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As the all-electric revolution gathers pace, June Neary wonders whether she could really live with a Nissan LEAF
I'd never considered myself as the sort of person who would buy an all-electric car. The whole idea of plugging in every night to power your car has to me always seemed about as natural as shovelling coal into it. And the prospect of starting out every lengthier journey wondering whether enough charge was available to complete it has never particularly appealed. With the launch of Nissan's second generation LEAF though, I thought I'd give EV motoring another chance.
Buyers moving into electric vehicle ownership for the first time will also find the transition easier once they get behind the wheel of this LEAF. There's a high-set SUV-like driving position, but otherwise the feel seems at first glance very much as you'd get in any ordinary family hatch. Closer inspection though, reveals some unique LEAF cabin features; a stubby little auto gear lever and an instrument binnacle display that curiously mixes an analogue speedo with an accompanying customisable colour TFT display. Pretty much everything else you'll need to know is delivered by the centre-dash 7-inch 'NissanConnect EV7' monitor that nearly all variants get. It's not as sophisticated as the screens you get in rival EV models, but with smartphone-mirroring and navigation including a map showing local charge stations, it delivered most of what I needed to know. I wanted to know about charging - and you will too. A 7kWh 32 amp wallbox for your garage comes at no extra cost - which is just as well because charging from a domestic plug would take a yawning 21 hours. Using the wallbox, that figure reduces to just 7.5 hours. If you find a rapid charging point - they're at Nissan dealers and in motorway service areas - you'll be able to replenish your battery to within 80% of its charge in around 40 minutes. Nissan reckons the daily charging process will add no more than about £25 to your monthly electricity bill. Which doesn't seem much when you take into account the huge savings you'll be making on fuel.
A light tap on the throttle delivers the kind of seamless pull-away demeanour you'd expect from this kind of car. But a sharp stab with the right foot fires the LEAF forward like a scalded cat. The 150PS power output you get from this MK2 model represents a 40% increase in motor power that comes with a 25% increase in torque. And an increase in battery capacity from 24 to 40kWh for standard models means that operating range is increased to an official (and actually reasonably realistic) ''Worldwide harmonised Light vehicle Testing Procedure' figure of 168 miles - considerably more than direct competitors can offer. Either way, to even get an early three figure driving range, you're going to need to make copious use of the various driving aids Nissan provides. An 'Eco' mode restricts throttle travel; and there are two ways of harvesting regenerative energy that will slow down the battery's rate of power drain. As with the previous LEAF, the most obvious way of doing this is by selecting the provided 'B' ratio on the gearbox, which gleans regeneration energy from the powertrain. With this MK2 model, there's the extra option of using the standard 'e-Pedal' system, which in addition also gains regenerative energy from the friction brakes. With 'e-Pedal' activated, you'll hardly ever need to press the brake pedal - the car slows itself - which sounds strange but is something you adjust to pretty quickly.
The LEAF purchasing process is a whole lot simpler than it used to be. The previous first generation model was sold either complete - or with a battery that you had to take out a separate rental agreement for. Prior to plumping for either one route or the other, all kinds of elaborate calculations were needed based on likely future use. There's none of that now: this second generation LEAF wants to be seen as an ordinary alternative to any normal Focus-class family hatch, so it's only sold complete, just as one of those would be. At prices that range in the £23,000 to £29,000 bracket. I should point out that these are the subsidised figures that buyers pay after subtraction of the generous £4,500 government grant that still applies to all-electric cars. For reference, these days you only get a £2,500 grant towards a Plug-in hybrid - and nothing towards a conventional hybrid. Which helps explain why a LEAF can offer you much more technology than you'd get in something like a Prius hybrid; yet undercut that Toyota by almost £1,500. As before, LEAF buyers are limited to a single five-door body style, plus of course front wheel drive, along with the auto gearbox that all EV models have to have. Trim levels range from base 'Visia', to 'Acenta' and 'N-Connecta' all the way up to the top 'Tekna' variant I tried.
The LEAF surprised me. Most likely buyers will probably be considering this as a second or maybe even a third vehicle for short-run use. I'll wager though, that once they get one in the driveway, they'll be using it for 80% of the time. I did.
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