Turning over a new Leaf

Stephen Rodgers testing the Nissan LEAF. Picture: Dan Linehan

If your commutes rarely stretch beyond 60-70km this is worth considering, writes Stephen Rogers.

Every morning outside my daughter’s school I am ashamed to admit my scruffy car looks a little sad parked between high-powered and high-priced BMWs, Audis and Mercedes.

It is a perfectly adequate 1.6l — but deep down I am envious of the sleek German machines.

For a few days last week though, as I whooshed up to the school gates in the morning, and more particularly as I pulled away in near silence after loading up my small person a few hours later, I finally felt I was in a car that might attract a muted and breathy “cool” from the other kids despite being roughly the size of a Volkswagen Golf.

Electric cars remain very much a novelty in Ireland. Nonetheless, if the Nissan Leaf is anything to go by, manufacturers seem to be putting significant resources into turning them into a viable alternative.

Granted, the SVE I tested is top of the range and was packed to the gills with the latest communications technology and driver comforts (a heated steering wheel may sound gimmicky, but on a cold autumn morning it is wonderful). The satellite navigation was top-drawer, the Bose sound system was exceptional and the rear-camera an impressive touch. At €26,390 it is a bargain to get a 5-seater family hatchback with that much kit — the slightly less-equipped Leaf XE with Quick Charge pack is just €21,490.

The Leaf’s pace is surprising. It’s not just the 10.6 second 0-100kph time which is decent, it’s the way it gets to cruising speed. There is no judder of gear change, just the firm pushback in the leather seat as the speed increases. Furthermore, the cabin makes the most of every inch of space — my own, larger car is spacious but the Leaf felt cavernous.

All very good then — but not for me. You see, I am an imposter in Cork, a Northerner, and what’s more I am married to a woman from Galway. That is a problem for me when it comes to this car. AA Route Planner tells me the 420km journey from Cork to Belfast to visit family should take in the region of four and a half hours.

However, in the Leaf it would take me at least 90 minutes longer. I would have to stop three times to power up. Granted the Leaf does have an edge over many competitors because it is compatible for fast-charge — a charger system offered in many locations which can refill batteries in 25 minutes. But while it is free, it is still a large price to pay timewise. Nissan say the car can technically achieve 200km on a full charge. However, real-life driving reduces that to an approximate 140kms. Long distance motorway driving at 120kph will reduce the distance further.

It’s a real shame, because Nissan estimate powering the Leaf for an average year’s driving of 20,000kms could cost as little as €200 and it is in the lowest tax band. The public charging facilities are free and Nissan give a free home charger box that tops up the car much more quickly and conveniently at your house than through a three-pin plug. The car’s “Car Wings” system can also be used to programme when it will be charged. It can be set to happen overnight when the electricity is cheaper at 0.01c per minute. The system also allows owners to use their mobile phone to order the car remotely to heat or cool depending on the weather.

For those confident their commutes will rarely stretch beyond 60-70kms the Leaf is worth considering. It is exceptionally good value, has ridiculously cheap running costs and is hugely comfortable.

What the manufacturer said:

- a wave of positive energy, an exhilarating ride

- charge it at home or on the go, control it with your smart phone

- a full 5-seater family car with class leading space in the back and boot

Naturally the LEAF is equipped with all the latest safety and security equipment and boasts 5 star Euro NCAP safety rating

- the LEAF is packed with innovation to deliver up to 199kms driving range

- an all-electric hi-tech eco-warrior right down to the tip of its aerodynamic nose

- the world’s best selling EV — World car of the year 2011


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