Nissan Leaf e+ 3.Zero

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By Tim Saunders

It’s going to take a lot to convert me to electrically powered transport. I used to watch the electric milk float drive down the road when I was small and wondered why it was so slow. Indeed, it used to be painful sitting in the long tailback behind one. Then in 1985 Clive Sinclair invented his famous and fun C5. There was a glimmer of hope that there could perhaps one day be an electric car. But true mass production didn’t happen until 11 years ago with the introduction of the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla.

I appreciate that the environment needs protecting from harmful gases – (Boris really should engage his brain before opening his mouth) - and I realise that the combustion engine is a threat to Mother Nature. But combustion engines are getting cleaner and they are not the only problem. What about the dirty gas boilers that power our central heating and those drafty older houses many of us still live in?

It’s 2021 and there’s been a lot of noise around green motoring. There’s only nine years left before the only new car we’ll be allowed to buy in the UK will be electric. So surely things must have improved in the 40 odd years since I watched that milk float struggle down the road. It’s not just me thinking this but fellow motorists in my area have replaced their old gas guzzlers with electric BMWs and Mitsubishis (sadly, the latter is pulling out of the UK). But how is that electricity generated I wonder. There’s a lot of talk about dirty electricity. So how clean is it?

Times are a changing. So when Nissan offered me their green Leaf, I thought I ought to embrace yet more change; let’s face it we’ve all been doing this since Covid arrived in one way or another so another shock to the system won’t hurt will it?

Compared to traditional cars the design is more bulbous, no doubt to make it as efficient as possible, reducing wind drag. I can’t say it makes me weak at the knees. But it is finished in a striking magnetic red two tone black and there are alloys, in compensation.

“What do you think, Harriett?” I ask my eldest daughter. “It looks ok but can you drive it at a normal speed?” she asks.

We find out when I take the troublesome trio on their first and only school run so far this year. And it gets us there. It’s a shame there isn’t a manual five- or six-speed gearbox, instead there’s an automatic, which isn’t particularly engaging.

We go on a 50 mile round trip to Petersfield and back leaving at 81% charge and 191 miles range. We return with 47% charge and about 100 miles range because of demisting the windscreens, heating the vehicle, listening the radio and having the headlights on. I rest my case. And try as I might I cannot find any way of heating my poor little feet or my wife’s on a cold day. That’s no good. Where a conventional car uses the heat from the engine for such purposes electric ones can’t do this. So there needs to be under floor heating to keep occupants toasty warm. In this day and age we shouldn’t have to suffer for protecting the climate but it’s also about compromises. I would happily forgive having power folding wing mirrors, air conditioning, electric windows, even heated seats and steering wheel if I could have warm feet instead.  

“But I do like the way it drives silently,” says my wife Caroline. It also has impressive acceleration but you don’t want to enjoy yourself too often for fear of having to charge it up yet again. But with a hybrid at least you have back up once the charge is lost will revert to its conventional engine. Once the range has gone in an all electric car there is no back up, you are stuffed and have to rely on a breakdown service to rescue you. When all is told the 85 per cent charged battery that claims to deliver 200 miles or so actually delivers about 150 miles or so driving it normally, using the heating, demisting the windscreens and listening to the radio. That is just pootling around travelling between 30mph and 60mph generally. Once you cruise at 70mph on the motorway that range will drop further. There is only a speed limiter and no cruise control.

It comes loaded with goodies, which is all well and good but when you realise that they must all be powered by electricity, the infotainment, air conditioning, heated front and rear screens, seats and steering wheel as well as windows and wing mirrors – this is all a considerable drain on the battery. Surely in the spirit of conserving energy and common sense all of these luxuries should either be stripped out or be manually operated. You might think me a kill joy but when the car is 87% charged it will travel about 190 miles on standard mode. If economy is selected, noticeably slowing the vehicle down it will travel about 10 or 15 miles more. However, deign to demist the front and rear screens 10 miles are lost instantly. It increases a little when these buttons are switched off. I then find myself snooping around the vehicle to see what can be switched off to prevent further wasted energy. I’m becoming like that old fart who won’t turn the heating on at home no matter how cold it is. That’s a point, we’ll each need to wear another sweater in the winter months to avoid the use of shrivelling the Leaf’s battery still further. That electric radio is a drain so that can be switched off for a start. If this is what driving an electric vehicle is like, please save me. NOW.

