This morning I picked up a car for a week long test drive, which I guess wouldn’t normally warrant a blog post, except that it’s currently plugged in to a socket in the garage charging. At least I hope it’s charging: the comedy blue charge lights in the windscreen are flashing away and the Current Cost meter is stuck up at a constant 2.3 KW!
I should come clean up-front and admit that it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to trade in my current car for a Nissan Leaf, but the chance to test drive an electric car for a week was too good an opportunity to miss. I’m hoping to live blog how I get on over the week… excuse the pun.
For anyone interested in what it’s like to actually own a Leaf, there’s at least one other around Hursley already, plus Grant has had his Leaf for a lot longer than a week!
My first journey, driving from Portsmouth to Hursley, is probably the longest I’ll be doing this week, so I’ve got any range anxiety out of the way already. I shouldn’t really be surprised, but it also proved that the Leaf is a ‘proper’ car. Somehow I was expecting there to be more in the way of compromises. Apart from a twitchy left foot, and reaching to change gears every now and then, driving is really no different to normal. That’s just the switch from a manual though- I’m sure I’ll be attempting to drive everywhere in 2nd next week!
One of the comments when I mentioned trying an electric car was about what was used to generate the electricity in the first place. While there is an environmental aspect to electric cars, that’s not really what interests me as far as the test drive goes. What they’re like to drive was the main revelation for day 1. I can see what Grant means by “comfortable refined drive of an electric vehicle” now. It’s so much smoother and more relaxing than any car I’ve driven before. The start of the trip was all motorway, which was a breeze. I did find I had to keep a close eye on the speedo since there’s no engine noise, and no changing up through the gears to give away how fast you’re actually going. It even went up hill quite happily- I was still expecting some flaw at this point!
Talking of which, there’s also an ‘eco’ mode, which I tried out after I got off the motorway. Luckily I don’t think I’ll be needing that for my short commute to work because it feels like there’s a bungee rope between the motor and the wheels when you turn it on!
The only other problem I’ve discovered so far is that the Leaf sat nav doesn’t appear to be able to read maps, so not actually electric car related!
The good news was that the car was fully charged this morning! And as a bonus, nothing electrical has melted in the garage! (I can see why they suggest a dedicated charger now.)
Today was also the first chance to try out a completely normal commute. The battery level dropped two bars from an estimated 111 miles to 73 miles on the journey to work. Not being keen on the bungee mode, that was with ‘eco’ off, and via the M27/M3. In theory that’s going to be the least economical commute of the week, unless it gets colder and I need a heater of course!
Strangely, the battery level dropped another bar while the car was parked in Hursley for the day. Not sure whether that’s normal or not- does the battery discharge much when not in use and not charging, or perhaps I almost used three bars on the way in, or maybe temperature has something to do with the reading. Who knows. Anyway, here’s what I had in the ‘tank’ before setting off home:
Since Grant’s comment defending eco mode below, and because I wasn’t going on the motorway, I decided to give eco a second chance on the way home. It certainly seems to make a difference (only one bar less by the time I got home), and it’s not too bad I suppose.
Having read a bit more of the owner’s manual, I had a go at setting a timer for charging this evening. Apparently the battery life is better if you let it cool down before charging, and overnight should be better for the grid. (Getting some kind of economy 7 tariff would definitely be a good idea if I was going to be doing this regularly.) Tomorrow night I might see what the 80% charge option does to the range… it’s not far to work… and I have a backup!
The Leaf faced its toughest challenge yet today: a mother and baby! I had thought the boot looked a bit small but it’s actually deceptively big. Plenty of space for a buggy and assorted paraphernalia, as well as two golf bags according to the manual, should that be important. The back seat also seems reasonably roomy and ISOFIX points were all present and correct. (There was also a water bottle from a previous occupant!)
