Electric cars continue to disappoint me, but not in the way you might think. Because, as a committed petrolhead, my experiences with their kind so far have been nothing but positive. It’s almost as if EVs aren’t soulless monstrosities with the sole purpose of putting an end to the fun in driving.
Our recent test drive of the Nissan Leaf was limited, yet we got a good grasp of why it’s one of the most popular EVs in Europe at the moment. Firstly, it looks much better in the flesh, even if the grill-less front end looks a little different, helped undoubtedly by our model’s two-tone alloys and striking deep red metallic paint. The interior was quite comfortable too (opt for the higher levels and the leather seats if you can), and spacious too – even lanky passengers will have plenty of space in the back.
The Leaf comes with a charger which can be used with regular and fast charge charging stations, however a charger which can be plugged into an ordinary three pin socket must be bought separately (useful when you want to charge at a friend’s house, for example). Compared to BMW’s i3, which we tested a few weeks ago, the materials aren’t of the same quality. Then again, the i3 fits into the luxury city car class, particularly when considering its price, while Nissan’s Leaf slots firmly into the family car segment. Driving it is probably simpler than operating an iPhone. Sit in, put your foot on the brake and press start. You’ll almost feel like it should be more difficult, or that you’re doing something wrong. A little gear lever rests in the central console between the front seats – push up and right to move forward, and down and right for reverse. Finally, the parking brake is located where you’d normally find the clutch pedal. And away you go. There are Playstation games with far greater complexity.
On the road it is – as with other EVs – incredibly quiet, although the Leaf emits a low fequency noise aimed especially towards children and those with hearing aids. Aided by the lithium ion batteries in the floor, it’s got quite the low centre of gravity, and handles better than expected. Several gauges measuring your efficient driving and will quickly shame you into watching your speed and acceleration. On the motorway, we were advised to find a lorry and get behind it. And it worked too – it’s a bit like trying to beat your high score on one of those pesky FIFA mini-games. Eco mode will assist here – limiting the power you have access to in a bid to conserve energy but in normal mood, that fantastic and immediate torque-fuelled acceleration is there to enjoy. (As an interesting aside, back in 2012, a Leaf set a record at the Goodwood Festival of Speed by driving up its hill course at 88.5km/h – in reverse). Overall, it’s nippy, agile and quite fun to drive. You’d almost forget you were in an electric family car.
There’s also a few technological gadgets at your fingertips, some depending on which version you purchase. The Leaf’s telematic SatNav system, known as CarWings (PC and app versions available) will let you know how many charging points are in your area, and the amount of energy you’ll use getting to them. Nissan Ireland have also said that in the future, Nissan owners will not only be able to find nearby charge stations, but also find out how busy they are, so they don’t waste any juice driving to a station which is already occupied. Our SVE test model also came with a custom Bose energy-efficient subwoofer, heated seats, steering wheel and wing mirrors, auto levelling headlights, a 360º monitor on top of a variety of options include in the two other trim levels – such as a reversing camera, LCD touch screen and automatic wipers.
But what we’re really interested in is how much one of these things will really cost. Firstly, 20,900 of your Euros will get you the basic XE model (€21,490 for an XE with the quick charge option). The midrange SV is €23,990 while at the top is the SVE at €26,390 – Nissan Ireland informed us that while the midrange version has previously been most popular, the SVE has been steadily gaining ground. The usual extras apply, including a solar panel spoiler, metallic paint and Nissan Connect. Annual road tax is €120. At the moment, using public chargers remains free, while at home you can take advantage of night saver electricity rates to charge your Leaf for 0.01c per minute. Some uncomplicated mathematical wrangling results in an annual mileage of 20,000km costing €200.
ICE cars are great. A petrol Alfa might do its best to break your heart, but it’ll set it beating incredibly fast too. Audi’s diesel A8 remains one of the best cars we’ve ever driven. But €200 per year in fuel costs? It’s quite hard to argue with that (we’ll still try).