Living with it: Nissan Leaf Tekna

The Nissan Leaf is the world’s best-selling electric car. We’re spending a year with one to see if it lives up to the hype.

With more than 400,000 sold across two generations, the Nissan Leaf is the affordable electric car. The genre-defining five-door hatchback packs loads of technology, offers a decent range and has plenty of interior space. But should you buy one?

Report 5: Plugged in

Friday 22 February 2019 was the day my electric motoring changed. Having taken over the running of our Nissan Leaf from Steve Fowler a week earlier, I found myself reliant on the public charging network. They’re not ten-a-penny in my part of the country, so Zap Map was the most frequently used app on my phone for several days.

That week was proof that while you can run an electric car without a charger at home or one at your nearby workplace, it just makes things a little more complicated.

As any electric-car driver will tell you, the promise of a full battery every morning is a comforting one. Once I got a wallbox, range anxiety evaporated in an instant.

The whole process was very straightforward. I called Pod Point, one of the myriad suppliers out there, but also one of the few I’d received personal recommendations about. The deal was done and a week later, on 22 February, Pod Point’s local installer had arrived on my doorstep.

Installer Ian was helpful, knowledgeable and very tidy. The whole process took a couple of hours, although mine was a straightforward installation – more complex ones take longer, and also cost more. His first job was to ensure suitability for installation. Although Pod Point had used Google Maps for this initially, he needed to check my home’s earthing point and main fuse were both up to the job. Fortunately they were, as the installation could’ve been delayed otherwise.

After Ian had drilled through masonry, done some complicated 'don’t try this yourself' electrical work and connected the wallbox to my broadband, I was up and running.

Not only am I able to charge my Leaf as and when I need to, but the broadband connection means I’m able to keep tabs on what it’s costing to charge.

Given the pain often associated with installing cable broadband, or calling out trades for general maintenance, the Pod Point installation was completely painless. And it has completely cured my range anxiety.

Report 4: Not ‘appy

One thing it’s difficult for petrol and diesel drivers to get their heads around is how temperature impacts electric-car range. Batteries aren’t as efficient in cold weather – the time of year when you’re more likely to use the car’s heater and seat warmers. It’s a double whammy.

It’s not that significant in the Leaf, though. As the air temperature dropped, so to did the range. The 150-160 miles achievable in warmer weather dropped to 130 miles on a cold morning.

The Leaf is pleasing the rest of the Fowler family. My wife likes the car’s swift and silent response and that a full charge delivers 150 miles of driving for less than a tenner – much less than her usual petrol SUV.

But we’re less impressed with a Nissan EV Connect app. In fact, it’s the worst app I’ve ever used: it takes an age to connect to the car and respond to requests. I’m frequently having the delete and reinstall the app – and I’m not alone, as the 1.7/5 rating it has in the Apple app store shows.

Report 3: Meeting a fellow Leaf driver

I’m finding that the Nissan Leaf is an outstanding car, and very easy to live with – but what do other owners think? I met up with Ian Bryant, who's also running a Leaf for a year and is at least as positive about Nissan’s electric car as I am.

 

Ian told me: “I’ve persuaded eight other people to buy a Leaf”. Testimonials don’t come more glowing than that.

“It doesn’t cost much to run, it’s comfy, it holds the road well and has good acceleration,” Ian said. “I love ProPilot, e-Pedal is very easy to get used to and that means I’m not getting loads of brake dust on the alloys. I enjoy not going to the filling station and I’m smug in the knowledge that I’m not doing the environment any harm.”

His experiences have been eerily similar to mine. His local dealer took three attempts to fix the heated seat and the car suffered a scuff on the bumper while it was in their care. He had to wait 15 minutes for someone to answer the phone on one occasion, too.

He also gets frustrated with the Leaf’s smartphone app – like me – because it’s slow to operate and often can’t find the car at all. That’s more of a problem than in a petrol or diesel car, because being able to monitor the charge and set the heater is really useful in an electric car.

Despite this, Ian is a huge fan of the Leaf, and electric motoring in general. He’s averaging four miles per kWh, and I’m achieving 3.6 miles per kWh – which is costing a fraction of what it would in a petrol or diesel car. The last 347 miles have cost me £9.06 in electricity – that’d cost more than £50 in a 40mpg petrol-fuelled car.

