Saturday 10 December 2016

Would four weeks make me turn over a new Leaf?

Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30

Only 381 electric cars have been sold in Ireland this year, a figure down almost 20pc on the previous year despite an increasing choice available to buyers.

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But of those that are bought, the Nissan Leaf accounts for the bulk of those sales and it's easy to see why, on paper, it's perfect. Fun and funky, it promises to cost virtually nothing to run, plus the Leaf is a decent car with a generously sized boot.

So the idea of an electric car can be pretty appealing, particularly for those who have a short commute, access to public transport or a second car. But I live 5km from the nearest town and have a totally unpredictable schedule, so can I successfully adapt to the plug-in lifestyle? To find out I spent four weeks living with a Nissan Leaf as my main car.

The Leaf was the first practical and affordable electric car and has been available in Ireland since 2010. From the outside the once-striking design is now looking a little drab but still very distinctive.

Inside, everything is easy to use and within arm's reach, but the design and layout are beginning to show the Leaf's age.

On the first morning of the school run we buckle up and set off, but instantly we discover switching the heating on has an unfortunate side-effect as the range indicator plummets from 166 to 143km - I decide a burst of cold air is good for us but I am quickly overruled by my kids. Over the next few days I also discover more about the Leaf's range, it can be up to 250km but you will only do that if you drive it balancing a bowl of water on the dashboard. Gently and smoothly, 120km is probably more realistic.

By week two my range anxiety was beginning to lessen with the realisation that the key to extending the range is simply not to drive the Leaf like a conventional car. On the dashboard, how economical you drive is displayed as tree-shaped icons, so the more trees you have the more economically you are driving.

I spent the first two weeks not straying far from the safety and reassurance of a charging point but by the third week, confidence was growing in my ability to cultivate trees on the dashboard. For one glorious journey on the way to the airport I left with 166km on the dash and arrived at the airport with 155km still intact - my 45km journey had taken just 11km in range thanks to my new eco-friendly driving.

For the first time I realised that range could be managed and, unlike the fuel gauge in your car, it was only an approximation and could be extensively extended under the right conditions. By the fourth week I had almost forgotten the Leaf was electric.

Model price range: €21,490

Geraldine Herbert

Sunday Independent

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