As the resident office geek and a fan of electric cars, the opportunity for us to run a new Nissan Leaf wasn’t one that was going to get past my desk. I’ve been lucky enough to run a Tesla in the past and loved the car and EV ownership, so what will it be like to live with a more affordable electric car?
Our top-spec Tekna car costs £28,390 after the £4,500 Government plug-in grant, or £30,055 when the metallic paint and optional £1,090 ProPilot parking assistance are added. You can buy a Leaf from just £25,190, but Tekna adds so many luxury features (heated front and rear part-leather seats for example) and hi-tech kit (ProPilot level two autonomous driving, LED lights and a Bose audio system) it looks like good value to me.
With the new 40kWh battery on board and a claimed range of 168 miles according to the new, supposedly more realistic, WLTP economy tests, the new Leaf should be easier to live with than ever before. So what better way to put it to the test than to go and collect my car from the production line at Nissan’s factory in Sunderland where the Leaf is built, then drive it the 273 miles south to my home in Buckinghamshire.
Each Leaf takes around 12 hours to build and it was great to be able to watch as the red body shell was kitted out with its interior fittings and eventually the drivetrain and wheels. Watching the well-choreographed workings of the factory, combining automated robots with the skilled workforce, was fascinating and the quality of the finished product has been seriously impressive so far.
With my smartphone connected and the standard Apple CarPlay in full swing, Apple Maps guided us out of the factory gates, on to the A16 and on our long journey south. To get the most from
the full charge, I kept the car in its Eco setting and the speed down at around 65mph on the motorway. That was simple enough to do by engaging ProPilot at the earliest opportunity.
A blue button on the steering wheel activates the tech, followed by a prod of the cruise control button to set the speed I want to travel at. Then it’s just a case of keeping tabs on the car – it works the throttle and the brakes and keeps itself in lane, while I gently hold the steering wheel and remain ready to take over.
Although you have to stay alert – with visual and audible reminders if the system thinks you’re not paying enough attention – it’s a much calmer, more relaxing way to cover miles.
There’s also the matter of judging charging needs using the handy Zap Map app. I was confident I could make the journey with just one full charge en route, but erred on the side of caution by stopping earlier than I needed to, and add in a ‘splash and dash’ stop towards the end of my journey to get me home.
The first charge was just off the M1 near Sheffield, where the Instavolt fast charger was operating free for a limited period. It coincided with lunch, giving us plenty of charge to head south.
Our second pit stop was at the HQ of the UK’s largest charging network, Chargemaster. It’s just a short hop from the M1 in Luton and gave me more than enough charge to get home.
The more congested roads of the south let me make good use of the Leaf’s ePedal, which ups the regenerative braking that lets you drive using one pedal – with a bit of practice. Occasionally, you need to override it with a bit of extra braking, which isn’t always smooth.
The Leaf has impressed so far with its comfort, space, quality and tech – which is why it won the technology trophy at our recent New Car Awards. And so far, the claimed 168-mile range seems pretty accurate: I’m averaging 4.1 miles per kilowatt hour, which with a 40kWh battery equates to 164 miles of range. Of course, if I’m driving around town more that will go up and it might come down if I spend longer on the motorway.
*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.