3.4.2019Nissan 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 - Final report
Monthly mileage*: 1,406 miles Final cumulative mileage: 8,119 miles Average energy consumption: 4.6 miles/kWh
* Monthly mileage for the final report is a little over a fortnight, rather than a full month
The Leaf that Next Green Car has had in its care since early December has been returned to Nissan, and I must say that I'm sad to see it go. It has proved more than capable as a family car, offering reliable and efficient transport even in the coldest times of the year, and able to cover even long distances with only small amounts of planning.
It's proved itself against the toughest test I could pitch at it - life as my family workhorse. To deal with a daily commute of about 100 miles during the working week, and then often tackling trips around twice that over the weekends is as much as I can throw at it really. The journeys involved include predominantly-motorway commutes, trips to see family across the southern half of England, and work trips such as airport runs and cross-country drives to events.
The mileage accumulated without altering my driving requirements has racked up considerably, averaging more than 540 miles a week. Project that out over the year, and a conservative 28,000 miles a year could easily be put on the Leaf. I reckon about 30,000 miles would be a more accurate figure with those occasional long trips that crop up throughout the year - all of which would be tackled within the Leaf's stride.
Very few drivers that claim they do too many miles a year to consider an EV know the full story, considering the average UK annual mileage is between 7,000-8,000 miles. True, there will be some to whom the claim that they do too many miles for a Nissan Leaf to be a viable option will apply. But these will be few and far between, and the Leaf is only in the middle of the pack in terms of EV driving ranges.
As I've pointed out in previous reports, the Leaf is not without its faults. The sound system is poor in the rear, Nissan's infotainment system is not as good as rival options, and the NissanConnectEV app is temperamental at best. The automatic full-beam headlights can flatly refuse to turn on at times, to the point I preferred to manually flick between full-beam and dipped lights after the first month with the Nissan. Then there are the features that I don't have an issue with, but aren’t as good as some rivals' systems.
The boot space isn't as practical as a VW e-Golf for example, though the range is more or less comparable with the rest of the cars in its class, barring the Hyundai Kona Electric and forthcoming Kia e-Niro.
A Renault Zoe will travel further, but isn't as large as the Leaf, which is the same story with the BMW i3. A Golf is the closest direct rival, and the Hyundai Ioniq Electric is a little less practical, has a smaller battery, but is a bit more efficient. The affordable EV market is closely contested at the moment, and the Leaf is right in the mix, even if there's no stand-out winner.
Although my preference in mass-market EVs is the Hyundai Kona Electric, I concede that rear leg space and the boot are too constrained to consider the Korean model as a true family car. It's something the Leaf does well, even if it doesn't excel at. The Nissan is not the most practical car around, but it is good enough to deal with everyday life with a young family.
That typically means a couple of child seats, a pram, and a couple of bags every time it ventures out - and that's ignoring any trip-specific requirements. The Leaf will still cope with a supermarket shop or weekend away without careful packing, and although leg-room isn't luxurious, my wife has travelled in the rear for trips of around 150-200 miles without complaints about a lack of leg space.
I found running the Nissan not quite as convenient as a petrol or diesel car, but it's not far off. This is mainly because the nearest charge point to work is a 10 minute walk, rather than the five minutes the normal car park takes. Equally, there is the need to plan recharging stops for trips over around 100 miles to maintain confidence in returning home over some decent sized hills with charge remaining; but 100 miles is a fair old distance, and you can get a long way within that range.
I would happily continue to run one as my actual family car, and the long-range Nissan Leaf 62 kWh model in the pipeline would only make life easier still. This half month before the car went back saw the Leaf go out with a bang, with some long distance trips thrown in the mix.
The main run was more than 250 miles in the course of an afternoon, with only a lunch stop to break the journey up, other than rapid charges. The Leaf had to be topped up a little twice on rapids - around 40% added each time - plus an hour on a fast charger while I was meeting someone, and another 30% to 80% rapid charge at the end, since the venue I was heading for didn't have a dedicated charge point. This meant I had a decent amount of charge to start my journey back the following day, which required another couple of rapid charges to get me home.
