Road Test: Volkswagen e-Golf – Clever Tech

Road Test Part 2. Part 1 here.

The Volkswagen e-Golf is not a cheap car – the one I’m driving has a retail price of £27, 395, which includes the £5000 plug-in grant from the government. However, it does pack in quite a lot of tech, and has some features not found on other EVs. That said, it also lacks kit in some ways, as we’ll find out on my Downsides report.

Let’s stay positive for now though, with the two headline features for me. These are not exclusive to the e-Golf and can be specified on any Mk7 Golf. They are Parking Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). The former is a nice show-off gimmick. The car will literally steer itself into a roadside parking space, while you operate the pedals. Quite snazzy, but it does have its limitations – ie space size. It won’t shuffle back and forth into a tiny space. [EDIT – I’ve since discovered that it will do this if you switch between D and R]

e-Golf headlamps

LED headlamps certainly help you keep an eye on the world.

The ACC is far more impressive in reality, and a lot more useful. You set your cruise control speed as normal, but a front-mounted radar will slow the car if you encounter slower traffic. Here in rural Wales, I found this system very useful on busy trunk routes. You find that all you have to do is steer. For miles and miles! Follow another car and the e-Golf will even slow down for bends (assuming the car in front does!). It’s hugely relaxing – once you’ve got used to trusting the car. It even spotted a motorcyclist turning left, and slowed the car right down behind them as they turned. Most impressive was how it brought the car to a halt at a set of temporary traffic lights as the car in front did likewise.

Oddly, I found this reduced control quite comforting. It was far more relaxing (and better for battery life) to sit back with the slower traffic rather than attempting lunatic overtaking manoeuvres. A petrolhead should not like this hint of automated driving to come. Thing is, on a really busy road, it’s hard for a petrolhead to have much fun anyway. The result is, I really like this feature. Trusting it is tricky at first, as you’re convinced that parked cars and oncoming traffic will confuse it. It didn’t get confused once during over 100 miles of driving with it turned on so far though.

Other smart tech unique to the e-Golf includes LED lighting front and rear. The headlights are formidable, yet consume much less power than Xenons or Halogens. There is also a multifunction display, which can tell you a lot about your driving – average economy, speed and so on. I didn’t find it as good as Nissan’s system, on which you can monitor power usage as you drive. Then you can see what difference climate control and headlamps make to power consumption. There are at least eleventy twelve ways of playing music on this car, with USB ports, SD card ports and even an Aux input. The radio is DAB and allowed me to listen to the cricket on Five Live pretty well, even in remote Wales.

There is an auto-hold function, should you be performing a lot of hill starts. This means that if you bring the car to a halt, you can remove your foot from the brake pedal and the car will remain where it is until you accelerate. Saves blinding people with the brake lights, and means you don’t have to use the stupid electronic handbrake. (not a specific e-Golf problem, I absolutely detest electronic handbrakes). You can turn auto-hold off, which means the car will creep as you release the brake, much like a conventional automatic.

Unnecessary badge picture.

Unnecessary badge picture.

I didn’t explore the Car Net, but this apparently allows you to access some functions from your smart phone. That’ll be things like climate control, lighting and charging status – useful because there’s no way of telling at a glance how charged the vehicle is. Nissan’s EV range has three lamps that indicate rough charge level.

Other scary tech includes Automatic Post Collision Braking System. If you smack something, the car will slam the anchors on to try and stop you smacking something else. I opted not to test this functionality, at the time of writing. Nor did I test the Driver Alert System, which tries to guess if you’re falling asleep. It monitors your driving to spot anything out of the ordinary – presumably like swerving unnecessarily or departing from lane.

Optional but fitted to this vehicle are the horrible, bland white paint (£260), the winter pack (£380) which consists of heated seats and washers, a wireless heated windscreen (£295 – a wired screen is standard) and the £315 fancy pants conductive mobile phone connection to use the car aerial. This apparently includes a phone holder built into the centre armrest, but I could find no such thing on this car. I even read the manual.

Next time, some of the less good points of this very impressive car.


Road Test: Volkswagen e-Golf first impressions

Volkswagen is pretty unique in offering conventional, hybrid or electric versions of its family-favourite Golf hatchback. Given my increasing love of electric vehicles, it was naturally the fully blown e-Golf I opted to test. In short, this is a Golf, but with a transversely-mounted 85kW/115PS electric motor driving the front wheels via a single-speed transmission and with a 24.2kWh, 318kg battery back mounted at the rear. It has a claimed range of 118 miles per charge. The weight of the e-Golf is 1585kg, which is 200kg more than an equivalent diesel.


