Nissan Leaf long-term test

Next Green Car is running a Nissan Leaf for three months, putting the popular EV to the test. Regular commutes, long trips, and life as a family daily driver will put the Leaf through its paces, with regular updates appearing here.

Nissan Leaf long-term test: Month 1

Mileage: 2,431 miles
Average energy consumption: 3.4 miles/kWh

Nissan Leaf long-term test

With one month down, I have to say that the Nissan Leaf is doing pretty well. Having owned a conventional petrol car for years, there is an element of falling back on that when it looks like a journey gets tough for an EV.

Instead, I have deliberately tried to 'replace' the petrol model with the Leaf, to see not only how it stands up to my driving needs, but also those of a young family and all the kit required when transporting them.

I've been really testing it too. In one month - from December to January - the Leaf has covered 2,431 miles. The time ran over Christmas, but it was a relatively quiet festive break for me, in terms of driving at least. That's a projected 29,000 miles a year should I run the Leaf for a full 12 months - and in fact it would almost certainly be at least 30,000 miles annually when factoring in normal usage.

Nissan Leaf long-term rear

A fair chunk of that distance has been taken up with the commute, travelling the approximately 90 mile round trip from home in Monmouth to the office in Bristol. The route that book-ends each working day is 85% dual carriageway/motorway work, an environment not suited to EV use.

But since I have endeavoured to run the Leaf as I would any other petrol or diesel model, for this first month at least, there have been no hypermiling attempts, no 'EV motorway speed limits' of around 60mph, no wrapping up in coat and gloves rather than risk putting the heater on.

I haven't even been pre-conditioning the Leaf, to be able to gauge how much energy - and thus driving range - it uses to heat up a car when not plugged-in. The Leaf has been driven to the speed limit where possible, and with the heater pretty much permanently on - it is winter after all.

Future reports will see a different ethos employed, but this is the toughest way to test an EV to start with. Even after all that, the average of 3.4 miles/kWh is pretty good, as there are a number of different ways to improve that figure - not least by covering fewer motorway miles.

Until a change in tack comes about, the energy consumption figure works out as an available range of around 130 miles on a single charge, though I have been resorting to calculating 100-120 miles on a charge in my head - particularly on long trips - to make sure I don't get caught out by particularly low temperatures, a car full of family and kit, or lots of hill climbing.

The temperature element has proved a double-edged sword. I have often set off from rural Wales in the morning with temperatures below freezing, which impacts upon battery efficiency, and requires additional drain on resources from the heater.

As such, the real-world range is lower than I was finding when testing the Leaf for a week in a clement May last year. Then, 150 miles was a comfortable range available, and 160 miles or so a not unreasonable target. Compared to the 120-130 miles currently being worked with, that's a fair drop, though an expected one.

However, the chilly temperatures do seem to remove one spectre looming over the Leaf's reputation - the informally titled #Rapidgate - even if only seasonally. As a number of Leaf owners have found, when trying to rapid charge a third time in a day, the car's battery temperature has become too high, and charging is throttled back to around half power.

Nissan Leaf long-term battery temperature

This is because the Leaf doesn't have an active battery temperature management system, as some rivals do, and to preserve the battery's life and the car's safety, a third rapid charge is typically around 21 kW - rather than the maximum 50 kW possible.

It's something I hit during the week's road test last year, and had anticipated the same when running this Leaf. However, it seems that the cold manages to keep the battery's temperature lower, allowing for a third rapid charge without delay. The above photo was taken midway through the third rapid charge. In May's road test, the bar was up against the red.

I haven't yet then pushed on for a fourth rapid charge, but have tested the charging issue on a few occasions - two of which have been particularly challenging.

The first involved a replicated trip to one made in May, and it is one that is a repeated route for me. It involves heading from Monmouth to see family in Cambridge, and is often carried out in a day. It racks up around 350 miles when factoring in travel around Cambridgeshire, and involves taking a motorway route - past Birmingham - heading eastwards, a few trips between different family members' spots, before a return 'cross-country' via Milton Keynes, Oxfordshire, and the Cotswolds.

Outbound is more reliable to be quick, but it is a lot longer, adding 20 miles to the homeward leg which is a bit slower and hillier, but requires greater concentration on driving at the end of a long day - and is therefore safer. I made the run over Christmas and the rapid charges worked fine each time around - one on the way out, one while in Cambridgeshire, and one on the way home.