All told, the round trip would have taken about two and a half hours longer than in a petrol or diesel model, which is a fair amount. Factor in the fact that I would have needed a decent break in each leg regardless of having enough fuel or not - for comfort if nothing else - and that accounts for around half an hour of that time. Bear in mind that the trip was carried out over two days, and the added time didn't feel punitive.
Overall, the Leaf impressed. Its range held up pretty well in mid-winter, and it proved ample enough to only require one charge on longer trips, or maybe two on occasion. I was able to charge near work during the week which kept electricity bills down, and the Leaf never failed my expectations in terms of driving range. Only once did I have to abandon a trip - explained in Month 2 below - and that was my fault rather than the car's.
By the end of my time with the Leaf, the real-world range had increased from a little over 120 miles on a charge in winter, to a comfortable 150 miles of normal driving including motorway running, and 160 miles at slower speeds such as a mixture of town and country roads.
My time with the Leaf proved that I could comfortably run one permanently as a family car, even with a two-and-a-half year old and another little one who started out at only a few months old during the testing period. If I can deal with the small additional 'hassle' required to run an EV day-to-day with a young family, than many others will be able to.
Nissan Leaf long-term test - Month 3
Monthly mileage: 2,299 miles Cumulative mileage: 6,713 miles Average energy consumption: 4.2 miles/kWh
Entering the final month of our time with the Nissan Leaf, it continues to impress and prove a case against those that claim they do too many miles for an electric car to be considered. We've now covered more than 6,700 miles since the middle of December, working out at a projected annual total of 26,800 miles - more than three times the national average.
There have been no random road trips to Rome or similar skewing results, and the mileage has largely been easy and effortless, with little alteration to routines or usage. It's a cogent argument for EVs' capability as everyday workhorses, not short-range-only machines. It must be remembered that the Leaf doesn't even have the longest range available in the mass-market sector.
Back to what the Leaf is like to live with; this being the Tekna version of the 40 kWh Leaf, there are a few different goodies fitted to the equipment list which I wanted to test out in day-to-day driving. ProPilot and ProPilot Park assistance systems were both heralded as key features on the Leaf's launch, and they remain high-end bits of kit in this market segment, even a year or so after release.
The cameras and sensors on the Leaf allow for semi-autonomous driving, with adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist combining to make life easier for drivers, particularly over long distances or in heavy traffic.
I've driven similar systems on other manufacturer's premium models, and found the set-up to be very useful in slow moving traffic, the type of queues that are frequently found on the commute for example. Nissan's system works just as well as those from other manufacturers, and in fact benefits from the use of the ePedal, which means that the car will recuperate as much energy as it can under braking, before the friction brakes take over to bring the Leaf to a complete stop when necessary. The cruise control will then get the car moving with no throttle input when traffic moves again, and the steering wheel will keep the car in lane as long as there are lines and/or kerbs to read.
The system can get confused by faint lines, roadworks, and if it's been icy or the windscreen is particularly filthy, but these issues are common across most manufacturers' systems. It's a handy way to ease stress in traffic, with the driver in control and having a hand on the wheel at all times, but not having to 'drive' as much as usual.
There are indications that on long motorway trips the system helps relieve stress too, though I find the regular slowing down, as the Leaf approaches a vehicle up ahead, and the relatively harsh acceleration when you indicate and steer out, less efficient and not as relaxing as reading the road ahead and driving accordingly. It works well on average speed limit sections of motorway for example, though remember that the lane markings have to be clear for the cameras to detect them and the whole system to work.
In short, if regularly battling through heavy traffic, the ProPilot systems could work very well for you, though I personally wouldn't feel the need to specify them if not already fitted,
Just a few of the glamorous locations EV drivers get to charge at.