A very clever, thoroughly conventional car.

In reality, it’s just like a Golf. You get in, twist the key in the ignition, select Drive on the automatic gear lever, press the handbrake release button (electronic – annoying) and off you go. It feels very conventional, if eerily silent as you come to a halt.

Once you’re on the move, it’s like the smoothest automatic you’ve ever driven. There’s grunt instantly if you require it, but the key to getting the best out of an electric vehicle (EV) is to drive as smoothly as possible. The seamless power supply certainly aids here, as does nicely weighted (if slightly lifeless) steering. A power counter replaces the rev counter, and the key is to keep it in the blue range. The gauge goes from zero to 10 but you really want to try and keep the needle below three. The needle also swings the other way, into a green zone, which is when regeneration occurs. This is where the motor turns into a generator, which gives an engine braking effect, slowing you down without having to brake.

You can accentuate this feature through no less than four modes. In D, you can knock the gearlever left to access D1, D2, and D3, which gradually increase the regen effect. Or, knock the lever down to put it in B mode (like on a Nissan Leaf) which gives a really strong regen effect. I see no reason not to use this really.


Gear selector is just like an automatic, but with a B mode for more regen.

In reality, you find yourself controlling your speed almost exclusively with the throttle pedal. Lift off completely and the car slows quite dramatically (it does illiuminate the brake lights). Lift a bit less and you can manage that regen effect to slow as much or as little as you like. It isn’t very often that you have to actually use the brake pedal. Even then, the first bit of travel merely increases regen further before the actual brakes come into use.

The ride is mainly composed, but a bit jiggly over some surfaces. 55-profile tyres probably don’t help here. Otherwise though, it’s all reassuringly conventional. Road noise is quite pronounced, probably because there’s a complete lack of any other noise. It’s very easy to drive smoothly, but if you do decide to burn up the amps, it can be very entertaining too. It has superb weight distribution, so it’s really well poised if you decide to really push on. The vast wave of torque means you can dart very swiftly from corner to corner.

LED car lights

LED lights front and rear reduce power consumption.

There’s plenty of room in the back, though tall adults may find a lack of under-thigh support. There’s loads of knee room though. The boot is a decent size, but not overly generous. The charge cables live in a bag beneath the boot floor. On a regular Golf, this is a much larger storage area.

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the clever features of the e-Golf, some of the downsides and later on, some of the major problems with electric vehicles in general. If you have any queries about the e-Golf, ask away!

EV Road Test: Volkswagen e-Golf intro

Ok, a break from the shambolic cavalcade of shabby old cars, as I conduct one of my Electric Vehicle Road Tests. The Volkswagen e-Golf has arrived. It has 104-miles of range showing and we’re about to head out to start the tests proper. Naturally, I haven’t read the manual, understand that the range is going to drop quite rapidly as soon as I encounter a hill (about quarter of a mile to the first one) and only have a vague idea of where suitable chargers are.

The e-Golf has landed. Let the test commence!

The e-Golf has landed. Let the test commence!

Let’s be honest. The terrain here in beautiful mid Wales is not ideal for electric cars. That said, the number of long descents allows for a good amount of regeneration – putting charge back into the batteries rather than using the brakes to slow the vehicle. So, it’ll lose a fair bit going up, but will get some back coming down.

Over the next week, I aim to get a realistic feel for the range of this vehicle well away from city limits. Stay tuned for more as it happens. I’ll be live-tweeting my experiences.

Brakes: How wasteful!

One of the biggest problems with electric vehicles is that they really highlight how wasteful ICE (internal combustion engine) cars are. When it comes to generating pointless heat, road vehicles are wonderful!

If you're going to have the future, have it fully electric

ICE versus Electric. Which one generates most waste when it comes to heat?

Take braking for instance. We just take it for granted that we press a pedal and the world gets less blurry. What we’re actually doing is taking the momentum we’ve built up with an inefficient petrol/diesel engine and converting it into heat. If you don’t believe me, drive down a long, steep hill with your foot constantly on the brake. Then have a good feel of your wheels. Careful – they may be VERY hot.

Then there’s the engine itself, which mostly turns fuel into heat. Great in the winter, because it keeps us cosy, but also great at warming the air around the vehicle. It’s what radiators are for.