A second test involved driving all day for as long as possible, and then charging when stopped. Therefore, the battery was always being used, either to power the Leaf, or receiving charge. An early rapid charge, followed by a fast charge for an hour, and then two more rapid charges during a day's driving still saw the last rapid top-up remain at expected levels. I'll test the issue further by attempting more charges in a day, and also in (hopefully) warmer weather.

Nissan Leaf long-term charging

Other things to note? The driver's seat heater takes longer than most rival offerings to warm up. Due to its aerodynamic shape, the rear of the Leaf gets very dirty very quickly in winter. The full-beam headlights - when set to auto - can be belligerent to come on, even when there is nothing coming, no road signs to reflect off, or any other unusual circumstances that might make the car keep the lights dipped.

The NissanConnectEV app can be temperamental - and isn't particularly fast - even when there is access to wifi at home and the car is parked outside. For example, the odometer says that I've covered more than 2,400 miles between 11th December and 11th January, but the app calculates 2,094 miles in the same time-frame. This isn't likely to be a car-specific point though.

Those are the key 'issues', though that is likely to be too strong a word for them. Critical comments may be better, since none of the items listed above are a deal-breaker in terms of ownership. In positive news, I have found the e-Pedal far more useful with prolonged time with the Leaf than I had previously.

Having said before that the ePedal is great in town, but less useful outside of urban areas, I will often find myself driving elsewhere with it on, and not mind at all. Future reports will see its effectiveness tested more thoroughly, but I've been impressed by its usage so far.

The range holds up pretty well. One can always prefer more range, but there hasn't been a time that I have been left irritated by the Leaf's driving range. I've repeatedly taken the charge down to 5% or less, and can often factor in charges during times when I would be parked up anyway, keeping time lost to a minimum.

The Leaf is also fun to drive. The handling isn't the most dynamic around, but the pull from the electric motor - even under ePedal, but particularly when it's turned off - is mildly addictive. It can cover ground quickly, and put a smile on your face easily.

All of the above will continue to be analysed going forward, as we spend another two months or so with the Nissan Leaf. It's a positive start though, and a great point to be made against those who say 'I cover too many miles' for an EV, or 'they're not practical enough for a family'. Very few drivers cover more than 30,000 miles a year, and if a family of four, with luggage and 'travel system' can go away for a few nights in a Leaf, it's a practical enough car for many buyers.

The Nissan Leaf arrives

Model: Nissan Leaf Tekna
Price: £29,390 - £31,575 inc. options
Battery: 40 kWh
Motor: 110 kW (150 hp) - 320 Nm
Charging: 6.6 kW AC Type 2 / 50 kW DC CHAdeMO
Top speed: 89mph
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Driving range: 168 miles (WLTP combined)

Nissan Leaf long-term arrival

Those lovely people at Nissan's press office have handed over the keys to a Nissan Leaf Tekna. The 40 kWh EV is top of the range, with both e-Pedal and ProPilot amongst the highlights in terms of equipment, and a WLTP-range of 168 miles on a single charge. Power is provided by a 110 kW motor, and the Leaf will either rapid charge at 50 kW DC through a CHAdeMO connector, or at up to 6.6 kW from the Type 2 AC inlet.

Two options have been added to the test car; ProPilot Park, and a two tone paint job consisting of pearl white body and a metallic black roof. The latter looks good, and suits the Leaf well, while I shall be testing the former as we go on.

What is particularly interesting for me is the prospect of spending some real time with the car. I don't think I flatter myself by saying I'm a fairly experienced EV driver, having driven the majority of plug-in models available in the UK - both pure-EV and PHEV - and have covered many electrically-powered miles in them over the course of my time at Next Green Car.

What I haven't done though is actually live with one. A week testing a car gives a good insight as to what it's like running one as a daily driver, but it's only a snapshot as to its strengths, its weaknesses, whether it grows on you, or if it's foibles start to grate.

As such, it is really intriguing to see how this Nissan Leaf will do over the three months or so it will spend in my care. Updates will appear tracking the car's time in Next Green Car's care, so keep checking back for further information.

Find out more about the Nissan Leaf here

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:15th Jan 2019

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