The same is true of the ProPark Assist, which does a good job of getting the car into a space, though it does so cautiously and slowly. It's an approach you would want from a driving aid, without quick movements and with plenty of time to take back control should you so wish, but using it in a busy car park is unlikely to make you any friends with those waiting for you to park.
Again, for some, it will prove an invaluable tool, but I wouldn't tick any options box to fit it should it not already be added. The Nissan system does park in a number of different ways - including nose in - which a number of rival set-ups don't, designed specifically for drivers in an EV where the charging inlet is at the front.
As such, the Leaf proves a high-tech car in its sector, ignoring the electric drive element of it entirely. In the family hatchback market, it's got a lot of equipment to help tempt buyers in, and it works well too. The key element in the mix is the ePedal system, which is a USP compared to rival's systems, and makes the set-ups work better than might otherwise have been expected.
Next month will be the final report, rounding out our time with the Leaf, so keep an eye open for that.
Nissan Leaf long-term test - Month 2
Monthly mileage: 1,983 miles Cumulative mileage: 4,414 miles Average energy consumption: 4.0 miles/kWh
If my first month in the Leaf was a tough test of the car in winter conditions, my second was positively brutal. With the recent snowfall and cold temperatures, I might not have driven the Leaf in Arctic conditions, but they weren't far off.
In fact I took the Nissan in search of challenging roads and weather to see how it would perform in about as bad a set of conditions we get in the UK, climbing a Welsh mountain in the snow with temperatures well below zero.
The Leaf performed admirably. Range was hit, as was expected, but even with a severe climb, freezing temperatures outside, the heater set to toasty warm, and a car full of people, I don't reckon the total range would dip below 80 miles - unless you managed to stumble across an Alp somewhere and didn't stop climbing.
Grip was reasonable, though the Leaf will easily see the traction control system kick in even in dry conditions with a heavy right foot. That's thanks to a combination of a considerable amount of torque available at low revs and low rolling resistance tyres. Wet conditions mean the traction control set-up can be outfoxed with ease, and snow saw more of the same. A gentle approach to the throttle saw no issues though, and having brake energy recuperation is a positive in slippery conditions, effectively 'engine braking' to reduce the potential for loss of traction.
Essentially, the Leaf still performs well even in poor winter weather, and it is only those that regularly push the car's real-world driving range in dry conditions that will struggle to complete their trips without charging in snowy/icy ones. It shouldn't come as any surprise since the Leaf is popular in EV-loving Norway, but it's always good to experience and test things out here in the UK.
In more usual winter weather, the Leaf showed many of the same traits displayed in the first month's review. Realistic range in winter remains around 110-120 miles of largely motorway work in cold temperatures, though I anticipate this will climb next month as the weather becomes more clement, and the need for heating the cabin decreases.
Barring the driving range, the Leaf continues to stand up well to its dual life as commuting machine during the week, and family workhorse at the weekend. Travelling the 45 mile trip to work is a doddle, and use of public charge points near the office each day are keeping the Leaf's impact on home electricity bills to a minimum.
Working days see a charge for a few hours at a public point during office hours, the drive home, and then a return the next day to start again. As such, the only charging done at home tends to be on Friday nights for any weekend work required from the Nissan, and possibly a top-up on Sunday night to a little under half charge, to allow me to get to work with a comfortable buffer of 15% or so. Trips out on the weekends usually allow for a public charge somewhere, but occasionally a top up at home is required.
It's an interesting test of ownership, since I could, with a little extra planning, run an EV without charging at home quite simply, and that's living in a town with a handful of public charge points, and no rapid charger within a 20 minute drive. Fortunately, I have access to off-street parking and can charge at home, but it wouldn't be a challenge to run the Leaf from the same location without that same access.
Some will see the added considerations required as not being worth it, but the cost savings available with running EVs will sway a number of potential buyers. Where only a few years ago, it was almost essential to have off-street parking access, it no longer is thanks to improving ranges and public charging infrastructure.
