The eccentric shape may divide opinion, but when it comes to electric cars, the Nissan Leaf is still in charge
IN NORWAY, hydroelectric plants generate 99 per cent of the country’s electricity. At the same time electric vehicles sell better there than anywhere else – and all that in a country that boasts more than half of the North Sea’s remaining oil and gas reserves.
This is part of the reason I find myself in Oslo driving the latest Nissan Leaf. In Norway there is no sales tax or road tax to pay on electric vehicles (EVs), and in some cities, including Oslo, parking and charging – via a comprehensive citywide infrastructure – is free. Best of all, you can drive in the bus lanes, which improves commuting times significantly.
This 2013 Leaf model has undergone more than 100 different improvements to ensure it’s a better car to drive and easier and more convenient to use. Power and range have been increased and the plug-in charging unit, which used to take up boot space, has been relocated to the front of the car, liberating an extra 40 litres. Meanwhile, charging time has been cut in half to four hours. The car is also lighter and has an improved ride thanks to a chassis retuned for European tastes. The result is an electric car that is comfortable, practical and fun.
The important news is that this 2013 model is being sold with new trim levels and a whole new payment structure for ownership. Now, for the first time, you can opt to reduce the overall cost of the car by leasing the battery instead, with prices beginning at £70 per month.
Exterior refinements are subtle to say the least: the car is as funny-looking as it’s always been. The interior, has become more conventional, although it still feels futuristic, with its cool blue accents.
This Leaf is much more fun to drive than previous models. The steering doesn’t feel particularly responsive at speed but around town this translates into better manoeuvrability. Zippy, comfortable and quiet, progress feels efficient, and the new Leaf feels faster than the 0-62mph acceleration time suggests. Sure, it’s niche, but if you have a commute within a range of 80-90 miles or so, you can charge it in the garage at home or at work. The £2 it will cost you to do so is a seductively small price to pay. The knowledge you will never have to loiter in a petrol station forecourt ever again is enticing. As the infrastructure grows, many of the obstacles to EV ownership will be eradicated, just as they have been in Norway. It will be interesting to see if the Mayor’s office ever throws its weight behind a functional, free charging network in London.
In Norway there’s a plan to install fast charging units in McDonalds car parks. Now that really does sound like progress.
THE FACTS: NISSAN LEAF
0-62MPH: 11.5 secs
TOP SPEED: 89mph
CO2 G/KM: 0g/km
RANGE: 124 miles
DESIGN FOUR STARS
PERFORMANCE THREE STARS
PRACTICALITY THREE STARS
VALUE FOR MONEY THREE STARS