Electric vehicles on the other hand tend to have regenerative brakes. The electric motor becomes a generator, recharging the batteries and providing a strong engine-braking feel. In a car such as the Nissan LEAF, pressing the brake pedal gently strengthens this effect, causing the vehicle to slow. Only if you really stamp on the pedal do the actual brakes kick in – which some folk reckon can cause the brakes to simply seize up through lack of use!

Sure, you don’t get something for nothing, and you’ll not put back into the battery what you took out accelerating, but it really does help extend range – as I recall all too well from our Nissan e-NV200 Roadtrip. To be honest, that regen was the difference between us making it home, and running out of juice in the middle of nowhere.

Eeek! It stopped predicting mileage at this point

Very low on juice in the Nissan e-NV200 Combi. Regenerative braking enabled us to get home.

But this still leaves me driving in ICE vehicles, realising how wasteful it is to brake. I haven’t driven an EV since November, but this feeling is very hard to shake!

It’s exactly the same feeling I get driving in traffic. Now this really is where the EV shines. Come to a stop, and all is silent and serene. While you’re not moving, or even when pottering along gently, you’re using barely any energy at all, while an ICE vehicle would still be turning its engine over at around 1000 times a minute.

As you may have noticed then, I’m still rather fired up about EVs. They’re still tantalisingly out of reach, though there are some great deals out there. I’ve seen brand new LEAFs offered on contract hire for as little as £150 a month for two years including battery hire. £3600 to hire a quite revolutionary vehicle for 24 months. That still doesn’t fit my meagre budget, but it must surely be tempting for a lot of people, especially if the household has a second car that can be used for mega-mile trips.

Anyway, here’s another chance to see my review of the Nissan e-NV200.

The Sublime and the Ridiculous – 2014 EV experiences

It’s been an interesting year on the Electric Car front. I’m very pleased to have been able to put some very different vehicles through their paces. You’re probably sick of me going on about the Nissan e-NV200 Combi, so instead, I shall hark back to stark contrasts.

You see, I’m one of very few people who has been lucky enough to drive both a Peel P50 Electric, and a Tesla Model S. In terms of comparisons, well, perhaps chalk isn’t so dissimilar to cheese after all compared to this eccentric pairing.

I shall start with the silly one. Peel Engineering was a company based on the Isle of Man. The P50 was about as small a car as you can imagine. Jeremy Clarkson had great fun driving one around the old BBC TV Centre in an episode of Top Gear. The company has made something of a revival, following an appearance on Dragons’ Den. Now, new cars are put together in Nottingham and Peel Engineering has risen from the dead. Classic Car Buyer kindly invited me along to play with a pair of prototypes

Peel P50 electric

XM lends a sense of scale to tiny Peel P50 Electric

As you can see, it really is very small indeed. Suddenly, the 10″ wheels on an original Mini seem utterly huge! In a way, it could be the ideal commuter vehicle. So many cars rush into our city centres with only one person aboard. It could be a commuter revolution! With electric power, there are no emissions to worry about, and the dinky dimensions mean you can cram two Peels in a standard car parking space.

Two Peel parking

Even two Peel P50s are considerably shorter than just one Citroen XM

In fact look! Even two Peels take up far less space than just one XM. The turning circle is superb as well, so they’re great for nipping in and out of tight spaces.

A shame then that they’re a bit of a joke really. You can, scarily, get them road-ready. I’d think long and hard about that though. The top speed is allegedly 30mph, but that’s a serious struggle. The slightest incline results in a great loss of speed, and the ride on those tiny wheels is absolutely horrendous! Potholes become something you could fall into. In terms of range, 15-20 miles is about all you can expect. Great for nipping to the shops though? Well, no, as there’s nowhere you put your shopping. You might just fit a newspaper behind your seat.

Then there’s the price. Around £15,000! A Renault Twizy starts looking almost sensible by comparison – less than £7000 and it can seat two! Sort of. It was an amusing experience, but I can’t say it’s a car I’d ever want to own.

The Tesla Model S on the other hand, well that’s quite different. I know in my review I complained a lot about poor comfort levels and the scarily high price, but the fact remains that it’s the most serious electric car yet produced. To be honest, had the price been lower, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so critical. I’m still utterly fascinated at how well the Model S works though. It’s stupendously fast, but has a realistic range of over 200 miles.

Electric Tesla Model S

My £375 XM goes up against a £99,000 Tesla Model S

I must concede, it was disappointing that my bargain basement XM felt considerably more comfortable, but I still love the engineering that has gone into making the Tesla Model S a reality. It’s a very well thought out machine that is jolly good fun to drive. Certainly, I think it’s one of the most attractive seven-seaters ever produced, regardless of power source.