The Leaf has successfully replaced the family petrol hatchback during the last month - and the month before - on all but one occasion. Needing to give my wife - a photographer - a lift to a photo shoot around 35 miles away one Saturday saw me have to abandon the drive after half a dozen miles in the Leaf, return, and transfer family and kit into our petrol-powered Mazda.
'Ah ha', I hear the EV sceptics cry, an electric car is all well and good until something goes wrong, and then you have to fall back on traditional petrol and diesel models. While this is technically true, I must stress that the fault was mine, rather than the car's. Having returned as usual from work the previous day, I plugged the car in to charge, knowing I would have a day of driving ahead of me. Although there were a few public charge points near the shoot location, I thought it easier to set off with a good charge since punctuality - and by extension, my wife's professionalism - was a factor in the trip.
The issue is, I didn't plug the car in properly. Not only did I not put the plug securely in the socket at home for some reason, I also didn't check during the evening, or even when I woke the following day. As such, the Leaf only had around 40% charge, for a trip of around 35 miles, on a morning when there was ice on the roads, and I had to get from hilly Monmouthshire to even hillier Malvern. We set off, but the initial hills around the Welsh border took too much out of the range. I reckoned with a bit of efficient driving I could get to the shoot, but it was in the middle of nowhere, and getting to a charge point would be another matter.
So in fairness, the car wasn't at fault; I was. It's been the only occasion such an event has happened during my time with the Leaf so far, and you can rest assured that I will be checking the car has started charging each time I plug it in from now on.
For anyone suggesting that I could have used the app to check on the car's charge, I've not been able to get a state of charge update out of the system to date. I can pre-condition the Leaf, see mileage and efficiency figures etc, but for some reason the only update I get in relation to charging is when the session has finished. Also, the car is parked outside the kitchen window, from where I can see the flashing blue charging indicator lights on the dashboard, which is a much easier way of checking on the situation.
Updating last month's report, having spent most of the time with the ePedal on, I have spent this month driving with it primarily switched off, manually adjusting settings whilst driving between D, B, ePedal, and Eco variations of the first two options. I've found an uplift in the efficiency and driving range available, so it's clearly - from my point of view at least - beneficial to switch between the systems depending on conditions. It's something discovered during the launch, and though I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency and usability of the ePedal during prolonged use, B is the most efficient overall setting for me. I have now fixed on B for typical A-roads and motorways in the area, D for fast roads in flatter areas, and ePedal around urban areas and twisty B-roads. I reckon the efficiency will go up further still, and the ePedal is still very useful in built up areas, with lots of changes in driving speeds.
Other comments to come out of this month's ownership include the fact that the stereo isn't particularly good for rear passengers. There are comments that the audio sounds like it's far away whilst driving, even if the balance is adjusted rearwards. On a standard set-up, this might not be worthy of comment, but the Leaf has the premium Bose system, which for those in the front at least, produces good sound quality.
I've come to the conclusion that, although the touchscreen system isn't particularly large or high-def - compared to some rivals anyway - it is quick to respond to commands. Using the sat-nav especially, the inputs are displayed instantly, without lag, and putting in postcodes for example is easy. Nissan has got the navigation system working well, which might seem like a small point, but these things can have quite an impression on usability. Charge point locations aren't particularly up to date, with a number missing that I know for a fact exist, having used them. I continue to rely on Zap-Map for finding public charge points, which is as up to date as you can get.
Next month, amongst other things, I will be reporting back on the ProPilot driving assistance systems - including ProPark Assist - updating range available as the weather becomes (hopefully) more clement, and continuing to discover the Leaf's strengths and weaknesses, particularly with some long runs in the diary.
Nissan Leaf long-term test - Month 1
Mileage: 2,431 miles Average energy consumption: 3.4 miles/kWh
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nissan Leaf long-term test - it 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)
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.