From ICE to EV – Test driving Nissan Leaf

Just before Christmas my Subaru Impreza had a seemingly catastrophic coolant problem. I arrived at my school governor training (4 miles away) in a cloud of steam from my bonnet. The car needed a low loader to get it home, but all that took a while, so it was lucky I had the course to attend.
We had been considering a new car. We have a Honda FRV with has 6 seats and loads of room, is automatic etc. Then we have my scooby which doesn’t really get the chance to get used as much. as I work from home almost all the time most of my journeys are to take @elemming to the train station and pick her up. Driving to the supermarket or shops and most importantly heading off to Choi. All of which are about 6miles round trip.
I have an interest in tech of course, so electric vehicles (EV’s) always sounded interesting but there is a problem with causing the entire family to be early adopters if it is just for the sake of early adopting and spending significant money.
We had looked at normal Internal Combustion Engine cars (ICE). All very nice, but very few things were going to be as close to my driving experience with the Scooby. Hence all the new cars I figured would disappoint in some way. I have had the scooby since before predlet 1.0 was born so that’s 11 years. So it has seen some major changes in life, predlets born, leaving corporate life, moving house, taking up a martial art etc. It has also been very reliable. However things have to move on.
We took a punt and test drove a Nissan Leaf. This was particularly good test drive wise as they gave it to us for 7 days. Having an EV for a week gives you a chance to see if it really does fit the in with the family and out needs. It let me do some experiments too.

The first objection most people have to an EV is the range. Unless you buy a £100k Tesla you are going to be getting a car that has a 100 mile range, a 50 mile round trip. When you are used to 250-350 miles in an ICE that seems not great. However, remember I only needed this for the short 6 mile round trips. You can get a lot of those on 100 miles of battery, plus they return home, where a recharge can occur is need be. In addition we already still have a petrol Honda FRV for those long journeys. So really the range is only a problem if the other car is in use and one of us need to do a longer range journey. If this situation is going to occur is can be planned for as many EV suppliers offer petrol hire cars as part of the package. Of course this is assuming you couldn’t charge on a journey. Which you can.
So on these short hops locally an EV is ideal. It has plenty of charge and plenty of scope to just jump in and use it.
One of my concerns that any car would just not be as entertaining as my Scooby was kicked right into touch straight away. Even a relatively low end car like the Leaf has a fantastic feel to it. They feel very light, in a responsive lightness not a flimsy lightness. They also accelerate. The 0-60 on the Leaf is abut 7.5 seconds. My Scooby was about 5.9 when it was new. However… the profile of an EV means it has constant torque through the entire range. There is no specific gearing. Even a ICE automatic changes gear, or has kick down to accelerate. The Leaf just accelerates, whatever speed its goes. Without the engine noise it, and very little road or air noise the speedometer is really the only indication of speed. You hit 50, 60 and 70 very quickly on the motorway, but once at them the speed almost feel the same. This is a good thing, it means cruising at any speed is easy and acceptable. You are not between gears or struggling to justify the 5th gear change.
My drive to Hedge End I did firstly just normally in regular drive mode having not topped the car up after the station and school run. So I was on about 85/90% battery. So I very quickly experienced the anxiety that all EV driver get. In ICE you have a petrol needle, its not very accurate but you know you have a few miles left after any warning light or hitting the red. Up until that point you just drive. The you maybe have to eek it out a bit more to make it to home or a petrol station. In the EV you have a lot of information, accurate information, telling you battery levels, power usage and estimated range. If you hit the aircon/heating and floor the accelerator on the motorway you see you project range tumble. The climate control knocks 7 miles off the range. I realised I was burning too much as I reach what would have been a half way point and headed for home, this time with the eco button and full mode B energy recovery. I approached home and the warning lights started flashing. I only had 15 miles left of range. Panic!. The sat nav asked if I needed directions to a charger! PANIC!!!
Of course this is all slightly ridiculous as by now I am 3 miles from home. Even with climate control on full I would make it, but it does play on your brain.
The next day I thought I would try the same journey but top up to 100% at home before I went. Home charging is just plugging into a 13 amp plug (though you can install higher rate quicker chargers for a few hundred pounds). It means if you go to a friends house and need a top up you can (though thats a bit cheeky, I am not sure we have the social etiquette for that sorted out yet)
This time I drove on the motorway back down to the south coast on full Eco (where the max power is dropped and the effects of the throttle are lessened) and mode B where more engine braking is applied when you ease off and the battery is charged with that power.

So we have the simplicity of just putting in drive and pressing the accelerator, but we have the complexity and thought of energy management and recovery. Easing off before coming to halt to get your green lights lit on the left of what would be a rev counter.
I got to the same point with plenty of return charge but still drove back on Eco. Because of the perceived speed it didn’t seem to matter in a cruise on the motorway to have turned the wick down on the car. The energy management and recovery made for fun game. Something Nissan have spotted by rewarding you with a christmas tree/lives indicator that gradually fills up as you do good work. It sounds mad but it works.
I managed to max it out on one journey- Yay !

On the second Hedge End trip I was slightly less freaked out by the battery indicator but as I got to Winchester services, and as the car had an Ecotricity card in the sunglasses holder I thought I would try a rapid top up charge.
There were 2 bays both without cars in them, so it fitted to experiment. I held the RFID card up and chose my rapid charge mode. The nozzle comes with the plug, it was a massive device compared to the home charger as it had lots of sliders and locks. Once engaged charging started.


I was on about 33% and went for a coffee and a comfort break. It was about 15 minutes and I was not waiting around tutting.
I was impressed that Costa reminded me I was driving a leaf and had my little Eco xmas tree game to play in the car by drawing on the top of my coffee with a similar motif.

