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Living with an Electric Car
My experience of owning a fully electric Nissan Leaf

Nissan LeafWorking for a lease company I have been surrounded by new cars for some time. So the temptation to get a new car had been lurking for a while. I am a single mum, and live in a quiet village, and work and nursery are all only a small distance away. I had previously relocated from a village15 miles away, so still have friends there that I visit regularly. I also have family in Yorkshire and Birmingham, so the odd long run is necessary, therefore my annual mileage I predicted at between 5,000 and 10,000 miles. I was originally looking for a small – medium sized hatchback or crossover that was nicely spec’d with a reasonable boot space and back seat leg room, at a reasonable price. Originally I started looking into the Nissan Juke, Ford Fiesta, Citroen DS3 and the Nissan Qashqai. After a little consideration I ended up discounting all these options and was then advised by Nissan to consider the Nissan leaf, as I am prime market target. After a little persuasion I agreed to take on a Nissan Leaf on a 2 year lease plan, and two weeks later, on the 10th July, was delivered a Nissan Leaf Acenta in Metallic Black.

History of the Leaf

The Nissan Leaf made its first Debut back in 2010, and although it was not the first fully electric vehicle it was by far the most advanced. The New Nissan Leaf is available in four different models and boasts a long range of up to 124 miles on a single charge. The vehicles come equipped with Intelligent keys, start stop, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, electric mirrors and windows, Automatic Air conditioning, halogen headlights, 16 inch alloy wheels, and various safety features. In addition to this the Visia plus adds the Nissan connect with reversing camera, cruise control with speed limiter and privacy Glass. In addition to this the Acenta model adds Nissan carwings, 7inch colour screen, 6 speakers, colour reversing camera, Auto wipers and lights, with follow me home headlights, and black suede effect styling. Whilst the top of the range Tekna adds the BOSE 7 speakers with subwoofer, 360∘ around view Monitor, heated mirrors, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, full leather trim, and 17” Alloys.

Nissan Leaf Styling

First impressions of the car were great. Looking at images online beforehand, I was not sure how much I would like the look of the car, but I must say when it arrived it looked very stylish. The Blue metallic external styling on the badges and lights really stand out and look good against the black of the car. The privacy glass and styling of the lights give it quite a sporty look too. The delivery driver was very helpful and ran through a brief owners guide, with extra handy guide cards, because the manuals that come with the car are extremely long. I must say, I was very excited to get a new car, and was keen to get in and start driving, as it was a bit of a step up from my 02 plate Honda Jazz, that was falling apart.
The moment I stepped into the Nissan Leaf I was amazed at how roomy the car felt. I had not done much research on the Nissan leaf, so was not sure on what to expect, but I was very surprised at how much it looked and felt like a normal fuel driven car. The back seats were very roomy with three full size seats, big enough for 3 adults, with plenty of leg room, and the boot space was also very impressive, boasting 370 litre’s of space, plenty of space for a pram and shopping, which is very important for a family car.

Nissan Leaf Gear ShiftThe interior styling felt very contemporary, stylish, and fairly up Market. The leaf has an Automatic gearbox with Reverse, Drive, B drive mode and Park, the gear lever feels and looks much like a small computer joystick that looks slightly futuristic, and I must say I really like it, it is very comfortable in the hand, and I think the silver and blue styling of it looks great. There is also a small cubby hole behind it that I find is very useful to rest my keys in, as you don’t have to put the key in anywhere it is all automatic! Also, there are two cup holders and a very handy and comfortable full size arm rest complete with hidden storage compartment. I must say however I do feel the front of the car is lacking in storage compartments, and the glove box is very low down and quite small.
The styling of the Centre console is also very tasteful. I do like the blue on black, I think it is very fresh and modern. The buttons are all very user friendly and clear. You are not overwhelmed by buttons you have no idea what they are for and are so unnecessary you would never use them. It is very simple, and the buttons are big enough that you are guaranteed to only push one button at a time.