As years go though, I’m very glad I was invited to try both the Peel and the Tesla in 2014. Within just a few weeks, I experienced the extremes of what is currently available on the market. How exciting it is to have an actual range of electric cars on sale. I hope that 2015 will bring the opportunity to put several more through their paces. In my next post, I shall recall the dino-juice highlights of the year. Some amazing memories there too!

Final thoughts – Nissan e-NV200 Combi

If you’ve read the Roadtrip tale, you could be forgiven for thinking that EVs still have no place on our roads. Surely the pitiful range makes them truly hopeless? No. It really doesn’t.

This post is going to (mostly) focus on the positives, of which there are many. I had the e-NV200 for a week, and it was used every day. It did shopping runs. It hauled several hundred kilograms of wood for our stove. It transported friends to events in town. In short, I used it for all the stuff I’d use a normal car for.

Huge boot takes a builder's sack without needing to fold seats

Huge boot takes a builder’s sack without needing to fold seats

And for that, it’s absolutely sublime. Creeping around towns, the only issue is that pedestrians don’t hear you coming – even though electric Nissans have a gentle warning beep when speed is below 16mph. The manual gearbox is not a great thing to have in a town, but the smooth power of an electric motor is absolutely perfect. Power usage is low, due to the speeds involved, and you can easily control your speed by using the regenerative braking. It feels much better than an automatic, as some can leave you feeling like you’re fighting the power of the car with the brakes. It all feels far more controlled.

The sheer silence means you are suddenly even more aware of the traffic around you. You can hear cars coming before you see them! Though this may not be the case if everyone was driving EVs.

One thing both myself and Rachel disliked was the level of tint on the rear windows. That made rear passengers feel like they were sitting in a cave. It was very gloomy back there! It also compromised your visibility. I see no need for such a heavy tint other than vanity. The ride must come in for some criticism too. It’s difficult to make a vehicle ride well empty that can then take 700kg of payload, but the result here is certainly a ride that can be quite choppy at times. All the more disappointing because the LEAF is one of the best-riding modern cars I’ve ever driven. It’s some way ahead of a Tesla Model S to be honest.

A refreshing lack of plastic in the e-NV200's engine bay

A refreshing lack of plastic in the e-NV200’s engine bay

Overall though, the e-NV200 Combi is a very easy vehicle to drive – if one crying out for a slightly more interesting name. You really can just jump in and drive. While the silence is eery, it behaves just like any other automatic but with the smoothest kickdown you’ll ever encounter. I did find that I drove it more gently than the LEAF – I was hooning around in Nissan’s electric hatchback just like I would a normal car – but I think that’s because the e-NV200 is a van, and I often drive van-based minibuses. I can’t drive those like I drive a car! The passengers would complain.

Sure, it isn’t the vehicle for long trips – but I have at least tested that aspect so I can make an educated report on it. For the majority of my driving, even in rural mid-Wales, being able to cover 60 miles a charge is more than enough. You can get chargers installed at home that improve charging time too – taking it down to around four hours.


This quickly becomes second-nature. Easier than petrol!

I have to hand it to Nissan though. They really are very good at making electric vehicles that work very well indeed. There are compromises for sure, but they have far less impact than you might think, and it’s not like petrol and diesel are without fault! If you want a hugely practical electric vehicle, there is currently no real alternative – which is fine, as the e-NV200 is more than up to the job.

Model Tested – e-NV200 Combi Tekna Rapid Plus

The Electric Roadtrip – Nissan e-NV200 Pt 2

Part Two – in which getting home seems impossible

In the previous post, we had rather nervously made it to Devon – 205 miles from home – in an electric van. It was our first experience of driving an electric vehicle long distance and while it hadn’t been without plus points, chilly toes and range anxiety were very real downsides.

After managing to find an angle that allowed me to thread a cable in through a window, I was able to charge the e-NV200 at my parents’ house. As the cable went in via a window, we obviously had to do this in daylight hours. We went for a delightful walk to Bideford, watched crap telly and chatted about the sort of things families chat about. My mother wasn’t overly interested in our electric experiences, but then she’s never quite shared my enthusiasm for motor vehicles and doesn’t drive.

The time came to head back. I knew there was a steep downhill section towards Tiverton, so range anxiety wasn’t a huge factor this time. We even stopped for photos.

Devon electric van

Proof. We were in Devon. Not the prettiest bit, I’ll admit.

