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2019 Nissan Leaf long-term review: The inner-city dweller

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We hand the keys to our long-term Nissan Leaf to our resident apartment dwelling, latte-sipper to see if he can overcome range anxiety without any readily available charging infrastructure.
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It’s a popular rejoinder to the subject of electric vehicles.

“Range anxiety.”

And fair enough, too. The prospect of being stranded on a highway with no battery life, waiting for a tow truck to haul your ‘green machine’ to the nearest charging point, isn’t high on anyone’s list of fun things to do. Including mine.

So, it was with not exactly trepidation, but certainly circumspection, I hopped behind the wheel of our long-term Nissan Leaf, lovingly nicknamed ‘Babs’, for a couple of weeks of fossil-fuel-free motoring.

Now, one could argue I’m a bit of a walking, talking cliché when it comes to electric vehicles. Live in the inner city? Tick. Latte sipper? Tick. Proud scarf wearer? Yep. Believe in the science of climate change? Absolutely.

I’m also in the demographic whereby the infrastructure to charge an EV isn’t as readily available to me as some in the wider CA family. I live in an apartment, with no off-street parking and no means for charging the the Leaf at home. My ability to top up the battery is limited to the CA office, where we have a wall charger, or the myriad public charging points.

The closest public outlet to my place is at my local shopping centre, and anyone who has ever been to Broadway on the edge of Sydney’s CBD will know it’s a special kind of hell reserved for people who hate puppies and ice-cream. I was, in short, keen to avoid it.

CA managing editor, Trent Nikolic, being the good bloke he is, ensured the Nissan Leaf had been fully charged when I took ownership of it for my stint behind the wheel. That meant 272km of range showing on the dash – enough for a week’s worth of commuting, or even more, considering my daily commute is somewhere between 14–16km.

That’s the bare-minimum commute, just for context: dropping kid off at school, driving to work, picking kid up from school, and driving home. Throw in some extracurricular activity, mostly in and around my ’hood (I don’t like to travel far from home), and that 272km range was looking more than adequate for a week.

Look, a claimed range of 270km isn’t at the upper end for the EV market, with new electric vehicles increasingly lobbing on to our streets with claimed ranges in excess of 400km, sometimes even 500km. But, it is a perfectly adequate amount for certain scenarios.

We’ve said it before, and it bears reiterating. Electric vehicles aren’t for everyone, yet. Their ideal use is as a second car or for some like me whose commute is mercifully short. And with that in mind, the Nissan Leaf proved the perfect accompaniment over a couple of weeks.

So, what was it like? In a word, fun. The Leaf might not be breaking any new ground in the styling stakes. It is, to my eye, what a current-gen Pulsar would look like if there were such a thing – and that’s no bad thing. There’s no ‘look at me’ smugness packaged into the Leaf.

Likewise, the interior is pretty standard fare, with only the cutesy drive-selector dial providing any hint to its EV-ness. That said, for a $50K car, even an electric one, the interior is a bit of a letdown with some glaring shortcomings.

The steering wheel, for instance, isn’t reach adjustable, while the high-riding seats likewise can only be moved fore and aft. And there’s a foot-operated parking brake (really? C’mon Nissan, try harder). Get past those, however, and out on the road the Leaf shows its true colours. In a good way.

It is a ton of fun to drive. It’s whisper quiet for starters, with only an electric whirr, not at all unpleasant, permeating the cabin. And while acceleration from standstill isn’t all that brisk, a claimed 0–100km/h time of 7.9 seconds is still pretty decent. And feels about right, too.

Nissan has done an excellent job of isolating road noise – important in an EV where there is no engine noise to help muffle the sound of tyre roar. It’s all part of the excellent ride of the Leaf, which handles the mundane roads around Sydney with a deft touch.

A deft touch of the right foot is needed to get the most out of the e-Pedal, the Leaf’s regenerative braking system. It’s an aggressive set-up, and once you’re accustomed to it, you can spend the bulk of your time driving using just the one pedal, modulating throttle inputs to coast gently to a stop, all while ploughing precious energy back into the battery. It can be toggled off, if you prefer, and in fact we’d recommend using it exclusively around town at city speeds – its application a tad too heavy for highway cruising.

Around town is the Leaf’s happiest environment, where its combination of supple ride, brisk-enough performance and regenerative powers comes to the fore.

As for energy consumption? It was bang on the money, the Leaf’s batteries gradually depleting by, more or less, the distance covered. Factors that contributed to greater energy consumption, i.e. losing more charge than kilometres travelled, included, perversely, enjoying an easy loping drive without much traffic, and enjoying the quite sprightly nature of the Leaf.

Being stuck in peak-hour traffic, conversely, saw the Leaf use less range than distance travelled, thanks to its regenerative powers that really come into their own in stop-start traffic. More than one trip of 8km saw the Leaf use an indicated 5–6km of range.

Such was its frugality, I abandoned the idea of charging every day I was in the CA office, instead happily letting the range deplete throughout the week. Only when the range dropped below 50 per cent did I then fire up our wall charger to add some juice to the tank.

Charging times vary according to the power source, with a standard household socket needing 24 hours to replenish the batteries from empty. That time is slashed to seven-and-a-half hours using a 7.2kW/32A home charging unit that costs around $2000 to install. And using a public rapid charger can provide 80 per cent capacity in about an hour.

As already outlined, I was limited to using the wall charger at CA HQ, and over two weeks with the Leaf topped up just three times when range had fallen below 50 per cent. And it’s set and forget, hooking up in the morning and returning at knock-off time to a full tank.

Is an EV for everyone? Not at the moment, but there are plenty of compelling reasons why an EV such as the Leaf makes sense for some. It certainly made sense for me over the two weeks it was in my care. I can’t wait to have it back. And range anxiety? Pfft, what even is that?

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