When Nissan first offered MyBroadband the chance to drive the Nissan Leaf, I immediately offered to do the review of the all-electric car.
The main reason is that cars are awesome machines, and people should drive as many as they can if given the chance.
My other reason was that the Ashley Madison hack list had just been leaked, and I was not keen to hang around the office while my colleagues made jokes about how even married people see more action than I do.
“I want a thorough review of this car, a serious road test looking at the vehicle’s pros and cons,” said the editor. “We must look professional and knowledgeable.”
I said okay, but decided to ignore his suggestions. Rather, I went to pick up a friend so we could take turns driving fast around a quiet neighbourhood.
I also asked for petrol money, which he gave me – he is going to be upset when this review is published.
Nissan Leaf – Road test
First off – did the car on Nissan SA’s website look anything like the vehicle I drove? The answer is yes, as you can see from the two images below.
The Leaf does not come in multiple versions in SA, so there are no “Highline” or “Comfort” variations you have to remember – it’s either a Leaf or it isn’t.
In case you are wondering, the company branding on the car is not standard, although I am sure Nissan would throw it in if you asked nicely.
It does act as a conversation starter, with two people approaching me for my business card as they were in interested taking driving lessons.
The Staff Writer’s friend
Next introduction: this is Roxanne. She has driven the Leaf before, and was my co-pilot for the review.
How an electric car works
Before we get into the joyride, there are a few things about the Leaf and its electric motor we need to touch on.
The car is 100% electric, with nothing but juice from your standard wall plug powering it. This means no petrol, oil, or emissions.
An electric motor also removes the need for gears and a clutch, including automatic gearboxes, with the Leaf driven by a single-speed transmission.
What this means is that you have a steering wheel, an accelerator, brake pedal, and what Nissan calls the “touch gear shift” – which you flick up for reverse, down for drive, and press the “P” button to put it in park (soft handbrake).
Essentially, all you need to do is to decide if you want to go forwards, backwards, or stop.
What also takes some time to get used to is the fact that the car makes no noise when it is on – a chime plays to let you know when you’ve pressed the start button.
An electric motor provides maximum torque as soon as you press the accelerator flat.
This gives a “tingle-in-the-stomach” feel when you accelerate hard, and the speed the Leaf produces from a standing start sucks you back into your seat a little.
This is thanks to its powerful little motor, which produces and 80kW and 254Nm of torque.
For example: A Toyota Fortuner diesel tried to beat me to an intersection from a red robot, and was comprehensively blitzed by the me and the Leaf. Hearing the sound of the engine beside me roar while all my car could muster was a soft hum was also amusing.
I had high expectations for the Leaf and its acceleration – based on what I know about electric motors – and the car delivered. Commence seeing how fast I could go between traffic lights and speed bumps.
Drive and handling
Roxanne and I took turns driving the Leaf around at a variety of speeds, and were both impressed with the smoothness of the drive.
You sit high up in the driver’s seat – even once adjusting the seat to as low as possible – which is not my cup of tea, but you get used to the position fast enough.
A combination of constant drive, a low centre of gravity (due to the car’s lithium-ion batteries being mounted under the floor), and 205 R16 tyres means in a straight line at speed and around fast corners there is no body roll – which gives you confidence to throw the car around and have some fun.
The constant torque and stable handling also ensure a fast and smooth progression to freeway speeds – with cruising at 120km/h stable and comfortable.
Nissan claims the Leaf’s top speed is 144km/h. I can neither confirm nor deny that the car topped out at a clock-speed of 160km/h, and can neither confirm nor deny that travelling at that speed was no issue at all for the vehicle.
The inside of the Leaf is huge. While it looks like a large hatch on the outside, the cabin is cavernous.
Myself and Roxanne put the driver seat and front passenger seat in comfortable positions, respectively, then climbed into the back to see how cramped it would be.
The answer: not at all. There was ample leg and head room, while the width of the back seat easily takes three adults.
All the seats are upholstered in leather, are firm yet comfortable, and sport a warming function in case it gets chilly.
The Leaf also comes with a touchscreen media display which controls the media centre; automatic climate control; and one of the the coolest digital displays available in cars today.
The digital display and charging
The driver’s display information is split into two parts: a speedometer, clock, and temperature section; and a battery, range, and drive display.
The speedo is pretty standard, but the digital display behind the wheel looks sleek and futuristic.
The range of the car, how much energy you are using, the battery temperature, and other bits of information are displayed here.
When it comes to charging, you can plug the Leaf into a wall socket at home or take it to a Nissan dealership that has a quick-charge station. I chose to charge the Leaf at home.
First, you need the charging plug and cable, which is packed in a case placed in the boot.
Next up, you open the cover on the nose of the car and plug in the cable. Lastly, step 3 involves plugging the cable into a wall socket and flipping the switch on.
Nissan says that a full charge from a home plug will take approximately seven hours. I came home with around 30% battery after work, plugged it in, and went to bed.
The car will stop charging once the battery is full, so leaving it overnight is not an issue. Charging at a quick-charge station will give you up to 80% battery in 30 minutes, said Nissan.
Now, the details that really matter: the range, charge costs, and price of the Leaf.
The stated range of the Leaf is 195km, which drops to around 130km if you accelerate fast and drive at high speeds.
This may not sound like much, but in the week it was more than adequate for my needs.
Driving to work, the shops, gym, then home averages between 30-60km a day for me – so even zipping around at high speed leaves ample battery before charging it at night.
If you do want to take long trips on the weekend, or are on the road a lot for work, obviously the Leaf would not be your first choice. If you live in a large city and spend most of your time in an office, then the Leaf will more than meet your distance requirements.
We roped in MyBroadband’s resident engineer to assist in calculating how much it costs to drive the Leaf versus a petrol alternative.
Based on the residential price of electricity in Centurion – 137c/kWh – filling the Leaf’s 24kWh battery would cost R32.88.
Driving how I drive, this means 130km costs R32.88 in “electricity”.
My personal car, which gives me 130km off 8.7 litres (6.7l per 100km) of petrol using the same driving style, would cost me R115.36 (8.7l x R13.26) in fuel to do the same distance.
The stats: price, services, and safety
Nissan Leaf – Specifications
|Power||80kW / 107hp|
|Max speed||144km/h (claimed) – 160km/h clock-speed (allegedly tested)|
|Acceleration 0-100km/h||11.5 seconds (claimed) – 9.2 seconds to 100km/h clock-speed (tested)|
|Wheels and tyres||16″ alloy – 205/55 R16|
|Dimensions||4.44m (L) x 1.77m (W) x 1.55m (H)|
|Service plan||3 year / 90,000km|
|Safety features||VDC, ABS, EBD, brake assist, ISOFIX, front+side+curtain airbads, daytime LEDs|
- Rear camera: displays feed on media screen when reversing.
- Regenerative braking.
- Power consumption indicators.
The Nissan Leaf is not an electric car trying to masquerade as a large hatchback – rather, it is a large hatchback powered by batteries.
A lot of the images associated with electric vehicles are thin tyres – for reduced resistance – low performance, poor range, and a lack of any luxuries.
The Leaf banished those images. It is a solid car that can keep up with most upper-end hatchbacks (minus the need for petrol) and was a pleasure to drive.
A big thanks to Nissan for letting us drive the Leaf around for several days.