Actually, I’m going to divert from the narrative slightly here. Look at the picture above, and note how the rear wiper does a really good job of cleaning the wrong side of the rear window for right-hand drive. There’s a huge unswept area, right where you’d like to look. The van, with its split doors, is even worse – there’s only a rear wiper on the left-hand door! Sorry, but it bugged me.

Returning to our road trip, we took on more electricity at Sampford Peverell. The 43 miles we’d travelled left us with 14 miles remaining, though I must concede that I had taken the Combi up to 70mph on the dual carriageway to see what sort of a difference it made. The phrase OM NOM sums it up pretty well. We pushed on, charging again at Sedgemoor Services near Bristol. It was starting to get a bit boring to be honest.

Another half-hour wait for charge. Boring!

Another half-hour wait for charge. Boring!

After nervously approaching the M4 bridge toll – the e-NV200 is counted as a car luckily – we turned into the rather pleasant Cardiff Gate Services for the second time on our trip. Yet again, we bumped into another LEAF owner! Again, we got there first so were able to plug straight in. It seems this charger gets a lot of use! Our fellow EV-pal this time was freelance journalist Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, who runs Transport Evolved. She is quite the EV enthusiast and back in 2006, converted her Morris Minor to electric power. Shame I didn’t know that when we met as I could have picked up some tips for the electric 2CV I want to build one day…

A LEAF awaits its charge as the e-NV200 fills up

A LEAF awaits its charge as the e-NV200 fills up

Our 37-minute charge took the battery up from 13% to 87%. Frustratingly, the 77-mile range dropped almost immediately as we hit the motorway, to 68 miles. With 54 miles between charging stations, we were back to having chilly toes and playing with the trucks again as I aimed to keep our speed around 50mph. The weather got increasingly unpleasant, so wipers and lights had to be used, as well as bursts of air conditioning. This was not fun.

At Llanelli, we had only 10% battery remaining. We knew the next 61 miles would be tough, so we’d let it charge for as long as possible. To save herself from utter madness, Rachel began noticing how long it was taking. It’s easier to charge an empty battery, and much harder to charge one that’s almost full. You have to remember this, because the regenerative brakes are much less effective if the battery is over 90%. Getting from 10% to 62% took just 17 minutes, with 85% status arrived at after 28 minutes. But, after another six minutes, the charge had only gone up to 91% at which point the charger turned off. The Combi ambitiously predicted a range of 87 miles (or 78 with the heater on). Surely that’d be enough?

No, it wouldn’t. There are no more photos now, because our only aim was to get home. With us the wrong side of Lampeter, the Combi reckoned it had 22 miles of charge left. Home was still 24 miles away, with two VERY steep hills to climb. I was becoming so tense that I didn’t really need the backrest of the seat. I hate driving slowly, but began to treat 50mph as undesirably fast. The slightest downhill section left me battling whether to use momentum to gain speed, or to gently regenerate a little power. I mainly opted for the latter – just lifting the throttle to the point that one bar of regen was showing.

The fabulously-named Pontrhydfendigaid saw our first steep climb. I made sure there was no traffic behind us, then nervously kept the speed to just 20mph. This was apparently using four bars of power – far less than if I’d tried to tackle the hill at normal speed. We were now less than nine miles from home. Surely we were going to make it?

A downhill section allowed us some valuable regeneration, but battery life was now less than 10% with another climb to go. We ambled up it, with me nervously watching my mirror for approaching headlamps. We were travelling slowly enough to constitute a hazard, though it should be pointed out that heavily-laden lorries travel up this hill at about the same speed. Even my 2CV could go faster than this though, and our toes would be warmer!

After another couple of miles, the displays stopped predicting mileage or showing battery life. That means less than 6 miles remaining, and less than 7% battery life. And we still weren’t home. I became ever more grateful that nothing was coming up behind us, nor coming the other way and forcing us to give up our desperately required momentum.

But, we did make it. Just! If things had got really low, the van would have gone into ‘Turtle’ mode. This is your last chance – your must-take opportunity to find somewhere safe to park up. We can’t have avoided that by much but with serious hyper-miling, we had managed to drive 61 miles in the dark, in the depths of winter, in very hilly terrain. The relief was enormous!

So, conclusions. I didn’t set out to see if electric power can be compared with petrol power for a journey like this. Only a quick glance at the facts proves that it isn’t. I knew the range would be around 60 miles. I knew ‘filling up’ would take half an hour. What I hadn’t really accounted for was the range anxiety. It was seriously stressful! Not did I fully appreciate the impact charging and slow driving would have on time. A three-hour journey took six hours.

