The Nissan LEAF is the first all-electric car to hit South Africa. SEAN BACHER tries it out and finds it well-kitted, but still needing work.
When we think electric cars, many of us think sluggish, square and heavy vehicles that are more of a novelty than a safe and reliable transport mode.
Nissan has changed this perception with the LEAF (Leading, Environment Friendly, Affordable, Family car), the first all-electric car to reach South African shores. Yes, it is heavy, but it is by no means sluggish and its size makes it a comfortable family car.
On the outside
When I first saw the LEAF I was surprised by its size. I was expecting a little two-door hatchback no bigger than the Ford Ka. But the Nissan LEAF is spacious. It doesn’t have a transmission, doesn’t have a gearbox and doesn’t have any differentials, so all this means more space. Four grown men can fit in it comfortably. The 370-litre boot is big enough to store a set of golf clubs and more. A hidden cargo well is also located in the boot to hide valuables.
The LEAF won’t get full marks in the looks department, but the car has been designed to “slice” through the air as it moves along, instead of creating wind resistance.
This is immediately noticeable when you look at the car’s front. Its headlights are oversized and protrude from the body like shark fins. This design enables them to deflect most of the air away from the wing mirrors, which are the only flat surfaces on the car that will cause wind resistance.
Secondly, because the LEAF does not have an engine, there is no need for a radiator for cooling, so the bonnet curves all the way down to the bumper without any openings, thus creating a completely smooth surface, buffering air over the windshield and away from the car. This curved bonnet also helps to keep the front drive wheels down at high-speed.
The Nissan LEAF
The LEAF has a bonnet (or hood, in American-speak) like any other car. When opened, you see only an aluminium block that houses the 80kW motor and a 12-volt car battery to power the windscreen wipers, lights and indicators, along with a windscreen wiper water receptacle and a fuse box. But no dipstick to check the oil or a place to top up the car’s oil and water.
Buyers have the option of going with leather or cloth finished seats. The rear seats fold down, giving more room, for example when the dog needs to come for a ride.
When I first climbed into the car, I found myself riding quite high, which was a disconcerting at first as I felt rather detached from the road, but this quickly passed. The ride height is a result of Nissan stowing all 192 batteries under the front and rear seats. This not only enables the mechanics to gain access to them easily should they need to be swapped out, but it also keeps the car’s centre of gravity low and keeps the load even (the batteries being one of the heaviest components in the car).
Four grown men can easily fit in the LEAF
Let’s get things started
The Nissan LEAF really shows its true colours once you are in the driver’s seat and are ready to roll.
The LEAF is packed with most of the features found on high-end cars
Firstly, the car is completely keyless, meaning the car automatically locks itself once the remote is out of range. In fact, the remote does nothing more than sit in your pocket and is only used for when the central locking or alarm has to be over-ridden.
Once the Start button is pushed, you get what can only be described as an eerie silence. No engine means no rumbling sound coming from the car. Instead, you are greeted by a Nissan tone indicating that the car is starting up. A logo is displayed on the infotainment unit on the centre console and, when all the system checks have been performed, the car is ready to drive. It is more like the Nissan is booting up instead of starting up.
Once the dashboard lights are on and all the systems have been checked, it is a matter of pushing the gear knob from park into reverse or drive and releasing the handbrake, which is actually activated and deactivated using your left foot. As a safety measure, the car will only go into gear when the brake is engaged. Once in drive and the brake released, the car will start rolling forward – much like an automatic.
On the open road, the car operates like an automatic, but it doesn’t change gear – as there is only one. This is a little disconcerting at the beginning, but something that I didn’t even notice after a few days.
The Nissan LEAF offers two heads-up displays. The first shows the speed, the date and time and a leaf, which indicates how economically you are driving. The more economical, the more the leaf grows: the more abrupt the driving habits, the quicker it dies. The second heads-up display shows battery heat and the distance the car can drive until it needs to be recharged. Like most new cars, this can be changed to display the average speed, distance travelled and maximum speed. A power meter that shows the driver the acceleration status and how much the motor is being use to slow the car down. The motor acts like dynamo in that it recharges the batteries when it is used to slow the vehicle down on a decline.