Nissan Leaf Sat NavThe Sat Nav System however, is a completely separate matter. You know you’re in trouble when you see that included in the book pack in the glove box is a user manual for the Sat Nav unit that is as big as the owner manual for the car, and I must admit one month on I am still learning what all the buttons do. The display is very clear however, and the sat Nav function is very useful as you can monitor how many miles to get to your destination, and it also brings up all the charge stations both nearby and on route. One point I do need to bring up though is that it does bring up some charge stations that are not open to the public, and I find this is an oversight as the car wants to take you to charging stations that you cannot use. Another annoying point is that upon starting the car a Nissan disclaimer shows up on the sat Nav system that you have to press “agree” to, but this comes up every time you turn the vehicle on, and after a while gets slightly annoying, and you should be able to turn this off.
The Leafs Digital Display is also quite funky with the blue LED’s, it is very clear and shows the battery power, the range you have on your battery, how economically you are driving, your acceleration, and has many other functions you can switch between, this all helps you to adapt your driving style to get the most out of the battery.

Nissan Leaf DisplayThe leaf comes very well equipped and has an abundance of gadgets, which I was extremely impressed with, and meant that it was much better spec’d than its regular fuel equivalents.
As the Leaf is electric there are no tax costs at present, and the additional insurance cost to go from an old and tired 02 Honda Jazz 1.4 sport to a New Nissan Leaf Acenta was only an extra £7.00. Add to this the zero fuel cost, I felt like I was making a big saving.
The Leaf came with a 3 pin plug charge cable in the boot, these cables come free of charge with all Leafs and is very handy to have. Most other companies you have to purchase this separately and they can retail for upwards of £350. This was my only method of charging to begin with, however I had applied to British Gas a week previous as they were offering free home charge points, so I believed I could manage with this as a temporary solution. I also have an outdoor socket outside of work available for me to use daily, so I know I could charge both at home and at work.

The Drive

The First thing I noticed about the Leaf was the silence of the engine. I started up the car expecting the engine to roar into gear. But the leaf simply plays a little tune, whilst all the dash lights up, and then that’s it! Followed by an eerie silence that just blows your mind. No more loud chugging as you drive along. It is blissfully quite. Which is great for people like myself who are hard of hearing as the stereo and sat Nav become easy to hear, without having to crank up the volume to full blast! It is however, quite un-nerving to pedestrians and cyclists, as you tend to startle them somewhat as you drive past. I noticed on a couple of occasions, that when driving the same direction as pedestrians some would step out into the road, relying in the fact they heard no cars coming rather than looking, and I had to come to an abrupt emergency stop in front of some bewildered and startled pedestrians. I also soon came to realize that wildlife are much slower at moving out of the way, and have had a Mexican stand off with cats on more than one occasion. Because of this however it makes you a much more Alert driver, constantly looking for hazardous situations (which can’t be a bad thing).
The Nissan Leaf, provides you with a very smooth drive, and feels very safe. It feels like a very sturdy car, so handles very nicely and you do feel like you are glued to the road. Other than the quietness, it feels like a normal fuel driven car thanks to its 108bhp. Driving position is very comfortable and the seat is fully adjustable with plenty of room for bigger, and taller drivers. There is plenty of room between the pedals, although the handbrake was slightly concerning at first, as it is a foot pedal, and is located where your clutch pedal would be, so for me coming from a manual car, I was very conscious of accidentally pressing this or pushing it down in an emergency break situation. However Nissan have made it so it does come quite far up whilst in drive position, so although it takes some getting used to, because you are so aware of it, you do get used to it, but could be a future improvement for Nissan.
When in normal drive mode the Nissan Leaf is surprisingly extremely nippy. It felt like I was sat on a racehorse having to hold it back from wanting to push forwards. I was very surprised at this, and instantly made it fun to drive, in my mind turning it from a great car for the older generations, to a very respectable car for the younger age groups too. I must admit I expected a slug on wheels, so this did take me by shock. I then found that because of the quite engine, smoothness of ride, and pokiness I was often speeding without even realizing! So had to start watching my speed. Because the vehicle is electric it can generate 100% torque instantly, making very quick off the mark, nipping into gaps in the traffic or shooting round a roundabout, making the car great for driving round town. Because of its pokiness and zero emissions I think this would be a great car for people who live and or work in London. Although quick acceleration and High speeds does dramatically affect the range capabilities and drain the battery much quicker.
Motorway driving, I found the range was much more limited. My first motorway journey I chose to keep to a short distance as a tester. Firstly the Nissan Leaf is limited to 90mph. I did not find this to be an issue and as a conscientious mother, welcomed it as a good safety feature to have. I do not see that you would ever need to go over the 90mph limit, given that the speed limit on motorways is set at 70mph. Therefore encouraging a much safer driver. I did find however, that if you do drive the car over 60mph on the motorway, you can kiss goodbye to the miles left on your range meter. It does dramatically reduce the mileage you will achieve on a single charge. At first I found this extremely annoying, I am very much a person that likes to get from A to B as quick as possible, so staying in the inside lane stuck between lorries travelling at 60mph I found extremely frustrating, however one month on, I actually find it a much more relaxing and enjoyable driving experience. You get to take in your surroundings and look at the views a bit more, and enjoy the drive, and are not as tired when you arrive at your destination.

