Last week I had the chance to drive a mixed selection of cars at the Silverstone Fleet Show. To make sure I covered a good selection I made a beeline for the Nissan stand to try the latest version of their popular electric car.
The Nissan Leaf has been around for four years now and, after a shaky start, is now generating the sort of sales worldwide that must have Nissan executives sighing with relief. It’s been a hard road for this car because of the ever present range issue which shows no sign of going away. Never mind. The company persevered and have arrived at the most complete version yet.
There’s no point in writing all the things readers already know about this car; the range in the real world (Nissan say an average of 84 miles) and the like, so instead here’s some interesting stuff you might not be aware of.
The Leaf has never been a stunner in the looks department but it defined by what it is. The front-wheel drive hatchback uses a dedicated EV platform with the batteries now housed in the floor for optimum vehicle packaging and weight distribution. The body design includes a rigid-mounted battery frame, which helps provide greater body rigidity compared to a conventional compact car. It does make a difference.
Electric cars are quiet, we all know that, but Nissan have decided that if the car is hushed then the occupants don’t want to be bothered by supplementary noise from around the vehicle. Thus some clever windscreen wipers are deployed so that nobody has to suffer that irritating ‘whip-whap’ noise, that gets on your wick after a few miles.
To minimise wind noise the Leaf sports some clever aerodynamics which Nissan choose to call ‘smart fluidity’. This is apparently a fusion of sophisticated aerodynamic management and aerodynamic acoustics with the freedom provided by the EV layout. The bonnet is low, rising through the sculpted shoulder character line and on toward the large rear spoiler.
This distinctive Leaf look is characterized by long, up-slanting headlights. The headlights cleverly split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, reducing wind noise and drag. In the rear, the slim aerodynamic LED tail-light design and crisp corners combine with the aerodynamic rear bumper and a rear diffuser to manage the aerodynamics of the rear end without compromising rear interior roominess. The fact is, the Leaf might not be the sexiest car on the road but these design touches do actually work. This is one quiet car.
Moving the batteries to the floor means that the deep boot will now swallow an impressive 370 litres, although with a high lip. Certainly there is room for the family luggage and this roominess extends to the back seat as well. With the comfy driver’s seat set for me, I was able to sit very comfortably behind myself with legroom to spare. The Leaf is a genuine five-seater.
Although the charging issue hasn’t really changed – from completely depleted the Leaf takes a full eight hours to refill domestically – the UK is slowly, very slowly, moving towards a more efficient network of charging points, the latest generation of which can fast-charge to 80% capacity in just thirty minutes.
None of us really know how reliable electric cars will be longer term but as they have few moving parts it seems likely that it won‘t be an issue. Batteries remain the biggest concern, as they can become less efficient over time. If you lease the batteries, however, then if battery performance drops below 75 per cent, Nissan will replace them free of charge. It remains an important consideration however.
So no emissions and low running costs then. Nissan claims that only £257 on average will be added to your electricity bill at the end of the year from keeping it charged. The Leaf hasn’t yet caught up with other vehicles that have a more efficient air-source heater that doesn’t have so much drain on the batteries, a minor point, but otherwise in many ways it has developed into a very useful car.
It remains expensive however and no, it isn’t fast, although performance is instant. The handling is dull but this probably not why buyers would choose this car. For urban driving or short trips it’s entirely capable of getting where you want to go. This is the car for people who are not especially interested in cars but want to get where they want to go in roomy, comfortable transport without all that unnecessary changing of gears. Alternatively, the Nissan Leaf makes absolute sense for that second car choice. On a tour around the Silverstone track I genuinely grew to like it.