We can assure you the irony of this opening gambit is not lost on us, but the media attention Tesla receives, you may think that has been the only supplier of electric cars.
Perhaps we should not be too surprised. After all, when you have an outspoken, entrepreneurial polymath, in the form of Elon Musk at the helm and your family saloons can reach 60 mph faster than a Lamborghini, people are going to notice. In the same way, when you start an example of your old silent roadster in the silence of space, people are going to jabber. And if possible also the promise of almost 400 km range with one charge of the battery, that they are going to queue around the block.
The kicker? Simple: a Model S sedan cost of £ 80,000, and, while a smaller, more mainstream Model 3 with a price of less than half that of the input, the production problems in saying WE do not cross the Atlantic until next year. Today we got Tesla, on the one hand, then, and consider that the most accessible options for those who feel now might be the time to kick the habit of hydrocarbons.
Which brings us to the charging bays in a snowy Beaconsfield services, a sprawling autotropolis at the junction two of the M40, with three electric car you could buy tomorrow and would cost considerably less than a you-know-what. Is cold-horribly so – and during the 30-mile hop from Autocar’s road-test of a base in the south-west of London, our cars have a little worrying to shed 60 miles of range indicated. That is a bit of a reality check, immediately.
In fact, with none of the three contenders who benefit from active thermal management of the battery in order to avoid the cold, and then safeguard their independence, the timing of this test only the worse for the producers involved, if South Bucks were all of a sudden was hit by an electricity brownout. Such bad weather is, however, rather convenient for the rest of us, because we judge these cars in any way of their respective comfort zones.
So, this new, British-built Nissan Leaf, which is the main reason why we are here: this is a big deal? Yes, it is a turning point, potentially. For the second generation of the world’s best-selling electric car, the driving range is increased by half again, of the 168 km on the new, more representative WLTP test, with power almost in the same way encouraging proportion.
Now there’s 148bhp on offer, 107bhp, even if it’s the 236lb ft (an increase from 187lb ft) from a standstill that you can easily perceive. The machine costs less than before, too, with our well-equipped Tekna model level (Bose sound system, heated seats all-round and semi-autonomous driving functions) at a cost of £27,490 after a £4500 government grant for plug-in cars.
With that range, in particular, is compelling, more usable package than before, and, while the curious proportions of the old model is not completely faded, the 2018 car is without a doubt the most elegant and the dark accents on the white paint, give a hi-tech identity previously missing. Still has a large fund, and the mind.
Adjacent to the Leaf, quick-charge at a cost of 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, are for the Volkswagen e-Golf and Renault Zoe. Are the key rivals at the turn of the newcomer on the price and, for lack of a better word, premium-ness. The French car, with his comical tough-guy frown, is still cute as Zircon Blue even five years after launch, and continues to strike the same-but-different aesthetic better than most.
It is cut out of the qualities and cookie mould, and we already know that sacrifices a bit of refinement and practicality to the other, but counters that with a convincing series of vital statistics.
Our sub- £ 20,000 car in the test (even if you pay 59€. per month for the battery rental) is a Q90 model. With 87bhp is a bit less powerful than the R90, but in exchange is able to load on a 43kW rapid charger, as it is provided by Ecotricity, a station that at the moment we are wired. That comes to 80% of a real-world range giving a nudge to 150 miles in just over an hour.
The Leaf, by comparison, lasts a bit less than an hour for an 80% top-up and e-Golf takes about 45 minutes. However, being good for only 120 miles or so, in the real world, the guide, the VW is the shortest, but most expensive, the legs of the three.
We will not be here for too long, then. In any case, 45 minutes is the maximum time of stay in the Ecotricity bays, and it is enough time for our test subjects to employ at least 100 km of autonomy. Most of the owners charge at night, of course, and, with a wallbox at home, a full charge would take up to four hours for the Zoe, five hours for the e-Golf and seven-and-a-half hours for the Leaf. That is cheaper than a bi-fuel station trip? One for you to decide.
After driving the Zoe so far, bulking for Nissan, the next leg of our journey it seems sensible. We are heading towards a picturesque place in the Chilterns that is supposed to be useful for photography, if snapper Luc Lacey fingers you have not already taken. Where Zoe can feel a bit of a toy – something that plays to his advantage in built-up areas – the Leaf immediately feels like a machine in which large distances would be of little interest if it were equipped with a combustion engine and the fuel tank. In fact, if it were not for their zero emission engines, these two would never otherwise cross paths as rivals, and the shift from a traditional family, the door Leaf would feel quite natural.
The interior, in particular, has a nice maturity, even if the 7-inch touchscreen is, unfortunately, low resolution and there is too much cheap plastic panels at this price. Still, it is cushty and spacious here, and, above all, which heats up more quickly than the others.
