My first electric lust object was my neighbour’s electric toy car. It was powered by a 12volt battery, seats only one and could go forward and backwards. I remember its red paint with head and tail lights that actually lit up. This toy represented the pinnacle of all toy cars way back then. The closest thing I owned to that gem of a car was a self-powered pedal car. You can imagine the envy as I pedalled furiously only to have my friend overtake me with absolutely no effort at all.
I suppose karma is working then, and it is now my turn, and I am now in possession of a fully electric car – the NISSAN LEAF. I have been chosen as one of the first four individuals (they call us LEAF Ambassadors, I just count myself fortunate) to be handed the keys to a fully electric vehicle for real world testing and ownership. Kudos must be given to the people responsible for the LEAF Ambassador program to have embarked on such a program. They have shown great faith and confidence in the car to allow this untested (at least in a Malaysian market) Electric Vehicle (EV) to be handed over to four total strangers who will have to live with the car for six weeks.
So.. What exactly is a fully Electric Car then? Excellent question.
For those not lucky enough to have owned your own electric toy car, you may have yet already sampled or driven an electric vehicle already. For all you golfers, yes, it is the humble golf-cart!
In any golf-cart, you will find the following.
- The brake and accelerator pedals.
- A battery life indicator.
- An on-off switch.
- A steering wheel.
You will find all the above in the LEAF except they look and perform miles better.
Comparing the NISSAN LEAF with the humble golf-cart may seem to be putting the LEAF several rungs down in the technological scale. I suppose it is like comparing the humble kettle to a microwave oven. The LEAF is much-much more than a golf-cart, yet it is essentially the same, albeit better, faster, more sophisticated, more comfortable and I would even say stylish.
But is it a car?
Sure it is. I am a petrol-head through and through. I own an Alfa Romeo147, my second Alfa, which makes me a bona-fide petrol-head in Jeremy Clarkson’s books. I also ride big and fast motorcycles, which I cannot help but spend good money to make them go faster. So take it from me. The LEAF is as much a car as anything else that I own (past and present).
Just different. In place of the familiar cranking sound when starting a car, all you will hear is a gentle chime to tell you that the EV is now ready. Not a single sound emanates from the engine bay and only the sound you will hear is that of the air conditioner betraying the silence with its familiar hum. Toggle the “gear” lever to drive, release the brakes and the LEAF glides forward silently. So silent is the leaf, an artificial noise had to be created to warn pedestrian that the car is close by.
Stepping on the go-pedal, and the LEAF simply bullets along. Like a slingshot being released. With no engine revs to build, the electric motor simply produces all 280Nms of torque from standstill. I have caught many amazed looks from other drivers when I rocket away at traffic lights before they can even get to second gear. Doing this once a day is recommended, and it certainly will put a smile on your face and I guarantee you’ll make Jetson’s like sounds with your lips as you pull away from the others.
Whilst the LEAF can certainly win most traffic light sprints, staying fast isn’t something you’d like to do because this is perhaps the EV’s Achilles’ heel. When asked to go fast and to stay fast, the LEAF will happily comply, but with stiff penalties in range. Still, quick bursts of speed are certainly addictive especially when produced in such a silent yet remarkable way.
The LEAF has two forward modes. Normal and ECO. Normal gives you full power, and ECO gives you about 60%. Using ECO mode also increases the regenerative system clawing back some electric power through its clever system. The difference is night and day. The easiest analogy is this. Normal gets you going like a 2.0liter turbo car and ECO gets you there like a standard 1.6l would. So Jekyll and Hyde characters can be toggled by a simple flick of the “gear” lever.
Cruising along is silent and is no fuss, and the ride quality of the LEAF is near luxury car levels and probably quite a bit quieter.
How far does it go? This is probably the most common question I have received and is one of the biggest problems manufacturers of full EVs will have to overcome. Before I go into the whole range debate, let me first say this. The biggest problem is the PERCEPTION of a limited range. Granted any EV will not be able to make cross country commutes, but when it comes to pure city driving, then the EV will certainly be able to get you there and back 99% of the time.
If your daily commute is over 90kms then the
closest electric vehicle you can own is probably a hybrid. The LEAF has a real world range of about 110kms. This is with the air-conditioner turned on, and driving conservatively (small bursts of power here and there) in ECO mode. So the perception is that this is a BIG problem. What if I run out of power? What if I need more range? Allow me at this point another analogy.
Remember when your Nokia/Ericsson/Motorola phone which had a 6 day battery life? Well.. smartphones came about, and we all bought one of these sexy devices with their big screens and their extra functionality, only to complain that the battery doesn’t last quite as long anymore. Then we adapted. We get home in the evening and the new smartphone gets plugged in. In reality, there was no real change in actual usage time. Similarly, I plug in my LEAF when I get to my charging station (mine is in my office), and it is always ready fully fuelled for another 110kms.
As I was saying, if your daily usage is going to be below 90kms, you will have no problem making the LEAF your primary car. Get home, plug it in, have it on standby. No problem then.
Not the end. I aim to document my entire ownership of the LEAF, so do check in again next week where I cover a little more about how using an EV can help save you money on petrol.