By deliberately choosing to stage this test in winter, I’d demonstrated another expected hurdle – heating. The e-NV200 lacks the clever heat pump technology of the LEAF, so keeping warm is very bad for range. I was disappointed that the windows misted up so readily though, so you have no alternative but to keep putting the heating on. Heated seats and steering wheels also do not keep your toes warm! I’d even worn thick socks.

So, there’s absolutely no surprise that electric vehicles are still not ideal if you’ve got serious mileage to cover. However, it is possible! That wasn’t true not so very long ago. It means that if you’re struggling to decide on an EV because you’re worried about that occasional long trip, you don’t need to. Just allow plenty of time!

I did find the impact on my usual driving style hugely upsetting. The thing is though, I now find I’m driving my own cars more gently. That desire to improve efficiency is addictive stuff actually. Sure, I still drive pretty quickly, but with a degree of smoothness I don’t think I possessed before this test commenced. It seems a little part of me is tuned into EV.

The Electric Roadtrip – Nissan e-NV200 Combi Pt1

Part One – Aberystwyth to Bideford, via Llanelli

I’ve driven quite a few electric cars, but I’ve never used one for a long journey before. With Nissan’s e-NV200 Combi on my driveway and an impending trip to Devon to see my parents, it seemed only right to ask the question – can you do a long journey in an electric car?

First step was to charge the e-NV200 overnight at home. This ensured I had 100% battery charge – important as from my home in rural mid-Wales, the nearest charger was 61 miles away in Llanelli. As my baseline testing had revealed a likely range of 50-60 miles, this was going to be interesting!

Second step was to plan the journey, while electricity gently tickled into the e-NV200 at the rate of 3kwh – about the same as an immersion heater. I decided we could make it to Llanelli, but noted contact details for Dinefwr Park near Llandeilo. They have a charger, just in case we were running short. From there, the M4 and M5 have no shortage of chargers, but I listed all the services and postcodes ready to enter into the sat nav. It would be important to know how far away each charger was on the way.

Charging took place overnight. I don’t know how long it took, as I was asleep. Ten hours is probably likely if the battery is in a low state of charge. We reckoned that the most a charge would cost us is £4.50. I made the most of being hooked up to the grid by telling the van to run the heater before we set off. You can do this by pressing a button on the fob, or programming it via the screen inside the e-NV200. With the Combi packed and warm, we unplugged, stashed the cable in the back and set off.

We live at quite an elevation, which was an advantage. Most of our route to Llanelli was downhill. There was a climb from Lampeter. This began to seriously eat into our range. With the heater off, the e-NV200 had been confidently predicting that we had 77 miles of range. That was dropping rapidly. Range anxiety began to kick in and I began to ‘hypermile’ – driving as gently and smoothly as possible, and trying not to use too much power going uphill. Our travelling speed dropped and tension levels rose. There’s a setting to restrict your speed, so I started to use this – setting it to prevent me exceeding 50mph. That’s handy and allows you to focus on the road, knowing you won’t accidentally go too fast, and inadvertently use too much power. Once the road opened up a bit, I switched to cruise control – still at 50mph, even on unrestricted dual carriageway.

We reached Llanelli with the battery at 20% and a range of 12-20 miles (former with the heater on, latter without). Not too bad. We fathomed out how the rapid charger worked and connected up. Within a minute of our arrival, a Nissan LEAF turned up and was frustrated to find that despite two parking places, the rapid charger could only charge one car at a time. They were forced to leave. Fighting over power already! In half an hour, the battery charge rose to 86%. We decided this was enough and pushed on.

Rapid charger

Our first ever rapid-charge. Very easy and no smell!

Choosing what speed to do was the next challenge. I decided 70mph was too much. Easily possible, but the blunt aerodynamics of the boxy e-NV200 were going to make that very unecomonical. I opted for 60mph and set the cruise. That was fast enough to keep us out of the way of the 56mph-limited trucks. Even so, some steep hills caused the range to drop rapidly. We thought the range of 80 miles would be sufficient to get the 54 miles to the next charger, but it was looking increasingly iffy. I reduced our road speed and began to get in the way of the trucks. I hoped that giving them a flash to pull back in as they overtook made up for us obstructing their progress.