Nissan Leaf Charging

Charging the Leaf turned out to be an absolute nightmare at first! If the car was a free demo, I would have given the car back, however as I was paying for the car and stuck into a two year contract I had to persevere, and I am very glad I did.

Nissan Leaf Charging StationWhen I got the car I was given a 3 pin plug, which was extremely handy, as this was my only method of charging the vehicle initially. A week prior to receiving the car I applied on the British gas website for a free home charge station, which I thought was fantastic – everyone loves a freebie, and this was going to make my life much easier. I received an email back from British gas to say because of the high demand they were prioritizing people who already had a vehicle, and as I had put my vehicle details in, that meant I would be prioritized – YES!!! One week after getting the car, I had a phone call from British gas, I could either opt for the free home charge station, or pay various monies to upgrade to various different units. I chose to upgrade to the next model up of charge station and paid my £99.00 to upgrade from a charge station that charges the car in 8 hours, to one that charges within 4-5 hours. However I would have to wait a further 3 weeks before they could fit me in to install the unit.
Unfortunately, as always British Gas failed to deliver, cancelling on me twice last minute, and caused me to wait a further week and a half before I could have the unit installed. Upon the day of installation my 2 hour appointment turned into a full day appointment, despite the engineer telling me, as my house was a new build, it was one of the easiest installations he had done. This left me severely disappointed and inconvenienced by British Gas.
In the meantime, coping without a home charge station was becoming extremely difficult. My first experience of charging at home did not go well. As far as I was aware at the time the 3 pin plug cable takes 8 hours to charge, so I had to stay in for the whole day to charge my car. I do not have any outside sockets at my house, so I had to plug in an extension reel upstairs, out my bedroom window and onto the driveway so I could plug the car in. The car flashed to say it had been accepted so I left it charging, as I had a long journey to fit in the next day. 4 hours later I went to check on the car and it turns out it was not charging and the miles left still said 22. I immediately panicked because I had just wasted the last four hours. I remembered being told the car needs 13amps to charge, so I checked my extension cable which turned out to only power to 10 amps. I instantly went out and purchased a 13 amp extension cable and then put my car back on charge. 10:00pm at night 8 hours after putting my car on charge, it is still not even registering a 70% charge. Furious I immediately took out my manual and proceeded to read a paragraph that immediately outlined the fact that you cannot and should never charge using extension cables, so in order to charge my car I would have to use the nearest plug to the door in my hallway, and leave my front door wide open for the cable to reach to charge my car.
I am also quite lucky, in that the Baldock A1 services are about 8 miles from my home, and they have a Rapid charger that claims to charge your vehicle in about half an hour, and I do now use this regularly to give my car a quick boost. They have recently installed a second charge unit, which I am very pleased at as before when I would drive in there was often a queue of leaf’s waiting to use it.
When I first got my leaf I researched the rapid chargers before my first long journey to Birmingham, as I knew I would need them. The internet took me to a website called “ZAP MAP” which I do now use all the time. It is a handy little tool, that shows you all the charge stations in the UK, it also tells you which connecters they are, what speed of charge they are, whether they are working (online), who they are owned by, if they are open to the public and if there is a charge to use them. I checked my route and the rapid chargers were all owned by a company called Ecotricity and they were free to use. So I set off on my journey to Birmingham, and decided I would stop at the very first services to make sure they were free to use, and that I could figure out how to use them whilst still leaving myself enough miles to get home, so that I’m not stranded. When I got to the services I pulled up at the charger, it is like priority parking as they are always near the front and are marked specifically for electric vehicles.

