I have just completed the first year of EV ownership. We bought our Nissan Leaf in April 2011 and we’ve been running it as our main car since then. I didn’t expect to put so many miles on it, but it has become our default car for all the short and medium trips we do as our other cars have high running costs (X5 and M3). It is a much more pleasant drive than other “economy” cars and the running costs are ultra low.
The first question people ask me: why did I buy an EV? I admit to having some history here – my brother and I built an electric bicycle with a 12V car battery and aircraft engine starter motor when we were teenagers. I’ve always wondered if EVs would become viable and with Nissan actually taking the time and $ to properly engineer an EV and make it generally available, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see for myself if they have succeeded.
Range is the next question everybody asks. While it is rated at 100+ miles, that’s on the Euro driving cycle which is known to be optimistic for ICE cars. Same for EVs, sadly. Realistic range is 70 miles in good conditions: above 5 degrees, moderate driving. Worst I have experienced is around 50 miles with the heater on in sub zero temperatures. Rapid motorway driving also eats the range. I actually find myself driving it fast as there is no material fuel cost to doing so – might as well get there quicker. Only in extreme conditions do I slow down a bit or turn the heater off to preserve range. It takes a few months of driving to adapt to the range, but it’s not a problem if you don’t try to push it too far.
The third question: have you ever run out of charge? We’ve only run out of charge once – for some reason a street charging point in Brighton did not charge when my wife was using it (something to do with the cable not being properly plugged in I think - best not to ask questions
). She then tried to drive home based on 23 miles remaining, but the gauge was hopelessly optimistic as getting to Brighton is a downhill journey from home – and getting back is uphill. She ran out after 20 miles – about 1 mile from home. Nissan offer free recovery in the first year, but it is not quite as simple as getting a can of petrol from the nearest garage. When fast charging facilities are more widespread, then it will be a simple matter of stopping for 10 minutes to get another 20 miles of range. Nissan and Renault are installing many more fast chargers across the UK – they are high voltage DC units that bypass the internal voltage converter in the car. The street chargers you see are actually not very useful: they only supply 220V 10A which means you get around 6 miles per hour of charging – so unless you are parked up for several hours, they don’t help much. The technology is available to provide 220V 32A charging and when that becomes standard, you will get more like 20 miles of driving per 1 hour charge – a good half way option between a regular 10A outlet and specialised DC fast charging). Companies like Rolec that build outdoor caravan park and marina power points are doing EV stuff too and prices are coming down.
- Ultra smooth, vibration free.
- Quiet, especially at low speeds.
- Excellent throttle response – absolutely no lag.
- No ICE foibles like cold starting and inconsistent diesel throttle response and torque curves.
- Car can be automatically pre-heated when being charged overnight.
- Good ride and reasonable handling.
- Space for 5 people.
- Nissan dealer service excellent (T. Wells).
- Great interior design and ambience.
- Very low running costs (none of the journey cost anxiety that I get in my V8 M3!). Servicing is annual and very cheap as there is no engine oil and filter to replace.
- Excellent build quality and reliability.
- Great built-in Sat Nav: touch screen, full postcode search.
- Bluetooth, reversing camera and iPod/USB standard.
- "Filling up" from home is much better than visiting petrol stations.
- Cold weather range (it drives well in minus temperatures, but range drops to around 50 miles).
- Misleading “miles left” gauge. Weirdly it is based on the last few miles of driving, so if you go down a hill it looks great – until you have to go back up the same hill! Thankfully there is a 12 bar battery level indicator on the dash which is reliable.
- The Leaf only supports 16A charging (it should be 32A). I can install a 32A outlet at home for less than £1,000, but the Leaf only gets half the benefit. I’m currently using a standard 10A outlet – fine for overnight, but not great for topping up during the day.
- Owning the battery. Probably not an issue as the average battery lifespan is likely to be much longer than the minimum quoted by Nissan and replacements will become much cheaper (less than half current cost), but leasing the battery would remove all doubt.
- Styling not exactly beautiful.
- UK EV charging network is not great where we live (East Sussex) – we charge at home more than 95% of the time.
- High initial cost and uncertainty about re-sale (I’m not that bothered as I plan to keep it long term or trade in on a newer EV – and the annual fuel savings on our mileage are significant which is a big off-set).
- Steering wheel has rake adjust only (a common Nissan failing).
- Plastic steering wheel - yuk!
- The 2 digital clocks on the dash are not synchronised and one runs fast.
- High driving position (the batteries are under-floor).
- Bulky charging cable with heavy brick-like box at one end.
If you want an EV, I’d consider the following:
- You need to be prepared to pay more for something that is better to drive (Vs a small diesel hatch).
- You need to have off street parking to charge at home.
- You need at least one other (ICE) car in the household.
- You need to do a lot of journeys of less than 50 miles: I’d say at least 10,000 miles per annum to make it worthwhile.
Warning, it will change your perceptions: an ICE car will never seem the same again.
Otherwise wait until the 2nd or 3rd generation of EVs with longer range, faster charging, lower prices and a better charging network across the UK.
In the near term the Renault Zoe looks very promising. It is better looking than the Leaf, has a more efficient heater, supports 32A charging and Renault have a rental battery scheme...which addresses most of my concerns. I’ll definitely be taking one for a test drive. Nissan will be upgrading the Leaf soon – I expect the heater and 220V charging amperage to be improved.
Nobody knows where the EV industry is heading, but I can say after a year of EV driving that this is close to being mainstream practical. The myths out there will only be discredited with wider adoption. Are pedestrians at risk? (No – I’ve never had a near miss and there is a subtle noise maker that operates at low speeds). Is charging up daily as hassle? (No, I got into the daily charging habit very quickly and it is less hassle and takes less time to plug in than a weekly trip to the petrol station). Are EVs gutless? (No, the Leaf is very snappy from the lights and has good passing acceleration). Are EVs unreliable? (Not in my experience and after 15,000 miles it is showing no signs of mechanical wear – I expect this car to last a long time, given the lack of under bonnet heat and internal friction)
With zero tailpipe emissions in cities becoming a hot topic there will be a lot more plug-in hybrids. With today’s technology, assuming you own 2 cars, I’d rather have a pure EV for local journeys (simpler and less compromised) and a pure ICE for longer trips.
Thanks for reading – hopefully this was something different from the usual reviews. Now, I must brace myself for the onslaught of PH Trolls