There are services either side of Cardiff. We decided to stop at the first one, which is when I remembered that the charger was showing up as out of service on the Ecotricity charger map. We had a look anyway, and at no point did the charger tell us it wasn’t working. It just didn’t work! We nervously headed back out onto the motorway and were somewhat relieved to make it to the next services. By now, the gauge was refusing to tell us what mileage was left – meaning less than seven – and the battery charge was showing as just 8%. We’d taken to leaving the heating off to stretch the range. By now, it had already taken three hours to get this far – as long as it usually takes to get to my sister’s house near Tiverton. We plugged in and headed off in search of tea. EV fans often flag this up as a huge advantage. ‘Just plug in and go and grab a drink,’ they say. If we did that at every recharge, we’d be spending as much on tea as we normally would on petrol!

While we sipped our brew, another Nissan LEAF arrived! It seems these electric cars really are becoming more popular. This chap was happy to wait for us to charge, and told us that he has covered over 30,000 miles in his LEAF in a year. For some people, EVs really do make a lot of sense. He loved the EV life.

Eeek! It stopped predicting mileage at this point

Eeek! It stopped predicting mileage at this point

We charged to 87% and drove on. It had been a quirky adventure at first, but the gloss was rapidly falling off this trip. Nice as it was to have heated seats and a heated steering wheel, we were still cold! We’d put the heater on for a bit – essential to stop it misting up – but would then start worrying about the effect on range, so we’d turn it off and start feeling cold again. Then the Combi would mist up again, so we’d put the heater on for a bit. Then turn it off again. Not fun.

However, this trip wasn’t about discovering if electric was better than more traditional fuel. It didn’t take much planning to realise it really wasn’t. Instead, my aim was to see if such a journey was even possible. We arrived in Bideford a lot later that night (after a stop for a meal with family in Tiverton) in an electric car. We had driven over 200 miles in an electric car. Sure, petrol or diesel would have been much swifter, but we’d proved the point that you needn’t leave your EV at home if there’s distance to cover. There wasn’t much of a glow of satisfaction, but it was a start!

In part two, we head back to Wales, find ourselves 24 miles from home, with 22 miles of range and increasingly cold toes. Will we make it?!

First thoughts – Nissan e-NV200 Combi electric

I’ve spent the past week test driving a Nissan e-NV200 Combi Tekna Rapid Plus – and what a thorough test it has proved to be! A 400+ mile road trip, hauling timber, band members and instruments around and shuttling friends to and fro – it was a week of 600 miles of very varied driving, and an awful lot of fact-finding.

Nissan electric van

Sadly, I couldn’t find anywhere to plug it in at this wind farm

In fact, there was so much fact-finding that I have decided that one blog post simply isn’t enough to cover all bases. So, I’ll begin with first impressions and you’ll have to wait for things like The EV Roadtrip and more detailed impressions. Having conducted one of the most thorough tests of the e-NV200 Combi so far, it only seems right to go to a lot of effort in presenting my findings.

In short, the e-NV200 is Nissan’s first converted electric vehicle. It takes the impressively practical NV200 Combi – a van with seats and windows – and adds the running gear and battery pack of the Nissan LEAF – one of the first mass-market electric cars, and one of the most successful thus far too. A winning combination? Let’s see.

“it’s all strangely quiet at first, but wind and road noise soon build up”

In terms of sheer space, the e-NV200 scores well. The boot is enormous, with a handy load cover that is easy to fold back or remove entirely. The rear bench has a 60/40 split and you only need to tug on a few handy tags to fold the bench away. The sliding side doors are a huge boon, especially in a tight car park.

The driving position is high and mighty, but I must concede that I found it difficult to get comfortable. The steering wheel – lifted from the LEAF – sits at a rather jaunty angle. You can adjust that angle, but I found it was always too far away. Telescopic adjustment would have been nice. Similarly, height adjustment of the seat would be handy as I found under-thigh support a bit lacking. Mind you, after a lengthy trip to Devon, I wasn’t aching when I got out, so it clearly wasn’t too bad.

Nissan e-NV200 dashboard

Scattered switches, typical auto gearshift

To set off, you put your foot on the brake pedal and press the ‘on’ button to wake it up. The transmission selector is very similar to an automatic, and the car behaves like one too. Select D, release the brakes and the e-NV200 will creep forward like an auto. Disconcerting for those used to manual gearboxes, but something you learn to live with. I can’t really imagine it behaving any other way. Moving the gear selector sideways activates B mode, which gives a stronger engine brake feel and boosts regenerative braking. This is where the electric motor becomes a generator as you slow down, which helps preserve battery life and extend range. I live in rural mid-Wales, so there are lots of hills. That extra engine braking is much appreciated, and in one day, I could regenerate as much as 9kwh of power – enough for 21 miles of driving.

