Don't get too excited, the Leaf is not a car to quicken your pulse...
Electric cars are the future, or at least they will be when battery technology takes a giant leap forward. For now, though, cars like the Nissan Leaf are interesting oddities in the traffic, gradually appearing in increasing numbers but still relatively rare. Environmentalists may talk excitedly about the big percentage growth in numbers of electric vehicles, but they start from a very low level, and are not much more than a tiny blip in the overall car sales chart.
In 2013, across Europe, electric car sales soared by 60 per cent. That sounds very impressive until you realise that the total tally of both pure electric and plug-in hybrid cars for the year amounted to just 0.34 per cent of the entire European car market. Meaning that 99.66 per cent of the cars people buy are still powered by petrol or diesel engines.
The Leaf is reckoned to be Europe’s most popular electric car, the best-seller. It is widely viewed as the first practical family-size battery-powered model. Originally launched in 2010, it is produced in Japan, in the US and here in the UK at Nissan’s factory in Sunderland. For 2014 it was updated with a bit more interior space, faster recharging and extra range, increasing the maximum distance it can go between recharges from 109 to around 124 miles.
In ideal conditions, that is. You might manage to make it go that far in mild dry weather and without too many hills on its route, but on a cold winter day when you need a bit of heat and some demisting, the range can be halved. So range anxiety and also the rather high price are the twin handicaps that will limit the Leaf’s wider popularity. It is not the prettiest thing on the road either. But if you can live with all of that, it has quite a few plus points that make it an interesting prospect for EV (electric vehicle) aficionados.
The Leaf has a 80 Kw electric motor and single-gear automatic transmission. There are three trim levels: Visia, Acenta and Tekna. Prices start from £25,990 to buy the car outright, or from £20,990 if you opt for purchase combined with a battery lease scheme. This takes the sting out of worries about battery life and the high cost of replacing them.
Don’t get too excited, the Leaf is not a car to quicken your pulse. Sporty it isn’t, and the top speed is hardly boast-worthy, it will not even reach three figures. Quite a little way short actually, at 87 mph. More than fast enough for UK roads though. Acceleration is OK. Like most electric cars, the Leaf is quite sprightly off the mark. Its 0 to 62 mph acceleration time is a fairly reasonable 11.5 seconds. But just be careful if you sprint away from the lights, because that distracted pedestrian may not hear you coming and may step out into the road in front of you.
Of course, being an electric car, there is no talk of mpg, it’s miles-per-charge, or range. In ideal conditions, on a warm – but not hot – day in reasonably flat terrain, the Leaf is theoretically capable of covering over 120 miles on a single charge. That assumes minimal electrical use, so no full-on air conditioning or heater turned up high.
In practice, the range may well be somewhat lower. Driving our test car in cold winter conditions, with inevitable need for demisting and a bit of cabin warmth, meant that the range was halved. Arriving at your destination with less than ten miles of remaining range is a bit of an anxious experience.