This month, as promised in the intro to our long-term 2019 Nissan Leaf, I took the keys and executed my commute and daily driving duties – without fear or favour – to find out whether a very basic charging solution (at home anyway) would make sense for potential buyers.
Turns out it did...
In our last update, Rob Margeit mentioned 'range anxiety', and having recently visited the States, it's an issue brought up repeatedly within their motoring media fraternity, too, despite the extensive rollout of charging infrastructure. So it's not just Aussies who are worried about how far they can drive in the real world if they buy an electric car. Further, we're not alone in worrying about how easy (or difficult) they are to charge either.
Before I get into a bit more detail, let me explain the mindset I took into my time with the Leaf. And by that I mean charging mindset specifically, not so much the way I was going to drive, because I was determined not to change my driving habits.
So, in terms of the time I spent behind the wheel, I just drove the Leaf like I would any other internal-combustion-powered vehicle.
However, I approach electric cars the way we tend to look at mobile phones now, given how heavily we rely on them. That is, where I have the opportunity, I plug it in. Doesn't matter where, or for how long, I take the chance to top up an electric car any time I get it.
At home, I have a lock-up garage with a normal wall plug. The Leaf was plugged in each night at home. Or during the day if I was home for a few hours on a weekend, for example.
At the CA office in Sydney, we have a Tesla wall box like the type you'd have set up at home, and it works with the Leaf. So during the day while I was in the office, it was also plugged in, no matter how short the stay.
One area I did have to think a little differently was when I was out and about. I started researching ahead to see which shopping centres had charging facilities, which parking stations in the city had them, and any charging options that might have been close to where I was already going.
Not so much because I was worried about range, but more because I thought that I might as well take the opportunity to charge whenever I could.
There's a benefit to the charging stations in shopping centres and large carparks, too. Generally, they happen to be right near an entrance or exit, and they also usually get prime parking in terms of access into the shopping centre. No, prime parking isn't going to get you over the line to spending a massive wedge, but it helps when you have a week's worth of groceries in a trolley that's for sure.
My only issue was at the International Convention Centre in Sydney, where the chargers are the old type that aren't compatible with the Leaf, which resulted in two things.
One, I didn't get to charge the car while I was at a sporting event for a few hours, and two, I looked like an idiot fiddling around with cables and adapters ensuring that it wasn't just me making a mistake. It wasn't – I definitely couldn't use the chargers they had for the Leaf.
So, with the thought process explained, on to the driving.
First up, I don't like 'Eco' mode (too sluggish and doughy), but I do like the e-Pedal (takes a bit of getting used to), so my driving was almost exclusively done in 'Normal' mode with e-Pedal activated.
My commute is bang on 20km each way, but a run out to visit my parents, for example, is 36km from the office. A run out to work on a project vehicle I'm spending way too much money on is 87km from the office.
Again, I could have run from home to work and back without charging, a couple of times in fact, but I didn't try to tempt fate. The lowest the Leaf battery was for a home charge was 47 per cent, and the next morning (I reckon about 10 hours after plugging in), it was fully charged.
I saw a reading of 32 per cent at the office, but thanks to the faster-charging wall box, it was easily fully charged again by the end of the work day.
That 160-odd-kilometre return run I did out west from the office wasn't an issue either, not even approaching the maximum claimed range. A couple of things to note here, too. The Leaf isn't fanciful in range claim. If the range shows 200km, and you travel 100km, for example, you'll generally have very close to 100km left in the tank. So to speak. It makes calculating longer drives a little easier.
Yes, you will eat into that range a bit more during prolonged highway runs, and on hot days with the AC running apace, but again that's something you get used to factoring in.
In fact, once you get into the mindset of charging whenever and wherever possible, you don't drive the Leaf any differently to any normal vehicle really. What I do love about electric cars is how much sense they make in the city. That annoying on/off traffic we all get stuck in is so much more bearable in an electric car.
Throttle response is sharp, you can dart into spaces effortlessly, and moving silently through the traffic is actually quite peaceful. The whole experience is pretty effortless.
The other area I think deserves some praise is the ride quality. Plenty of electric vehicles we've tested are pretty firm riding on poor surfaces – heavy weight figures and low rolling resistance tyres – but the Leaf isn't one of them. It's genuinely comfortable even on nasty road surfaces, which makes it even more pleasant to use around town.
As Rob suggested last month, electric cars work really well for some people, and if you can afford a second vehicle that you use as a runabout, you should almost certainly be looking at one. If you can only afford one car, the Leaf will still work for people who don't do the 'what if I want to drive to Perth?' thing that people like to toss up. Because plenty don't...
I really like the Leaf, and the more you drive it, the less you worry about it being electric and the more you just enjoy it. Yes, it's not as cheap as a conventional hatchback, but then neither is the best smartphone on the market as cheap as the one that just makes calls and sends texts.