The pace of change is fierce in the electric car market: the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia e-Niro offer well over 250 miles from a single charge, thanks to their bigger 64kWh batteries. A new ‘big-battery’ Leaf is on the way, which could remove one of the biggest objections many would-be buyers have about going electric.

It’s not a problem for me, though. I charge at home and at the office, meaning I rarely use public chargers. And like many electric-car drivers, I’m not charging every day, either.

Report 2: dealer woes

The Leaf is proving to be an exceptional car, but it’s not without fault. The passenger window refused to roll down more than half way, so a trip to the dealer was in order.

 

Slough dealer Ancaster Nissan said it would charge a £140 investigation fee, which was refundable if the problem was fixable under warranty, but I’d have to wait for 10 days before they could look at the car. Nissan London West made no mention of the charge, and slotted me in a few days later.

The plan was simple. I’d drop the Leaf off in the morning, use public transport to get to and from the office and collect the car the following day. Or it would have been if the dealer kept in touch – which they didn’t. It was only after a moan on social media that I received a call to say that the car was ready. As I was unable to collect the car for a few days, it was delivered back to me with a fully functioning window.

Report 1: first impressions

When the second-generation Nissan Leaf went on sale, it certainly wasn’t a case of ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’. Here we have a car that's styled like a car from the 21st century – the original had a whiff of 1990s about it – offers a range that’s more than enough for most people and, on range-topping Tekna models, has self-driving technology.

 

It’s not cheap compared to petrol or diesel alternatives, but that’s par for the course with electric cars. After the government’s plug-in car grant has been subtracted, you’re looking at a near-£30,000 car, and that’s before the £575 metallic paint and the £1,090 ProPilot parking assistance are factored in. Still, with heated front and rear part-leather seats, ProPilot autonomous technology, LED lights and a punchy Bose audio system, it’s good value for money.

The second-generation Leaf has a 40kWh battery, 10kWh up on the largest battery fitted to the original, and is claimed to offer a range of 168 miles under the latest WLTP economy testing. These tests are designed to be more representative of the range you’ll see in the real world, and they’re not far off. In warmer weather, 160 miles is possible, although this falls to around 140 miles when the temperature drops – a little more when the heater is running.

One clever feature that helps to boost range is called ePedal, which is effectively a more aggressive regenerative braking system that harvests energy when braking to top up the battery. Unlike similar systems which merely slow the car, ePedal can actually function as a brake, so when you take your foot off the accelerator, the brake lights illuminate and the car can slow to a complete stop. It takes a little getting used to, but the ability to drive using one pedal is strangely relaxing.

It’s not perfect, though: if you need to use the mechanical brakes, the transition isn’t all that smooth, and it seems the car’s autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system is tuned to deliver warning alerts sooner than you might expect.

Another smart feature is the Leaf’s ProPilot self-driving technology. To use it, you simply press a blue button on the steering wheel and activate the cruise control. As long as the car is able to read lane markers, it takes control of the accelerator, brakes and steering to effectively drive itself. It doesn’t replace the need for a driver, though, as you’ll need to keep your hands on the wheel and be ready to jump on the brake should you need to. It’s not as good as Tesla’s Autopilot, but the Leaf costs considerably less.

It’s early days, but the Leaf is really impressing with its blend of comfort, space, quality and technology.

Nissan Leaf stats

Model: Nissan Leaf Tekna


Run by: Steve Fowler/Stuart Milne
On fleet since: May 2018
Price new: £29,890 (inc. Govt grant)
Engine: Electric motor with 40kWh battery, 148bhp
CO2/tax: 0g/km/£0
Official WLTP range: 168 miles
Cost of a full charge at home: £5.76
Average cost of a 100-mile public rapid-charger top-up: £12
Options: Metallic paint (£575), ProPilot Park (£1,090)
Annual company car BIK cost at 20/40%: £854 / £1,707  
Insurance*: Group: 21, Quote: £501
Any problems? Electric window would only go down half way

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points