Now was the time to truly test the LEAF’s potential. We awoke in Liverpool, and now needed to get to Bradford in West Yorkshire for an appointment with what remains of my 2CV. The first plan was to escape Liverpool, which proved more difficult than expected as I was still having trouble trying to work out where the sat nav wanted us to go. We made it to Warrington and the M62 in the end though, and pulled up at Burtonwood Services for a charge.
There were two issues here. First, I was having to stop before I really wanted to. Having not found an overnight charge point, I was now stopping after less than an hour’s drive. Secondly, the charger wouldn’t work. It refused to initialise, so that was that. Fortunately, there was another charger, and that worked just fine. Twenty minutes took us back to 100 miles of range. We were only going 52 miles, but we had to climb Windy Hill on the M62. That was going to chomp through range.
I wasn’t wrong either. Over four miles of climbing, we lost 20 miles of range. Granted, I was keeping my foot in. If you want to save energy and boost economy, in any vehicle, then let it lose 10mph on hills. You’ll save a ton of energy.
The torque of the electric motor certainly has advantages once you’re out on the moors though. Hillclimbing is easy! No downshifting or kickdown, just power when you need it. Best of all, you get power back going down hills too! Rather than just creating lots of waste heat, like normal brakes, the LEAF turns the motor into a generator to give a strong engine braking effect. Actually, you only get that in B mode – using the gear controller, you can select D or B. D gives far less regen when you lift off the throttle, only giving it when you press gently on the brake pedal. Press hard and the service brakes actually kick in. I prefer B mode, as you can effectively one-pedal drive.
After vising the 2CV and having a bit of a mooch on the moors, we headed for the rapid charger at Bradford. One long descent here was enough to put 2% back into the battery. I was amazed. We arrived at Welcome Break services near Bradford with only 11% battery remaining. Knowing we’d easily get to the charger, I must concede that I’d been enjoying the acceleration potential a little more! We charged for a full half an hour, which took the range back up to 111 miles.
The break gave me chance to do two things. Firstly, I called up The Electric Highway on my phone. I was planning to stop at Knutsford for juice, but that was only about 40 miles away. Could we make it further? Keele Services was shortly before we came off the M6, in Staffordshire, so I decided to head there. It was an 81 mile jaunt. Should be easy.
The second thing I did was check social media. Now, here’s a really interesting thing about electric cars. If you post stuff about them on the internet, people will take great pleasure in pointing out how rubbish they are, and how an electric car would never work for them. Well, obviously! If you’re clocking up hundreds of miles a day, then an EV is not a particularly quick way to do it. Similarly, if you’re looking for an off-roader, I wouldn’t suggest you buy a Jaguar XJ6. People get very, very insistent though, and I wondered why that is.
I think it must just be because some people are very defensive of the internal combustion engine. I get that. A LEAF is fun, but it doesn’t thrill in the way something with a V8 can. There’s no soundtrack. However, I personally really like EVs and the way they drive. I love the feel of electric traction, whether that’s in a modern electric car or on a train or trolleybus. Electricity feels efficient, in a way combustion engines just don’t. Over half of the potential energy you hurl into a car is turned into heat, and nothing more. The vast majority of the energy you put into an EV propels you down the road. Sure, there are transmission losses in getting the power to the car, and questions about how environmentally friendly that electricity is in the first place, but I don’t care. I’m not here to present the LEAF as some miracle, environmental solution. I just enjoy driving them.
Anyway, after amusing myself with social media, we set off again. The weather and traffic both turned against us at this point, and having got my economy back up to 4.4 miles per kwh (it dropped to 4.3mpkwh in the hills), I soon saw it drop away again. The reason? Stop-start traffic. By switching to a live economy readout, I could see the horrible effect that repeated accelerations have on power use. Even just gently moving away up to 10 or 20mph uses a good chunk of fuel. You’re having to overcome inertia every time.
This all meant that the 111 miles of range had taken quite a battering by the time we arrived at Keele. The battery had dropped to 10% and we had 12 miles of range left – we should have had 30 left if the car’s initial prediction had come true. Some of that may have been because I used the cruise control. Turning it on immediately drops the range by a good few miles – presumably because the car will accelerate back up to speed with rather more aggression than I would myself – albeit ECO mode tones down that rate a bit. We had also run the whole way with the air con on, because the weather was appalling.