This is not fun. I should have known because when I was expecting the delivery, Keith, the driver phoned me to say that he was just charging the vehicle up. Then he called me again to say that he was just charging the vehicle up. Now, either he had dementia or this vehicle is inefficient. Whatever you do, do not put your foot down on that accelerator because the range plummets.

“It costs about a third as much to charge up an electric car as it does to fill a normal car up with petrol,” says Keith. “When charging at a charging station it takes about 35 minutes to charge 80 per cent of the battery for just over £12.”

“So can I charge the Leaf up myself?” I ask Keith. “Yes, you can either plug it into an extension lead or a quick charger, and it will fully charge in 32 hours.” It is claimed to be cheaper to charge at a charging station rather than at home although some operators have been overcharging and that’s not the batteries… So it’s a bit of a minefield for consumers. Then there’s the battery life. You don’t want to buy a used electric car because it will cost more than you spent on it to replace the battery. And then there’s the battery disposal. Now, how can that be environmentally friendly?

A relative is a London taxi driver, who before Covid had invested in an electric taxi. His experience has been one of charging stations providing low current charging so that a 35 minutes charges easily takes double that time. “Conventional cars park in these dedicated taxi charging bays and private electric vehicles use them when they shouldn’t,” he reveals. “One electricity supplier charges four times more for its supposed quick charge than it costs to charge a car at home.” He says that often in London there will be queues of electric vehicles waiting to charge at a small number of charging points in the capital. His taxi, although considered electric, is fitted with a petrol engine that charges the battery back up rather than being used to power the wheels. As far as I can see the Nissan Leaf does not have this option, meaning that range anxiety is a problem.

My feeling is that this technology that has been around for a very long time indeed, since about 1896 in fact, and is nowhere where it should be. What the hell have we been doing for the past 125 years? I look in awe at how our scientists have created Covid vaccines in record breaking time and then I look at the electric car. We are so much better than this.

Look at how far combustion engine powered vehicles have come and they have been around since 1885, thanks to Karl Benz. Peugeot can now squeeze almost 70mpg out of its small petrol engine while Honda gets over 80mpg from one of its diesel units all the while slashing emissions. These are massive achievements. And what achievements have been made in the electric world? 319 miles from one charge, if you drive at 30mph and a whole load of hassle and expense. Sorry, my already busy life now has a relentless workload thanks to Covid and this form of transport is just not viable for me. I can’t see there being a groundbreaking, earth shattering improvement in the next decade.

What should electric vehicle manufacturers be doing then? What about incorporating solar panels and wind turbines in their designs for a start? “That won’t work,” says my relative. “I used to sell Toyota hybrids and an option was a solar roof but it only powered air recirculation when it was parked,” he reveals. “Such a roof is very heavy and does not generate the electricity required to charge a vehicle battery.” Of course wind turbines are hugely expensive and only operate on a windy day, hundreds of feet up in the air. Ok, so can’t solar panels become lighter and manufacturers really must scrutinise their designs and use the lightest possible materials to see how they can save electricity but also generate it. At the risk of sounding like Tom and Barbara from The Good Life we need self-sufficient motoring and I believe it is possible. Elon needs to work much harder at helping the environment rather than lining his pockets.

We have some of the finest scientific brains in the world and we need more of them to become interested in electric car production. The only way we will improve on these current pitiful offerings is for small independent companies to pop up and show the big boys how it’s done. Britain’s future is here; this is the only way we will pull ourselves out of this dire recession. And only then will this form of transport be a worthy successor to the conventional car.

So in conclusion electric vehicles are still not viable for me, more’s the pity. I am used to being able to travel 500 miles without filling up and when I fill up it takes a matter of minutes. This is what the slow electric brigade is up against.

We all want electric cars to work but so much more needs to be done.

Leaf e+ 3.Zero
Price: £37,320 OTR
On the road price (includes Government Incentive – Plug-in Grant of 35% up to a maximum of £3,500 and £55 Government First Registration Fee)
Top speed: 98mph
0 to 60mph: 6.9secs
Range: upto 319 miles on a full charge (if you drive at a steady 30mph)
Emissions: 0

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