30kWh Leaf review – more miles = more smiles?

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Nissan Leaf 30kWh

WORDS AND PHOTOS: ETHAN JUPP

We were kindly invited to Silverstone Circuit, the home of British motorsport, by Nissan last week to test the highly anticipated updated Nissan Leaf. The new EV promises to offer everything the old one did, but now with added range thanks to a beefier 30kWh battery. Our man Ethan was on the scene to see how this equates to real life…

Many mocked it when it first came out. Many said it wouldn’t catch on. But five years on, Nissan’s Leaf is affirmatively here to stay.

To date, Nissan controls around 57% of the UK EV market share with the Leaf alone. Being one of the first to market with a proper bonafide mainstream electric vehicle, it has a home field advantage of sorts. These past five years of shifting over 12,000 units (a number which although comparatively small, Nissan is pleased with) seems to be a spit in the face for naysayers questioning the models durability.

An eight-year warranty and a constant monthly battery lease seems to have eased peoples’ woes about the power packs bricking too. By and large, you can expect nothing less than a conventional ownership lifespan for your Leaf, which is excellent, as one of the biggest tasks EV has faced (and continues to face) is how it integrates seamlessly into the lives of consumers of oil burning vehicles.

The market is expanding, and sales of the existing car are increasing year on year encouragingly, but it has come high time for Nissan to make the Leaf competitive again and with a market increase of 90% for electrified vehicles in 2015 over 2014, Nissan can’t afford to rest on its laurels.

Enter this new 30kWh model, and here is the headline: an increase to a claimed 155 mile range thanks to a denser battery with eight cells per module over the previous four. That’s about it as far as the updates go, although after all the shouting at the government to keep the (PH)EV bursary I’m sure Nissan had little energy to do much else. Regardless, the new increased range is also purported to be best in class.

To drive, the updated Leaf is much like it always was. Eerie to begin with for the EV novice, possessed of a somewhat disconcerting dead zone on the brake pedal with the regen’ on, and by-and-large lovely elsewhere.

Electric drive has its undeniable advantages. The instant torque whilst not, erm, electrifying, affords the Leaf a reassuring urgency under hard acceleration. NVH is quite fantastic given the extra lengths they’ve gone to insulate the driver from the drone of motion in the absence of an internal combustion engine.

In our top spec car, the squidgy leather seats were a welcomed luxury, although you will be shelling out well over £20,000 for this spec. The cabin is nicely spacious, too. To steer it’s resolutely pleasant; the controls are quick and easy to learn. You can slide into the Leaf from your conventional gasoline hatch and saunter away with little on your mind other than the silence and the peculiar lack of a fuel filler cap, and that is all the praise an electric car need look for for now.

Here is where, in our personal experience, some worries begin to surface. Upon climbing in and firing it up we observed a 99 mile indicated range on a nigh-on full charge. That, if I’m not mistaken, is a significant 56 miles less than claimed. 66% of the claimed new maximum range, and 83% of the claimed range of the 24kWh car. Although we’ve got to account for some limiting factors when it comes to projected battery range, like the freezing cold weather we’ve been having lately, it seems that the claimed range that manufacturers are currently offering does appear to be slightly off the mark.

“Uh oh,” we thought, “maybe it’s adaptive and the last person thrashed it pre-charge…” We never found out, but it didn’t adapt to our what we consider to be average driving style. A bit of slip road toe down action, relatively sedate elsewhere. We got somewhere near the original predicted 100 miles in the end. We were disappointed and surprised, especially given the fanfare Nissan made of this car’s alleged 25% increase in range. That it made a point of telling us that range anxiety is largely unfounded due to the shortness of most customers’ journeys is a pinch of salt in the wounds, too.

We suspect there was something amiss with this car, and that surely others wouldn’t be that down on range. It is a sobering reminder however, that range in EVs as with in internal combustion powered cars, is highly dependent on how you drive it. To see 155 miles, you might have to pull some seriously committed eco driving styles.

To conclude then, in spite of the increased range and the familiarity of the new Leaf, to buy one you still have to be fairly committed to the cause. 155 miles, if you could get that far, is still very low by comparison to some diesels. To buy a Leaf, it needs to fit into your life and your specific commuting requirements. There is a positive note to end on, though. Nissan claims that 96% of its customers would recommend an EV to someone else. In the right context and to the right customer, Leaf is perfectly suited. Just make sure you are prepared to be that customer before you take the plunge. Overall the Leaf is a lovely albeit pricey and somewhat flawed thing to be in, but Nissan are four years ahead of the game than most, and that will count for something in the end.

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