The brake pedal has two functions. Press lightly and it boosts regeneration further. A little harder and the actual brakes kick in. I found it hard to notice a difference, but stopping power is certainly impressive. You need a light foot.

That is somewhat at odds with the throttle pedal. Really, you should always be in Eco mode, to maximise range. However, that dulls throttle response, and the pedal needs a good shove. The point is to make it harder for you to accidentally use too much throttle, and harm range. I found I only turned Eco mode off to gain a power boost. Actually, pressing the throttle fully to the floor does the same thing. There’s a detent to try and stop you doing that. It’s very effective, as is the display below the speedometer which shows how many ‘bars’ of power you are using. Naturally, fewer bars is good news. The blue bars indicate when regeneration is taking place, and are also nice to see.


It’s all pretty intuitive, even if the controls feel a bit synthetic. The electric power assistance gives a particularly numb feel. That was the biggest complaint from my wife, for whom this was her first drive of an electric vehicle. She didn’t like the creep function either, due to her lack of experience with automatics. Yet, she adjusted readily. EVs are not difficult to drive.

Ergonomics leave a bit to be desired though. Buttons are scattered all over the place, and are not always visible or easily reached. Just like a 1980s Japanese car in fact! The big touch screen gives ready access to sat nav and further information about what the car is doing.

On the move, it’s all strangely quiet at first, but wind and road noise soon build up – far more so than the LEAF. That’s not surprising. Vans have a big, boomy noise chamber in the back. Even though the Combi is a bit smarter inside than a van, there is still a lot of bare metal, and the simple trim boards can rattle at times. The ride is also rather bouncy, as the e-NV200 is designed to have a payload of over 700kg.

e-NV200 rear

Plenty of room, but simple trim may be off-putting for some. I like simple myself!

Soon though, you almost forget that it is powered by electricity. Right up until the moment you stop! It’s eerily quiet and quite a novelty. Traffic jams are almost fun! Speed is controlled very much by the throttle. There’s very little need to touch the brake pedal most of the time. The general quietness and need to maximise range mean you drive more smoothly too. It’s all rather relaxing.

There’s plenty of power if you need it though. Overtaking urge is strong, and it’ll fly up hills with no bother at all. You do notice the dramatic effect such driving has on range though. Such hooliganism is definitely not encouraged.

In general driving terms, we found the claimed 106-mile range absolutely impossible to attain. 50-60 was far more realistic allowing for the hilly terrain and the fact that the test was conducted in late November. The heater saw a lot of use! That was entirely deliberate – winter conditions need to be checked.

Still to come – our experiences on a 400-mile roadtrip, load lugging, people moving and practicality and a discussion about the future of EVs (electric vehicles). Then I’ll start talking classics again. Promise! Feel free to ask questions and leave comments – I may even be able to address them in later posts.

The electric roadtrip – Nissan e-NV200

The major barrier to new electric car sales still remains range. Unless you can afford a Tesla, you’re stuck with a range of 124 miles at most (Kia Soul EV and Nissan Leaf). In reality, certainly from my own experience, 80 miles is the most you can expect in a hilly, rural area in the depths of winter.

I'll be undertaking a 410-mile roadtrip in one of these

I’ll be undertaking a 410-mile roadtrip in one of these

Despite this, I have decided to attempt a 410-mile roadtrip to Devon in an electric vehicle. This time, I’ll be using a Nissan e-NV200. Unlike the Leaf, which was electric from the very start, the e-NV200 is effectively a conversion. Nissan has placed Leaf running gear in its Spanish-built NV200 van. I’ll be testing the Combi version, which has rear seats and windows. It’ll be the most thorough road test of this vehicle conducted so far.

Nissan claims a range of 100 miles for the NV200. This is less than the Leaf for several reasons. First, it isn’t anywhere near as sleek, being a van. Secondly, it lacks the Leaf’s clever heatpump, so to keep warm, I’ll have to use more battery power. Or wear more jumpers. Thirdly, it weighs a good 100kg more than a Leaf, and that’s before you make use of the greater load space or 648-678kg payload (depending on model).

I’ll be conducting some tests on local roads for a day or two before we set off, to try and establish a likely benchmark mileage per charge. The charging infrastructure itself is already better than it was when I tested a Leaf last year, so I have high hopes that we’ll make it with no problems. It’s going to take a lot more planning, but I’m really looking forward to it. Stay tuned!