There was a slight issue though. The battery temperature was starting to rise, and another rapid charge didn’t seem very welcome. From what I’ve seen online, this seems a quirk of the 30kwh LEAF, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of it happening. Now, don’t get too alarmed, because the level on the gauge apparently meant a temperature of 52-59 degrees C. It’s hardly about to combust. I am awaiting feedback from Nissan on this issue though, and will report back once I have it.
The LEAF has no active battery cooling/heating, so it isn’t using any of the energy to regulate the temperature as some EVs do. My main concern was that it would either start reducing power output, or perhaps charge speed. It didn’t seem to do this.
Actually, there was another issue. There were two chargers, and one was in use by another LEAF. The owner was nowhere around, so I went to the other charger. Which was showing a fault. At this point, I did something desperate. I phoned up Ecotricity via the number displayed in large numerals on the charger. The chap calmly talked me through the reset procedure. It seemed someone had pressed the emergency stop button – I have no idea why. This needs resetting manually at the machine – they cannot do it over the internet. For future reference, this does not need any intervention by Ecotricity. If it can’t reset after an emergency button press, press the button again, then twist it to the right, at which point it should pop back out. Clear the error and the charger should reset. Phew.
22 minutes got us back up to 78% and we could head off to visit ECAS 2CV Parts for more 2CV goodies. It must be said, we were not running to a tight schedule. If we were, then I accept this charger nonsense would not be welcome. We’d already stopped three times on this day, and as we approached Shrewsbury, we needed to stop again – fortunately arriving at the charger just as a BMW i3 was leaving. This charger was right outside a Starbucks, which we obviously ignored. We found a brew elsewhere and with that consumed, had enough juice to continue home.
We arrived home having covered 414 miles, over 300 of them in this one day. It must be said, that this really felt like progress. It was no particular hardship and I very much enjoyed the driving experience – even if the automatic wipers seemed to become rather lazy. Sure, long journeys are still not as relaxing as in a normal car – the XM had a range of over 800 miles – but, such journeys are now possible in a way they just were not only a few years ago.
It is actually more relaxing than a normal car in some ways too. Sure, you have to stop a fair bit, but driving the LEAF is so peaceful and easy, that covering distance doesn’t feel a hardship. I got told off at one point, when I really started to enjoy myself. The LEAF is actually good fun to drive quickly, and is surprisingly grippy, even in the wet. Do warn your passenger before indulging in too much lairy behaviour though. Apparently it’s even better if you do it while they are not in the car…
The elephant-in-the-room is perhaps still price. This was not a top-spec LEAF and it still has a near-£30,000 on the road price (not including £4500 government grant). That said, there are some very tempting lease deals out there for the LEAF, and those deals also have the advantage of no battery worries. I know that battery life is an issue for some people, even though real-world circumstances seem to suggest that the LEAF battery is very hardy – 150,000 miles should be easy.
The range will still cause some people anxiety too. The thing is though, the 30kwh LEAF simply removes that awful ‘am I going to make it’ knot in the stomach that some EVs deliver all too easily – with a caveat that I’ll get to next time! Yes, you still need to plan long journeys with care, but the distances between chargers mean that actual range anxiety isn’t really an issue anymore.
And here’s the thing. A Volkswagen Golf 2.0TDI Match is apparently £25,000, so that’s really not an awful lot less than a LEAF. In quality terms, the LEAF is right up there, with the added advantages that there has been no dodging around emission tests. Personally, there’s no way at all that I’d consider buying a modern diesel engine – they’re too complicated, have too much that can go wrong, expensively, and create some truly grim particulates, despite manufacturers best efforts. No, if I were in the market for a brand new car, it’s electric that I’d be considering. Any disappointment with range is made up by the fact that the LEAF is actually a really good car, and an exciting one too. I can cope with the regular recharging, because my job doesn’t often come with tight time constraints. Besides, even if I did go electric, I’m not someone who tends to have just one car!