So I slid the car into eco mode set off on the N1 North.
The first thing that struck is how normal the Leaf is, the only notable difference: the lack of engine noise. On my drive I took the opportunity to explore the interior. And for me this is an important part of my experience with a car. It's roomy and provides adequate seating for three passengers in the back seat. It's a pleasant place to be in, although the pace of development is so quick that what may have been great interior last year now seems a little dated.
The ride is comfortable and the suspension absorbs road imperfections well, while giving the car a measure of controllability. The steering was also pleasantly direct.
The Leaf handled most of the trip to Pretoria well although I did spend an inordinate amount of time lifting off to try and recoup some kilometres through the car's regenerative braking system so my average speed was a paltry 80km/h. At every incline, the Leaf lost a lot of mileage so I had to be circumspect when approaching steep hills. Besides the fact that my drive to Pretoria took a bit longer than normal, I made it without further incident. The range upon arrival was: 50km, 4km less than the distance to my home. I felt a hint of range anxiety.
The trip back was anything but uneventful.
Less than 25km out of Pretoria, the range was 10km and dropping fast. I had to make a plan. I stopped at a garage on the R101 and asked the petrol attendants for a plug point. I think their incredulity at my suggestion of wanting to charge a car "like a cellphone" was what made them curious enough to allow me to plug the Leaf in. This is quite easy, insert the plug into normal plug point, insert to connecter into the car's charger receiver and it starts charging immediately. After about an hour and a half on the charger, the battery had gained about 30km in range, just about enough to get me home. The final stretch of the journey was spent with quite a bit of range anxiety, trying to avoid hilly roads and praying for a miracle. I made it home and charged overnight.
In an urban setting however, the Leaf proved to handle the suburban stop/start driving environment with ease. The car's regenerative braking system worked extremely well and I found that it used the car's battery power very efficiently. It is the ideal urban run around.
The success of the electric car in South Africa hinges on how quickly the industry and government can create a reliable, and efficient charging infrastructure. There are some encouraging signs. Eskom is currently running tests on the Leaf and the electric car's impact on our grid, and recently an announcement was made by BMW SA and Nissan SA that the two manufacturers would cooperate in creating a charging infrastructure for electric cars.
The running costs of the Leaf are very low, as they would be for a vehicle that uses zero fuel and whose power-train has less moving mechanical parts than a conventional car's. This might perhaps mitigate against the inevitable range anxiety that will afflict a potential owner until the charging infrastructure is established. Having said that though, it is important to note that a new version of the Leaf is due for release in 2017 or 2018 and according to Nissan CEO, Charles Ghosn the range of the battery has been extended to “comparative to today’s conventional vehicles" range of 400km, a welcome development indeed. Already, South African born Elon Musk's Tesla Motors claim a range of about 420km for their all electric Model S which, unfortunately, is not sold in Mzansi. Substantial R&D investments have been made by motoring manufactures into increasing battery range while reducing charging time and these will bear fruits soon and eliminate range anxiety.
Even after 5 years in the market, the Nissan Leaf still easily ranks in the top 5 electric vehicles on sale now in terms of range and overall packaging. And it has earned the right to be seriously considered by those who seek green mobility and this is why it is the No 1 selling electric car in the world.
Phakxx'ss quick facts
• Price : R457 400
• 0 - 100km/h : 11.5s
• Rating : 7/10