You’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life! “But what about us?” We’ll always have Paris!
No, not just a famous quote for the 1942 classic Casablanca, but also the perfect way to sum up my relationship with the Nissan Leaf I had in on test recently.
When I told people about my intentions to drive to Paris in a Nissan Leaf, the sound of laughter became the normal response, with most doubting my ability to do the trip in an electric car without going insane. Then when I decided to do the round trip in a 24 hour period they seriously thought I had lost my marbles. Even the EV lovers doubted the trip was possible, but I had to try it because if not, I’d have regretted it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of my life!
I knew it was going to be difficult but if you want to prove a point you’ve got to do it in the most extreme way possible. Leave the UK on Friday at 5pm and then leave Paris at 5pm on Saturday. It made sense in my head at least; I’d take the Leaf to the absolute limit, testing it on motorways, country roads and through the city. I’d also test the charging infrastructure throughout France and really see if it’s possible to and realistic driving Europe’s best-selling electric vehicle such long distances…
I had purchased my Eurotunnel ticket, booked my cheap room in Paris, packed my overnight bag and charged all my camera equipment. I was confident my mapped-out route was accurate and if I kept to the planned stops and roads I would make Paris easily and stress-free… maybe the confidence had blinded me against range anxiety!
- Tunbridge Wells to Eurotunnel Folkestone – 54.1 miles (Charge)
- Eurotunnel Calais to IKEA, Rue du Grand But Lomme, 59160 Lille (via A16 & A25) – 67.9 miles (Charge)
- IKEA, Lilles to Gueudet Rue des Otages 19, 80000 Amiens (via D11) – 70.5 miles (Charge)
- Amiens to IKEA Franconville, 337 Rue du Général Leclerc, 95130 Franconville, France (via A16) – 79.5 miles (Charge)
All I needed now was a electric car. Enter my fully equipped 2016 Nissan Leaf 30kWh Tekna accompanied with charging cards from Nissan and our friends Ecotricity. The Leaf was top-spec and very luxurious: just what I needed for the long journey. The 30kWh powertrain meant I was able to reach a maximum of 155 miles (on paper) and the satnav was loaded with majority of charging points throughout Europe (something that became a lifesaver throughout the journey).
The car: Nissan Leaf 30kWh Tekna (£31,490 as tested)
- Bose audio system
- NissanConnect – EV telemastics system, activate charging, eco-routing, driving range, pre-set air conditioning, nearby charging stations, touch screen rear view camera.
- Cruise control & speed limiter
- Regenerative braking system
- Heated seats, steering wheel, door mirrors
- Automatic headlights
- Rain sensing windscreen wipers
- Charging port illumination with remote charging port opener
- Hill start assist
- BNED headlights with ‘Follow Me Home’
- 17″ Alloy
- Black leather
The technology within the car was just what I needed to play with on the long trip. As a music lover when I connected my phone to the Bluetooth stereo (not an unpleasant experience like many) and switched to the classic hip hop album from Nas (Illmatic), the Bose sound system came into its own. As we’ve already experienced whilst having a Leaf in California the cab was visually pleasing and very comfortable, again features that would help me throughout the journey. I was happy to discover the head unit had the NissanConnect upgrade, which will become a lifesaver when I hit 0% battery life trying to reserve park (the Leaf is larger than one thinks…)
So with military precision I had my car, kit and map and was ready to rock’n’roll and off I shot down the M20 towards Folkestone. With 266 miles ahead of me I was confident that the four charges mapped out were sufficient, considering the 30kwh Leaf has a claimed range of approximately 155 mile range.
Part one: Plain sailing (or driving)
Nissan Leaf charging at the Eurotunnel, Folkstone, UK
I arrived at Folkestone Eurotunnel at 17:00 full of confidence, parked in the CHAdeMO-ready charge points (for those non EV drivers: this is a rapid charger and will charge you to 80% in around 30 minutes) went to the desk, turned over my passport, got my free charge card and began to top her up. As I browsed the duty-free shop and ate my dinner, I was smirking knowing when I get on the train I was fully loaded to go for free unlike 90% of the people that either had filled up in the overpriced fuel station in England or would have to stop soon into France.
So my crossing time comes at 19:00, I silently roll into the train knowing this was the beginning of an epic journey. My first stop was only 69 miles away in Lille and as it was all motorway it gave me a chance to test the car’s speed performance, the cruise control and the lovely heated seats. With the long straight road ahead I put my foot down. I was surprised I hit 60mph in just over 10 seconds! Due to speed limits I was unable to get top speed (I can confidently say it reaches 89 mph though :)). After doing this little performance test and enjoying myself overtaking traffic I quickly realised the Leaf’s range isn’t designed for such tests as it shot down worryingly dramatically.
Part two: I’ve got 99 problems and charging is one!
Nissan Leaf in France
So with my right foot barely touching the accelerator and cruising at a much more modest speed, the sun began to set and my first charger was in sight. As I turned off the motorway and followed the satnav I soon realised the map doesn’t pinpoint the exact location of the charger, instead just the general area. Great!
This became a reoccurring problem: even though there were ample charging facilities throughout France the CHAdeMOs are isolated with only single chargers per stop. This wouldn’t be an issue if you were familiar with the area or with a little daylight and some people around to help. As this first stop was in an IKEA and the store was closed, I drove around the multi-storey car park I couldn’t find it. With no other option as my battery charge was low and confidence dented, I grabbed my phone, launched the ChargeMap app to find the closest charger which was luckily not far in a Auchan supermarket car park (just for future reference for anyone visiting France in a Nissan Leaf the CHAdeMO chargers are either in IKEA or Auchan car parks; very handy if you need to food or some flat-packed furniture). As I pulled into the supermarket, to my relief I found the charger swiftly only to find a Renault Zoe plugged into the charger. As I sat there waiting for the owners to unplug I collected my thoughts and whether it was darkness, frustration or just the fact I was already nearly two hours behind my schedule but doubts started to creep in…
Part three: Lonely, I’m so Lonely!