I returned to the car, went to cancel the charge and it asked me to swipe the card again. This of course makes sense to stop people unplugging you out of spite. I disconnected and saw I now had 66% charge (64% when I took the photo and faffed around before hand). Not bad!

So for the 10 miles home I dropped the eco and the full energy recovery. Pulling onto the motorway it was like having a brand new car as it woke up from its space cruising stasis and went full alien monster.
When I got home I had used 20% of the battery already. So it really hits home how to moderate driving when needed, not accelerate quick so hard. Much more so than a petrol car that you don’t really think about it much until the needle gets low.
One of the other gadgets on the Leaf is is great set of cameras surrounding the car. The dash display that doubles as the GPS, radio and everything else switches to cameras automatically for reversing, but also can be switched to camera when at low speed/ stationery heading forwards.
A reversing camera makes a lot of sense, but also the ability for it to generate an apparent birds eye view is fantastic for parking in bays.
Here I am safely parked and stationary with the forward camera working. It is in black and white as it is in night sight mode. You can see in the dark

The birdseye view can be replaced with a camera on the front left quarter, i.e. the turning blind spot, by pressing a button.
Reversing also provides the angle of trajectory super imposed Augmented Reality style on the reversing camera. Here I a parked but in reverse on out drive way showing the obstacles (in colour this time)

We had a top of the range Leaf so it had everything on it. A spoiler with a solar panel to charge the second battery (a regular car battery used for lights etc). Voice control, bluetooth hook up, it understood my iPhone playlists when plugged into the USB, heated seats etc etc. It had GPS builtin and knew where a particular network of chargers were to navigate too. Full ownership gets you hooked up (along with your charger) to CARWINGS, which is Nissan’s internet of things network for automotive. This lets you control the car setting via an app, asking it to warm up in the interior in the morning. Or you can, as I did, just use the timer. When on charge it will draw house electricity to power the AC and warm the car for a set time and temperature. There is of course no point going out and starting the engine as it doesn’t heat up like and ICE.
I enjoyed looking at the energy information screen quite a lot. It felt like playing Elite Dangerous or Eve Online balancing the power usage.

I also was entertained by the graphic for the “don’t put a baby seat in the front” which was the most extreme one I had seen. The middle picture almost looking like a theme park ride icon.

So it seems that I am quite taken with the Leaf, it has a very particular set of skills 😉
We are going to test drive the BMW I3, though that offers a range extender, a motorbike engine and 9l tank to give another 50 or so miles. However I am not sure if that is worth us getting as it would almost never be used except in extreme circumstances when it might better to hire a car or take the train. Also BMW only seem to offer a 30 min test drive, and after that if they think you are worthy a few hours test drive. Our nearest BMW dealer is in Eastleigh too which is a pain. However BMW, and all car people you need to ramp up the test-drive time!
Lets see what happens next 🙂

2 thoughts on “From ICE to EV – Test driving Nissan Leaf

  1. I have had a leaf for 2.5 years and love it — it’s interesting that you like it after the scooby. I certainly get a buzz from that instant torque everytime I drive it. It really makes for easy getaways at lights, junctions etc. I’d also agree about the impact speed has. Air resistance is a big factor at motorway speeds, and that includes wind direction/speed, though surface water is another factor. if running low dropping speed can give amazing savings.

    That being said I thought I’d add a few other points
    * Any form of regeneration is using energy already expended by your driving, or of course gravity ie downhill. It’s not 100% effective, perhaps 85%, so it’s better to not use the energy in the first place. The ECO settings arent really a magic way of saving energy, but rather make it easier for the average user to drive economically. As you drive an EV more you’ll likely use eco modes less as you learn how to drive the car most appropriately, and conveniently.
    * The charger data is lacking. It’s improving, but not always up to date. I’d always recommend checking with openchargemap, ecotricity or similar (preferably multiple) before depending on getting to a charger. I mostly stick to rapids at leas en-route, and always stop at final charger minus 1 to allow for some redundancy (unless twins at site)
    * I’ve ordered an i3, but it does cost a lot more, and is much smaller. The big draw for me was the rec as it will be an only car, and the reliability of the charging network just hasn’t been good – take the motorway network. 25-30% down is not untypical. If you have another car for long journeys it’s probably less of a concern, and the leaf is a nice car.
    * Albeit via a leasing company, but I was able to borrow an i3 from the BMW dealer in chandlers ford for 3 days. nice!
    * The knocking 7 miles off range figure will vary – it will jump to a certain figure to begin with and then readjust as you continue driving
    * Where did you get the 7.x 0-60 time from? I’d say it was closer to 9, though much less than the official figure, but it’s also easy and consistent to get that – no gears or revving needed just foot down.

    Have fun and enjoy the future EV driving!

  2. epredator

    I really should have timed the 0-60 🙂 I saw some charts that the newer ones were quicker but its seems 9 or 10 is reported. It was really related to the speed difference in feel between to scooby and the honda we have. Its probably the 0-30 being so much quicker that makes it feel faster 🙂
    We certainly need a more unified network of chargers and information. In general I suspect ours will only generally charge at home due to the reasons for getting it and the journey ranges.
    The BMW i3 certainly drove well, it felt more car like with the stronger region braking and rear wheel drive. I was not overly impressed with having to have sales person in the car for the test drive as it meant we could go out as all 4 of us. Also only a short test drive. As it was though it was for use the doors. Having usually 3 of us in the car having the predlets not able to get in and out independently didn’t fit our needs. My chair stuff didn’t fit nicely in the boot either and as thats 1/2 the usage of the car it was pretty essential 🙂 So the choice was not really one based on how good the car drives or range etc. I look forward to hearing how yours goes. as you are a long term EV driver yours will be the most accurate comparison.

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