Choosing to travel green is pretty straightforward when it comes to short distances or long commutes. When it’s the former, I will always choose to go on foot or, if I need to get there a little quicker, by bicycle. Longer commutes, especially when traveling alone, I choose public transport. The distance I have a problem keeping energy and cost efficient are those medium length commutes, regular journey’s under 30 miles usually when I’m in the process of transporting something or some others, for example supermarket shops, trips to the dentist, after school clubs – the kind of journeys which are otherwise known as ‘mum’s taxi’ trips.
That’s why I’ve been really keen to find out more about the Nissan LEAF, as not only is it energy efficient, it’s ideal for small hops and inner city driving.
This week I was invited to the O2 to test-drive the new Nissan LEAF around the streets of London. Timed to coincide with the changes to the London Congestion charge, (1st July), which now excludes more vehicles including hybrids, the British-built LEAF 2013 models, Visia, Acenta and top of the range, Tekna, each with ‘over 100 adjustments’, qualify for a new Ultra Low-Emission Discount and continued to be exempt from the £10 a day congestion charge.
So, after a 40-minute trip around our capital’s most famous streets what did I think?
Starting with the aesthetics, of course, the first thing to note is that the new LEAF has had some styling changes, albeit very subtle, including 16” alloy wheels, body coloured wing mirrors and black suede-effect trim, the latter, I’m sure is a result of listening to the woes of previous owners who found the original white trim impractical, particularly for those who have the pleasure of regularly transporting young children in their LEAF! Interestingly, more than 60% of the plastic used on the new interior is made from re-cycled materials – including used water bottles!
On the subject of transporting, there has also been an increase of 5cm legroom for rear passengers, great for younger children, though I’m not sure how a comfortable a couple of gangly teenagers would find traveling in the back. In addition, as the football-sized electric motor has been relocated from the boot to under the car, there is now an extra 40litre capacity, making the boot ample size for a ‘big shop’ or pushchair, though it may be a bit of a squeeze for both.
As my first ever experience of driving an electric car, I was very surprised at how nippy, yet smooth the drive was (0-60 time of 11.5 seconds). Pulling away from traffic lights and out of junctions, there is plenty of power and quick acceleration to give you enough confidence to maneouvre where you wanted to be, whilst being in complete and calm control. Talking of calm, the complete lack of noise in the cabin positively adds to the driving experience, with no revving engines or gear change noise, you get a sense of Zen-like calm as you meander your way through the busy streets and trust me, in the middle of London at the height of the tourist season, this is quite an achievement!
In fact as the car is so quiet, Nissan engineers have designed new windscreen-wiper motors as the noise created by an internal combustion engine usually disguises the sound of normal wiper motors.
That said, it’s important to keep an eye on your speed, with no audio clue to guide you, you can soon find yourself going a little faster than you intended.
Of course you can’t talk about EV without mentioning range or the dreaded ‘range anxiety’. The good news is this has been increased, from 109 miles to 124 miles in a single charge, however this will depend on how you drive and also the conditions you drive in. When using air conditioning or heating, the range will drop to approx 90 miles, not a problem if you plan to use your LEAF for small trips around town.
To help increase the range, the LEAF has a new regenerative braking system which returns up to 94% energy to battery, plus an eco mode which reduces acceleration and increases range too, so with a little effort on the drivers part, range can be managed and marginally extended during your drive.
Other energy saving features include the Eco routing feature which can be activated to plot energy-saving directions to further increase range as well as the new Bose Energy Efficient Series (EES) seven-speaker stereo system which has lighter woofer and digital amp and uses 50% less electrical energy than a normal car hi-fi.
Energy can also be saved using the Nissan’s LEAF’s unique CARWINGS smartphone app, amongst many features, owners can ‘call’ their car to check the charging status of the battery and find a local charging station, as well as being able to remotely turn on the heating and air conditioning from their device, so their car is at the optimum temperature before it is even unplugged.
When it comes to charging, there’s further improvements as the new LEAF can now be fully charged in as little as four hours when using a specialist 6.6Kw charging point. Using a domestic socket charging will take between 10-12 hours. Furthermore, Nissan assure us that there is an ever-growing network of charging points springing up all over the country, indeed there are 1,300 on-street charging points in London alone, however in more rural areas, for example where I live, this number is significantly reduced – my nearest public charging point is 20 miles away. That said it’s interesting to learn that British Gas are now offering all home owners the chance to have an electric vehicle hook up installed free of charge at your home – even if you not a British Gas customers, here’ a link to further info on this – British Gas electric charging
Here’s comes the crunch, the price. Ranging from £20,990 for the Visia, £23,490 for the Acenta and £25,490 for the Tekna – all with the Government’s Ultra Low Carbon Car Incentive of £5,000 already deducted, the LEAF is still a pretty hefty price to pay for what will most probably be a second family car.
However, there is good news, as well as buying the car outright, Nissan has introduced their new Flex scheme so you can either buy the car outright or buy the car and lease the battery or lease both. The second option, buying the car and leasing the battery, will cost from £189 per month – that’s less than the cost of a month’s London Congestion Charge payments.
This monthly payment is for customers who decide to buy an entry-level LEAF Visia at £15,990 (after receipt of the Government’s £5,000 plug-in grant) on the “Flex” battery lease scheme, and includes the cost of the monthly battery lease.
Under LEAF Flex, the battery leasing arrangement is built-in to the financing package, bringing prices down and making monthly payments more manageable.
After a £4,083 customer deposit and a Nissan contribution of £1600, a LEAF Visia Flex customer pays 36 monthly payments of £119, plus £70 per month for the monthly battery lease on a 7,500 miles-per-annum contract. At the end of the three-year term, they either make a one-off final payment of £7905 to complete the purchase of the car and continue to pay the monthly battery lease for as long as they retain ownership, or hand back the vehicle.
With the same deposit, the LEAF Flex battery lease scheme brings the monthly cost of the LEAF Acenta down to £239 and the highly equipped LEAF Tekna to £289.
A similar petrol vehicle, say a brand new Citroen C4 Picasso from £17,500, would be cheaper to buy at the outset, but when crunching your numbers, be sure to consider the added exemption from Vehicle Excise Duty that the LEAF enjoys, plus the freedom from the £10 a day congestion charge London dwellers endure and of course, the running costs of just 2p per mile.
Here I am driving the half-LEAF, displaying the inner workings of the all electric LEAF
In conclusion, if I lived or work in central London and was in the market for a new, second family car, I would be very tempted by the LEAF. It’s a great looking car, ideal for short trips around the city and with the exemption from the congestion charge, could very much make shorter trips into our capital less expensive than travelling on public transport. Plus, with zero emissions it’s great to know that your regular commutes would not be contributing to the pollution that our capital still suffers.
However, living in the country, with a limited network of charging points, I’m yet to be convinced that ‘range anxiety’ wouldn’t kick in whenever I needed to travel further a field. Sure I can hook my car into a charging point en route, but what if I’m pushed for time, or all of the charging points are engaged? Realistically the LEAF would only ever be used for short hops, meaning as a family we’d still need to rely on a second car to take us on long trips.
Perhaps the real test for me would be to live with and use the LEAF in my own environment, using it for regular trips as well as adhoc journeys, then, if it lived up to Nissan’s promises, maybe I’d seriously consider heading over to my local Nissan dealer to hook me up.
To find out more about the Nissan LEAF and to book a test-drive yourself visit www.experiencenissanleaf.co.uk