Nissan Leaf Motorway ChargingThe charger was clearly labelled one side for the Renault and the other for Nissan. But that is as simple as it got. I pressed the button on the screen and it asked for a card, so I went into the services to see if I had to buy the card, and no-one knew anything about it. After speaking to the services manager who came out to help me, we then went back to the charger and found a number to call, they then advised me that I actually needed this card to be able to access the charger. (Oh how I wish the internet had told me that beforehand) He did however explain to me that he could switch the charger on remotely to allow me to charge, so with the help of the manager and some good telephone instructions we plugged my car in and proceeded to charge. He went on to advise me he would follow me on my journey and hook me up to the charges as I needed him. Bearing in mind this was a Sunday and I would be travelling back late at night I was extremely grateful. He also went on to explain that when charging on the motorway you are only supposed to charge the battery up to a maximum of 85%. This takes approximately 30 minutes. This is because to charge from 80%-100% takes a further half an hour, so you are supposed to make more frequent shorter stops. The rest of my journey went well, and needless to say, when I got home I applied for the card immediately. I do think as this scheme id free to register to Nissan should provide a card with the car, and also ecotricity should team up with WH Smiths (as these stores are at most Services) who could sell (for a reasonable price replacement cards, and teach service staff how to use the charge stations, so that there is a little less reliance on the emergency helpline.
The other thing I had to get used to is people coming over to your car whilst you’re charging. Some people just come over to have a look and be a bit nosey, other leaf owners come over to see how long you have left to charge, and at first your special awareness instincts kick in everytime, so you have to kind of override these, and get used to it.

Nissan Leaf -6 months and 6,000 miles in…….

6 months in, I am so glad I stuck with it. It does take a lot of getting use to, but I absolutely LOVE my Nissan Leaf, and do not want my lease to end!! I recommend them to everybody, and have already convinced a good friend and my petrol head brother to get one, who are both enjoying theirs. I do not feel limited in any way by the driving range. There are plenty of charge stations throughout the UK available to use, and if I need to I have learnt to drive extremely economical to increase my driving Range. I actually feel the Nissan Leaf has given me lots of freedom, to drive anywhere I need to go without having to worry about extra petrol costs. I have family in Birmingham and Sheffield who I now visit at least once a month each rather than the once or twice a year as before, as I do not need to budget in extra fuel costs. I have also managed to get from my families home in Sheffield to Watford Gap which is 95.6 miles without charging, and still had 14 miles left on the clock, however decided to it was safer to stop and charge. I have through experience found that I drive this car leaving myself with the equivalent of a 30mile “reserve tank” I have had some nail biting experiences where I have only just made it home by the skin of my teeth due to junctions being shut. Most of the time my sat Nav unit picks up any road closures, but not always, and as such I decided it is always best to stop for that extra charge, than to chance it as I would rather make it home than have to be towed. I would also advise anyone thinking of buying this car to definitely get the Acenta model as the satnav unit is essential with this car.
This car is very cheap to run, I have a British gas smart meter in my home, and my fast charger uses less energy than my oven, and less energy than using my washing machine and dishwasher at the same time, my electricity costs have barely changed.
6 months on, there are still lots of things I do not know about this car, and am still learning everyday, but it also means that that feeling of having a new car stays with you longer, lots of people stop you and ask you about the car, and are interested in how it works, they are surprised at how quiet it is, and you get lots of people looking over when you are charging it along the motorway.
I also find myself often playing the leaf tree game while I drive. This is where the car awards you trees throughout your journey for the more economically you drive. I can now say I successfully achieved the maximum 5 trees in 89 miles.
One suggestion I do have however, that I would put forward to Nissan, is that they should team up with BP or Shell to provide a rapid charge station at their petrol stations. Because even if it was limited to a 10 minute charge, that you paid for, I would much prefer to do that, than to call for a tow truck.

Nissan Leaf GameIn summary, I find the Nissan Leaf is easy, Fun and comfortable and would definitely recommend it to anyone. I would definitely choose it again over the other vehicle options I was considering. I have had a Juke, Qashqai, Fiesta and Citroen DS3 on Demo and find the Nissan Leaf is more spacious, more comfortable, much more fun and better equipped than any of the other similar priced vehicles.

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