On the roads, there is a lot of mud and ice, but the impact that these have on the driving experience is questionable. Simply, the Leaf of apparently new, but built on the old platform and with the same high driving position – is firmly faithful to the detached modus operandi of the electric car. This means that while the steering is faster and a fraction longer than before, there is really a breath of useful feel. Say something “useful”, because the management of the combined roll and a heavy battery resulted in a stiffened chassis, which feels a lot agile, but never really settles on most of the roads, and, then, transmits low-frequency patter in the cabin.
In speed, the primary ride is generally commendable, but do not expect a correspondence of the combustion engine alternatives on anything but the smoothest of surfaces. Mind you, those machines do not receive an ‘e-Pedal’. It is a more aggressive regenerative-braking setup that Nissan has calibrated to appeal to the slacker in all of us. And ‘one pedal driving’, the marketing campaign, he says.
And it is also true the opposite. With a judgment timed lift, you can roll in a curve, having shed just enough speed to give the tires a chance and then take the super-responsive throttle as you exit. We’re not talking about Toyota GT86 levels of the curve, delight here, but there is amazing fun to be had in always right.
The time is short, and the next is the £28,230 and Golf. No question, the exterior is the most desirable of the three, and does not unduly make the Zoe down, it’s also the car that the Leaf really needs to beat. The LED fangs in the front bumper are quite a statement, but otherwise this is just a Golf, and as such is a uniquely accessible yet aspirational device. While Nissan has taken some steps forward in the tangible quality of the Leaf, once inside it is clear that the German car is still in another league of strength and Polish.
Then, what affects you once the wheels are turning is like this, of course, the car positions its drivers, and the authenticity of its weights and the responses in comparison to the other. Has not quite the same spring in his step, like the Nissan, but remember that it is a touch heavier and with 134bhp, slightly less powerful. I suspect that the fact that the mop up irregular surfaces and communicates grip levels much more fluent further diminishes the sense of speed. Electric form, the Golf remains a class act.
And yet, as beautifully as the German auto normalize the EV driving experience, it loses the numbers game with a useful driving range of almost 50 miles short of where it needs to be, at least until a 48kWh battery gets in the near future.
Is the long-awaited second-generation Leaf is the best EV here today? It is not, in truth, because the e-Golf remains the most neatly resolved package: better looking, better to drive, better to be in. But the Nissan is not so far behind, and have a tyre on the VW jugular in the form of a greater range.
They allow you to subtly rephrase the question, then: the Leaf, the first electric car that will make most sense for the majority of the people in terms of cost, practicality, the range and sophistication? So long as our enjoyment of fossil fuels to the date not to fall too many more days like this, then yes, this new Nissan is that machine.
1 – Add range, refinement and a rich charging infrastructure to enhance the new Leaf at the top of the affordable EV in the standings
2 ° – Still a wonderfully well-rounded product, and has a within-class quality. Need to go over it with a full charge, even if
3 ° – Cute, capable, and, even if a bit out of his depth, next to the largest electric rivals, and probably beats them for driving in the city
It is time to switch to electric?
The passage from the pump to the cable will be a attractive, but daunting, proposition for many motorists. So, putting to one side the problem of limited range and the benefits of environmentally friendly travel, as the numbers stack up?
For the VW Golf of similar space and performance for the Tekna-grade Leaf tested here, you’re looking at a R-Line model 1.5-liter TSI Evo gasoline engine. It is a beautiful machine that costs £26,975, cutting the EV of about £500, and is similarly well-equipped. Based on our test an average of 2.8 miles per kWh for the Nissan, and 40 miles per gallon for the Golf, for 10,000 miles you pay just under £430 in electricity or about £1360 of the fuel. The bill does not assume all of your charging is done at home, but does not factor in off-peak rates, which may be only half that of the typical 12p per kWh in the UNITED kingdom.
Clearly, on a day-to-day, the Leaf would be the cheaper car to run, but what about the depreciation? Using the price of Leaf before any government grant, our sources suggest that after three years and 36,000 miles it would be worth 37% of its original value. The Golf, however, should retain 42% of its original price. All in all, it’s closer than you might think.
Upcoming developments in the industry:
The popularity contest for electric cars is still very much a numbers game regarding the driving range. The capacity of the battery or the proliferation of infrastructure for recharging it can fix the problem, even if, of course, the eventual solution will be a combination of both. Consider that Volkswagen is preparing a 48kWh battery for the e-Golf, which is 260 miles of range in NEDC cycle (and, probably, the victory in this trial).
Using one of the 350kW charger Dutch infrastructure firm Fastned has recently opened on the outskirts of Amsterdam, it would take about ten minutes, almost completely filled the battery.
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