Akon said it best with his chart-topping song Lonely. After leaving my first French charge point at around half past midnight I began to become tired and somewhat lonely especially when I still had around 150 miles until I reached Paris. But as a trooper I sucked it up and drove like my grandma down the straight and boring French A1 motorway. The more I drove on the motorway I found myself becoming increasingly aware of the range and found I had one eye on it at all times.
I would say this though: it did out-perform my expectations and certainly gave me a nice buffer after it hit 0%. I found this out on my second charge stop when I accidentally took a wrong turning and ended up on a closed road with a claimed zero miles left on my charge. I turned into the snail on the road, driving the most efficiently I could and after around an additional 30 minutes’ driving I reached my second charger which gave me more confidence. I found that the Leaf on the motorways was giving me around 80-90 miles depending on gradients and driving style.
I arrived at the Amiens charger around 02:40am way behind schedule and half asleep, so with my trusty car plugged in I got some well-deserved sleep. As I woke up I was refreshed and ready for the 80-odd miles ahead of me; I was determined to get to Paris without any more stops so I set off and taking my time I slowly headed towards the capital.
Part three: Vive la France!
As my clock turns to 04:30am I headed towards the lights of Paris and all my tiredness and stress levels disappeared. With no cars on the road and the luxury of no engine noise I was able to soak up the beauty of the most romantic city in the world and my love for the Nissan Leaf started to grow – a bond that was lost was suddenly back.
The combination of a silent engine, luxury cab and no other cars to ruin my experience, I was driving with a smile on my face. I had already planned my parking with Autolib; a brilliant scheme to encourage electric car driving in Paris, similar to London’s Boris Bike scheme where you’re able to pick up a car in a dedicated car park drive through the streets of Paris and drop it off a one of the many Autolib spaces elsewhere. It’s now 05:00am I finally check into my hotel, get five hours’ sleep and check out at 10:00am. (My main purpose of the Paris trip was to cover the Formula E race held in the city – check out our coverage of the race here).
Part four: The Long Journey Home
Now with my EV street cred at gangster level, my confidence was again high and I set off from Paris at approximately 16:00, with my crossing booked for 23:30: I was confident of being in my own bed before 01:00 (taking into consideration the hour difference). Off I trotted armed with the knowledge of where the chargers were and how I needed to drive to ensure I maximised my range. I had also decided to add an additional charge stop just outside Paris to try and minimise my time spent at each point.
Without going into too much detail, between each charge I didn’t experience the same issues I faced the day before, but this time I was slowed down with the fact at each stop the chargers were taken and sometimes for up to one hour each. As mentioned before the charging infrastructure is there but, lacks volume of chargers at each stop, which certainly becomes an issue at peak times.
After spending longer than anticipated stopping, I again was behind schedule and missed my initial crossing booking. I, therefore, had my sights set on the final crossing of the day at 01:30: the only way I was able to achieve this was to put my foot down and sacrifice my range. I felt happy and somewhat cocky that I had made the crossing though it did come with the unfortunate situation of only have 5 miles left of range on the tunnel. As soon as my phone was back on a UK network I found the closest charger was in a small town called Hythe just three miles away, so as I arrived I began my creep to the charger, again lucky that not many cars were on the road as it was 02:00. As I pulled up in the Sainsbury’s in Hythe the charger was only a 3Kw jobby (to those who don’t know it’s the same as plugging your car into your traditional 3-pin house plug and would take anything between 7-9 hours to reach full charge) so I gave in and decided to get comfortable and get a couple of hours’ sleep. I calculated the nearest fast charger was around 28 miles away so decided three hours should be sufficient. (I later found out Hythe has a faster 22Kw charger in the centre… D’oh). After my second sleep in the Leaf I was happy to be on way back home to my bed and my epic journey to Paris was over!
In conclusion, I really enjoyed the adventure and learnt far more performing a long-distance trip than just testing the Leaf locally. I was able to really test the full potential of UK’s best-selling electric car, and proved even though a long journey needs full preparation and bags of willpower, it can be achieved if you don’t keep your foot down too much.
This wasn’t my first drive in the Nissan Leaf; we had the pleasure of having whilst visiting California so I knew that I enjoyed driving it although not the most exciting drive gave me enough over short journey. What this long journey highlighted was how smooth and comfortable the Leaf was, the effortless ability to drive helps you relax. The downfall is the obvious one: range and charging! With an average range of 80-90 miles on motorways, I really wanted double that to make my journey less stressful. I was also gagging for a slightly better charging infrastructure and I know this is coming fairly quickly with governments investing heavily and more private charging companies starting up so as we always say, it is coming.
When I have an electric car I always get the same questions and statements about the range. I feel this being my first adventure compacts some of the worries; I managed to drive a Nissan Leaf from UK – Paris and Paris – UK within 38 hours. Now if I was to repeat this trip I would map my route out with more stops, spending less time at each stop and resulting in the range not ever running down too low. Would I recommend everyone take a Nissan Leaf cross to Paris for a romantic weekend? No. I think you need a solid understanding of driving an electric car and maybe doing it for just a weekend isn’t long enough. One thing I will say when you’re in Paris or your chosen city destination the Leaf will come into its own and will become a pleasure to drive around and certainly save you a few pennies to spend in that fancy restaurant.