The dual heads-up displays
The centre infotainment 7″ WVGA (Wide Video Graphics Array) display shows the car’s on-board navigation system, current radio station, cellular reception and a rear-view camera for when reversing. Nissan has taken a lot of the guesswork out of working the display, as it is touch-operated, allowing drivers to navigate from function to function without taking their eyes off the road too much.
When the car is parked, drivers can change settings, like the delay between the lights turning on and off and how much the batteries should charge until they are full. (Nissan recommends not charging the batteries to 100% until they have been properly worn in).
The steering wheel controls allow users to adjust the radio’s volume, make and receive calls and manage the car’s cruise control. An Eco button allows the driver to switch the car into a power-saving mode. When this feature is activated, the motor’s power is limited, allowing the driver to get a further range, albeit at a much slower speed.
The LEAF’s centre infotainment display
The Nissan LEAF does not perform so well in the recharging department. Firstly, the car needs to be recharged for around 11 hours each evening, depending on how far it was driven that day. Secondly, users cannot just plug it into their home wall socket: a charging station needs to be bought and installed at their home. This is over and above the cost of the car.
The LEAF has a range of only 180km, and this is driving it gingerly with the Eco feature activated. When the Eco feature is de-activated, the range reduces to just over 100km. That said, Nissan has outfitted a handful of its dealers around South Africa with quick-charging stations, allowing drivers to pull in and top up their batteries. However, these quick chargers are only for emergencies and shorten the battery’s life due to the way they “spike” large amounts of voltage in a very short time.
The Nissan LEAF with being charged
The LEAF boasts loads of features, putting it in the same class as some high-end luxury cars. It has also been awarded an NCAP 5-star rating and is great for the environment with its zero emissions. But, even though it is well-suited for driving around town, it’s limited range means it is not the car you will take down to the coast, or even to the next city. There is still some time before drivers will trade in their old gas-guzzler in favour of the LEAF. And, with a price of R480 000, the LEAF is out of reach for most South Africans.
Specs at a glance:
Battery type: Lithium ion
Maximum speed: 144km/h
Range: 180km – depending on driving habits
Acceleration 0-100km/h: 11,5 seconds
Weight: 1 521kg
Number of airbags: 6
Price: R480 000 including the charging station.
Service plan: Three years or 90 000km
* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher
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The car most certainly can be plugged into a normal outlet. It is then that the car takes up to 11 hours to charge, depending on how much charge was left when you plugged in. You can buy a 240 volt fast charger that can reduce that time from 11 hours to 3.5 hours, and you can charge it as much as you want without fear of damaging the batteries. Alternatively, there is an even faster charger that can charge it from 0 to 80% in about a half hour. It has its own special plug and is meant to be used sparingly. I have yet to see one of these chargers where I live and I don’t know if I ever will.
Also, turning off Eco Mode does not decrease your range from 180 to 100. At most it would decrease it by 10, not 80. Using the heater in the winter and traveling at highway speeds are the two biggest drains on the battery. The car comes standard with heated seats and a heated steering wheel to try to help people turn the heat off for longer periods, the theory being if your hands and butt are warm then you won’t need to run the heat as much.
I just wanted to clear those things up for anyone interested in getting one of these cars. We love ours, and while we do have a second car for longer trips, the Leaf is our main car.
If you charge it with a Level 2 Charger (220V), it takes only 4 hours to fully charge. It takes only 2 hours to charge to 50%.
Quick Charging at a Nissan dealership is not for “emergencies only””. Nissan themselves state that the Level 3 (440V) can be used every
day. Over the lifetime of the battery (10 years) it will result in only a fractional battery capacity loss.””,””body-href””:””””}]”
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