With everyone securely fastened we headed to the bright lights of the local super market… and did a few gratuitous laps of the local area on the way home. This has uncovered what could be a major flaw… ‘normal’ cars always send the screaming one off to sleep, whereas there was burbling from the back seat through the whole journey!
I finally got to pull away from a red light though. Which was fun!
Today I’ve been thinking about the practicalities of owning an electric car, namely charging. Ok, so I started out not seriously thinking a Leaf was more than a bit of fun for a week, but I’m starting to wonder.
Charging at home, it has been pointed out by Mrs JT, is a faff. While I actually prefer plugging in to charge instead of making detours and trips to petrol stations, I can’t disagree. The current arrangement (getting cable out of boot, plugging in to fully unwound heavy duty extension cable, turn on socket in garage) is fine for a week long test drive, but is far from ideal long term. Grant, who seems to be on commission for Nissan, suggested trying to get a free Homecharge-i charging station, which would make things much simpler.
My commute to work is only 1-2 bars, so it’s not likely I’ll need to charge up at Hursley. It would be good to have the option though, especially for a long journey after work. By coincidence the Hursley club motor subsection were meeting up at lunch time, so I went along to drum up some interest in the possibility of getting a free Zero Carbon World charging station for the clubhouse. (Another suggestion from Grant. You see a pattern emerging here!) It sounds like there’s some interest in the idea, and there’s a car rally in Hursley in September where we could try and get support to get something installed, so watch this space.
While I like the Leaf a lot, I’m still not convinced I would do journeys beyond the range of a single charge, or very rarely. Maybe an extended visit to family or friends with a suitable socket. (It’s odd that the Leaf’s range map doesn’t have a return journey option, or maybe it does and I just haven’t found it yet.) The coverage of charging points seems patchy and, worse, out of date- there’s definitely not a Best Buy charging station in Hedge End any more! Still, it looks like there might be a Waterlooville Nissan rapid charger, so I may give that a try when I have to drop the Leaf off.
I’ve phoned the Waterlooville Nissan dealer to check on their charger, so it looks like I’ll be taking a trip there on Sunday to see what fast charging is like. I’ve also been reading a few posts on the Leaf Talk forums and there seems to be more choice in free home chargers than I was expecting. Still surprised that you don’t need an electric car to sign up for one but might be worth doing in advance.
Instead of going on about how nice it is to drive again (it is), it might be more interesting to see what’s under the bonnet…
Not quite what you were expecting? Superficially it doesn’t look much different to any other car, and there’s even a 12v battery in there which is funny.
In the interests of a balanced review, one thing that is a bit weird is the contrast between all the smart key stuff for opening the doors and turning the car on, and a padlock to lock the charging cable to the car! It’s a bit annoying that you have to dig around for a key just for that padlock. (Somehow I keep losing the padlock as well!) On the subject of the charge cable, why is it stealth black? I’m amazed it’s not bright yellow or orange or something.
For any UK IBMers interested in a week long Leaf test drive of their own, details are on the environment community forum.
(The lost water bottle was also reunited with its owner today!)
Almost didn’t go anywhere in the Leaf at all today, so not much to report. Luckily there was a last minute pizza emergency providing an ideal excuse to at least do one trip. It was so short that I haven’t bothered to plug it back in to charge tonight.
Over all I think I still prefer my current car in lots of ways (better visibility, better interior, no nasty computer interfaces) but electric propulsion wins hands down. If only they did an electric Yaris!
Unfortunately the newest member of the family is not emission free, so I didn’t get a chance to experiment with the fast charger. It would probably have been a very short experiment anyway: the battery was over 80% when I dropped the car off!
After a week with the Leaf I definitely want to drive an electric car again, and the Leaf does look like it’s the most practical of the available options. I’m tempted enough to do some investigation in to charge stations- being able to get a charger at work and for home would certainly make things more interesting. It will also be interesting going back to the old car in the morning! (Any bets on how many times I’ll stall it on the way to work?!)
This may not be the last electric car post.