Thursday 8 December 2016

Taking a Leaf out of our motoring future

Eddie Cunningham was one of the first Irish journalists to drive Nissan’s new electric car, the Leaf, and he found it drove just like any other family car

Published 18/08/2010 | 09:17

The Leaf has plenty of room for four adults - and at one cent a kilometre to run it's part of the future of motoring.
The Leaf has plenty of room for four adults - and at one cent a kilometre to run it's part of the future of motoring.

THE first thing to note is it is normal. It is an electric family car that is different only because it doesn’t have a petrol or diesel engine.

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Other than the quietness, lack of shunting up the gears, and a reasonably sharp design, you could take it as just another modern motor.

Only it isn’t. The Nissan Leaf is an electric, everyday midsized family car. The version I drove yesterday was left-hand drive.

First right-hand drive models get here in November with sales starting in February. Nissan expects to sell 1,000 here next year – that is as many as they are going to get by the looks of it.

On public ‘tastings’ here to date, onein- four who have sat into it, or been driven in it, have put down a deposit. As something of an electric sceptic, I took it for a mix of driving around Dublin south, city centre and in a big arc out to Lucan and back in along the M50 to Stillorgan.

It looks well with quite an eye-catching rear, but is readily identifiable as a Nissan.

There’s a deep boot with a relatively high ‘lip’ which may or may not be to everyone’s taste. The cabin was nicely subdued, bathed in what I call ‘comfort’ colours (cream, light brown etc), but there was just a little too much plastic across the top of the dash.

The seats were really comfortable and there was plenty of room. I got my driving seat to my preference level and could still sit in behind with plenty of room. Four large adults would have no problem travelling in this five-seater.

Starting and getting going is simple. You put your foot on the brake, press a button and you’re on. There’s a little gear knob for Drive and Reverse. I’d prefer if Drive was a nudge forward and Reverse a nudge backwards instead of the other way around, but I soon got used to it. There are no gears or gear shifts as such. This is a continuously variable transmission so it’s just smooth all the way.

There was good visibility out most angles. The steering was spot on in reasonable traffic and I was surprised at how fast I was going (legally of course).

Being an electric sceptic, of course, the ever-present worry was range anxiety. They say you will average 160km on a single charge (most commutes in Ireland average 15km to 20km, research suggests).

It has been my experience that you usually fall short of that. In the Leaf ’s case, I’m inclined to believe you could get another 20-30km on top of the 160km if you drive easier and steadier.

For instance, at one stage there were 75km left on the range indicator. So I eased off and it nipped back up to 93km.If I turned off the air con I immediately got an extra 23km range. There is also an eco mode which means you drive away from lights and accelerate much more slowly. That, too, adds significantly to your range.

But there was no point in me driving this like an eco-maniac. I drove it as if it were a conventionally powered motor. I mean, what is the point otherwise?

So we drove through Dublin city centre in fairly heavy traffic, out with more pace to the western suburbs and finally gave it a moderate lash on the M50 southbound. The whole thing felt . . . well, it felt normal. No whizzies, fizzies or dizzies, just a normal car being driven at normal speeds on a normal day with the sort of power and feel to it of a 1.6-litre petrol engine.

Only they reckon the electricity to run this costs one cent a kilometre. So get used to it – this is part of the future.

And so to the practicals. How and where do you charge it? At home, at work, at one of the many charging points destined to spring up like mushrooms over the next 12 months.

Did you know that by the end of next year there will be more charging points than petrol stations in this country?

Around 25 minutes will give you 80pc of capacity charge. A little flap at the front pops up for you to connect to the outlet. It is all fairly simple. You can also programme it to charge on the cheaper night rate. In other words, it won’t start charging until the cheap time – even though it is plugged in. You can also programme it to cool down or heat up the cabin (air con) so when you get in there is no need for a massive blast of hot or cold air – you can do this via your mobile as well.

Sat nav will be standard so you can see where the nearest charging point is.

The lithium-ion batteries, mounted under the seats and floor, have a five-year warranty. The truth is that even when the car is ready for scrapping there will be demand for the batteries because they last and last.

Of course, this won’t suit many of us. Even allowing for 200km of a range I’m such a worrier I would not feel easy. All right, all right, there are bound to be myriad places where I can pull in have a cup of coffee and head off 25 minutes later with an 80pc charge. I’m working on getting my head around this. The ESB is fitting for free the first 2,000 homes which have an electric car with charging points. Again, if you have a garage or can park in a driveway, fine. But it may not be so convenient for everyone – especially on a miserable, wet night out in the open.

There will just be one version of the Leaf on sale here. It will have 16in alloys, automatic climate control, sat nav, cruise control, rear-parking camera, 7in colour touchscreen, drive computer (fuel consumption etc) and quick-charge socket.

Of course, safety equipment such as driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags will be standard as will ESC (helps avert skidding).

In other words, everything a normal car should have.

Key points: the low down on costs

It will cost €29,995 (€34,995 less government grant of €5,000).

Battery included in price, but dealer-related delivery charges are not.

Average annual running costs expected to be around €232 a year or less than €20 a month.

Power comes from an 80kw AC motor.

Maximum speed more than 140kmh.

Falls into €104-a-year road tax.

Low maintenance costs as there are fewer moving parts

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