Nissan Leaf: No need for pruning this EV (review)

2 Mar 2015

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Nissan and its Leaf have become synonymous with electric cars in Ireland, but does it have what it takes for drivers to hang up the petrol pump and switch to electric?

You’d have little argument in saying that the Nissan Leaf in its various iterations has been Ireland’s top-selling EV (electric vehicle), with 184 sold for the entirety of last year, which proved to be a massive improvement on the previous year, when only 42 were sold in the entire country.

So having driven the, shall we say, more luxury EVs available on the Irish market, I wanted to see whether the most popular EV in Ireland is indeed the best suited for the job.

I will say, the model I drove was the Nissan Leaf 2014 SVE model with full mod-cons, so bear in mind that not all the features I experienced will be available on the basic model but a full chart of what comes with what model is available here.

Driving: Smooth operator

I think it goes without saying at this point that EVs as a mode of transport are rather quiet, but you can argue it only homes your senses to listen to the rest of the car.

In terms of the power that lies beneath the hood, pound for pound it’s on an almost equal footing with many of the EVs on the Irish market, and in the case of some of the smaller ones, a lot more.

It has a top speed of 144km/h, which frankly you’ll never want to reach given the finite amount of juice you might have in the battery, but you can cruise along at 90-100km/h just as well as petrol cars over long distances.

The standard EV fast acceleration is certainly there but not on a level you would describe as like something a test pilot would experience getting from 0-100km/h in 11.5 seconds.

In comparison, the rather more expensive BMW i3 clocks 7 seconds at the same speeds.

Again, as is the norm on EVs, the Nissan Leaf has an automatic gearbox with an added brake mode to pump energy back into the car’s batteries when braking or going down hills which I found myself constantly using because, for me at least, I develop an obsession with seeing how much energy I can generate myself.

The car’s steering was responsive and never felt a struggle when trying to do the three-point turn which I’ve found quite laborious at times with other EVs.

Nissan-gearbox

Battery: Much bang for your buck?

When EVs are mentioned, ‘range’ is usually the word that gets hushed in car manufacturers’ board meetings as the one aspect of the car not to focus on, unless it’s good.

In most cases, based off current technology, the range is just not in a place where it can be compared with, say, a diesel engine which is the epitome of efficiency .

Obviously this will improve over time but for the moment, the range at which a car can go has so many variables that it’s impossible to pin down an exact figure.

Fancy blasting out some tunes? That’s gonna cost ya. Getting a bit chilly and want to stick on the air conditioning? Well, be prepared to stop sooner rather than later to charge.

Even driving at night is going to be less efficient because it eats away at the car’s battery.

The car’s official range is 200km based off the European Driving Cycle (EDC) but this would require you to make driving it the least pleasurable pursuit since the dawn of motoring.

In all likelihood, you’re looking at between 120-130km as your average range. To put this into perspective, during my long-range test from Dublin to Fermoy in Cork, a distance of 218km, I had to stop twice to charge which, with planning ahead, was a perfectly smooth process once you know where you’re going to stop for fast-charge points, five of which exist on the route down.

Charge time at these points gets to about an 80pc charge after 20-25 minutes which is essential given the only other options take hours at a time.

Nissan-cockpit

Interior: Strap yourself in pilot, you’re in a cockpit now

The Nissan Leaf’s interior, at least in the SVE, is rather reminiscent of a cockpit which starts when you press the power button and a welcome tone tells you that you’re ready to go, despite the eerie silence.

In the centre of the dashboard is the car’s digital hub with GPS guidance, Bluetooth audio, music system as well as its internet of things (IoT) system, CarWings.

Aside from being able to control the car’s climate control and charging through the owner’s phone, the system connects to Nissan’s servers in Japan through the car’s own SIM card giving it live information on the nearby charging stations and energy consumption while sending back information on the car’s status for those in love with raw data.

From what I could see though, its impressive knowledge of Dublin wasn’t replicated when on the M8 down to Fermoy where, if I didn’t have access to the ESB’s app showing the locations of charge points, I would have been left stranded on the side of the road with no battery.

However, it does remember the stations where you’ve stopped which is a rather logical way of looking at it.

A very nice feature is the arrow button on the steering wheel which shows up a map of the estimated range which is a good bearing on distance.

That’s not including heated the heated steering wheel and the optional €300 solar panel on the rear spoiler to power the car’s electrics.

Design: Brains over brawn

The EV cars available in Ireland at the moment can hardly be called conventional-looking, except for the VW e-Golf, and the Nissan Leaf is no exception.

It stands out as an EV with its relatively futuristic look, but it certainly doesn’t get the eye-popping looks of a car like the BMW i3.

It is however roomier than its counterparts with its major draw being its spacious boot, something severely lacking in many other EVs whose space is limited with the addition of charging cables stored in there.

However, I do have to criticise the rate at which the windows were fogging up, probably not helped by a certain driver not wanting to run climate control for fear of draining the battery, it has to be said.

Nissan-Carwings

Verdict: Best in show

Any criticisms I may have however are generally paled in comparison by one simple fact: it all works.

Compared with some of the other cars I’ve tested, there never appeared to be any limitations to what I could do with the Nissan Leaf in terms of charging, carrying passengers, boot space etc.

There’s a reason why the Nissan Leaf is the best-selling EV in Ireland and, indeed, Europe; it’s the best suited to the current EV charging infrastructure.

It also feels to me like it is one of the few cars on the market designed to be a workhorse EV, compared with BMW’s luxury model and VW’s half-hearted attempt to enter the market.

It’s certainly cheaper with the basic XE model starting out at €21,490 followed by the SV at €23,990 and lastly the SVE at €26,390 with the latter being nearly €10,000 less than the other cars we have tested at Siliconrepublic.com.

Also, all of these prices include the €5,000 grant given by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) to EV owners.

It is also the only one that is guaranteed to not have issues with charge points as the network is effectively set up to power Nissan’s cars, something of a coup there for Nissan.

Frankly, if you’ve caught the green bug, the Nissan Leaf is by-far the best suited to your needs.

Nissan-boxout

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Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com