the soft suspension, light steering and single ratio gearbox mean it’s relaxing and easy to drive. The virtually silent motor and excellent insulation mean it’s eerily quiet on the move, too.
The Leaf scored a full five star rating in its Euro NCAP crash test, faring marginally better in adult occupancy protection than child. In terms of long-term reliability the Leaf (and electric cars as a whole) are a bit of an unknown quantity. Fewer moving parts suggest that there’s less to go wrong, and Nissan has a good track record for dependable cars, but questions about battery degradation over time and resale values remain unanswered. Because of this, Nissan's warranty is three years (or 60,000 miles) for standard parts, but five years for major components like the lithium-ion battery and electric motor. Nissan itself finished an impressive fourth overall in the 2012 Driver Power reliablity survey, with a strong score in all categories.
Considering the battery pack is stuffed under the floor, the Leaf’s interior is brilliantly packaged. The high roofline and generous glass area gives it an airy feel, while there’s plenty of space for three adults in the back and a useful 330-litre boot. Lots of adjustment means it’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, and the soft seats are a relaxing place to spend time. The most impractical thing about the Leaf is having to charge it for eight hours every 100 miles. However, high-voltage points do exist that are capable of topping-up the batteries by 80 per cent in just half an hour. In the real world you’ll only achieve the full 100-mile range with a very light right foot – and an eco mode, that reduces the motor’s output and increases brake energy regeneration, helps with that.
With zero direct tailpipe emissions, the Leaf is pollution-free. As a result there’s no road tax to pay, mpg isn't a concern and charging it fully from a standard socket will cost only a couple of pounds. Nissan estimates that over the course of a year the Leaf would set you back just £257 in electricity bills - with a single charge time of roughly eight hours. There are a growing number of public charging points you can use to top up the batteries, too, although many of these now require a subscription fee. Standard kit is generous and includes automatic headlights, rain sensing windscreen wipers, keyless entry, satellite navigation and you can use a mobile phone to monitor the level of charge remotely.