After a while, the adventure and novelty of having an electric car started to wear off somewhat. The arrival of grandchildren made it likely that I would need to visit my daughters rather more often. So I decided to buy an EV more suited to longer journeys.
Nissan LEAF, charging at home – Image by Andy Miles
So the title, “turning over a new LEAF” is an apt title, I think. I was making a fresh start in my EV experience, and doing so with a Nissan LEAF. The Nissan LEAF is a name that all are familiar with, I am sure, but what’s in a name? As the Shakespearean Romeo considered, on finding out that his love Juliet came from the wrong family. I am being a bit philosophical here, and exploring the fact that a name acts as a key to unlock all our experiences, knowledge, opinions, and prejudices filed away under that name. No doubt, Romeo had his pleasant feelings and impressions invoked by the name Juliet, but as he said, would be just as sweet by any other name. However, the name Juliet would not necessarily be as sweet to two different people. When two people speak of one word, the word is the common key, but the content of the mental “filing cabinets” they open could be very different according to their knowledge and experiences.
What has all this got to do with a Nissan LEAF, I can almost hear you ask. It is simply that the phrase “Nissan LEAF” will mean different things to different people, according to their knowledge and experience. It will depend on whether they have read in-depth accounts, or negative opinion pieces, or whether they have had in-depth experience of the Nissan LEAF, or have never been inside of one. It was my own experience of getting to know the Nissan LEAF that I have bought that made me realize the truth of this. Prior to buying one, I had never been inside the older Nissan LEAF. I did have the privilege of driving a 2018 Nissan LEAF on a test drive, but had no reason to assume that any of its features also existed in any previous version of the LEAF. Prior to owning the Nissan LEAF, the only electric car I had any experience with was the Peugeot iOn. I made the unwarranted assumption that all EVs were pretty much the same apart from the outward appearance, the level of performance, and a few minor details. I knew what a Nissan LEAF looked like on the outside, and have read about its history and some details of its specifications, and been exposed to other people’s opinions about it. It was not until I owned my own Nissan LEAF that I had a more detailed idea of what’s in the name Nissan LEAF.
The purpose of this article is to provide some detailed information about the Nissan LEAF so that you also can have a better understanding of that particular vehicle. This might be helpful if you are a person with a general interest in EVs, or even if you might be considering buying a used Nissan LEAF and could do with better information. Either way, I am happy to tell you what I have found out.
The Soft Pedal
The Nissan LEAF is a much larger and heavier car than the Peugeot iOn. It has a much more powerful motor and battery than the smaller car, and so actually has more performance. The Nissan LEAF has an eco-mode, engaged by the press of a button, which adjusts the responsiveness of the speed pedal. In the ordinary driving mode, I found the speed pedal a little too responsive, and it was much easier to drive in eco-mode where performance was more sedate and predictable. However, even in eco-mode, pressing the speed pedal to the floor provides the full power of the motor if a fast take-off is needed at any time.
On the right spoke of the steering wheel, there are two buttons for cruise control and speed limiting. I find the speed limiting button very useful. To set the speed limit simply requires touching the button, and then when the car is traveling at the required speed, press down the speed adjuster button. The speed limit can be adjusted after that by moving the speed adjuster button up or down, where holding it in position moves in increments of 10 mph but otherwise one mile-per-hour. Pressing the speed limit button again disengages it.
Eco, speed, and cruise controls – Image by Andy Miles
As anyone who drives an electric car will probably agree, because it is so quiet and effortless in its acceleration, it is very easy to go above the intended speed, especially when accelerating away from a junction or traffic lights. The speed limit button allows me to accelerate in the normal way, but then the limiter prevents the speed from creeping up above the intended limit. It makes driving on speed-limited roads much more relaxing, as I do not have to think at all about the speed limit. However, just as pushing the speed-pedal to the floor overrides the eco-button, it also overrides the speed limit button. This is something I discovered inadvertently when accelerating away fast and finding that I was doing quite a bit above the speed-limit before I realized it. That is a good safety measure, because sometimes drivers need to accelerate out of trouble.
The cruise control button operates in the same way, except that it maintains the speed without a foot on the speed pedal and it does not jump in increments of 10 mph. I have always hoped to have a car with cruise control, but this is the very first car I have owned with that feature. It makes driving on the motorway much more relaxing, being able to take my foot off the speed pedal. I can drive for mile after mile without having to think about speed, and only having to steer. It also seems to provide good efficiency, as I can set the speed to 65 mph on the motorway and still retain 4.5 miles per kilowatt hour. It also makes me realize how erratic some drivers are with their speed. They constantly speed up and slow down for no apparent reason, which makes driving behind them on cruise control rather more difficult. The adaptive cruise control in the 2018 Nissan LEAF solves that problem, but I am content with what I have. A single press up or down on the speed button subtly adjusts the speed. Pushing up or down and holding the button acts like a mini speed-pedal, smoothly accelerating or decelerating the car. The one issue I have with this arrangement is that pressing the steering wheel spokes also activates the horn. I occasionally inadvertently give other drivers a hearty blast of the horn when all I am trying to do is operate the speed controls.
Solid & Dependable
The Peugeot iOn was very light but slightly narrower than the average car, and although it handled well and I could throw it about on the road, I was often conscious of being at the edge of control. The LEAF is heavier and wider, and very sure-footed. I have yet to get anywhere near to feeling on the edge with it. It has front wheel drive, which is not a favorite with me. I have to hold back on acceleration from take-off, especially into a bend as the front wheels easily lose traction despite the presence of traction control, especially if the road is wet. The force of acceleration in the constant velocity joints affects the steering. I would much prefer rear wheel drive. Apart from that it is very sure-footed and feels very safe, with a firm but comfortable suspension.
Charging Made Easy
For charging, the LEAF has two ports accessed from a single port cover at the front. I prefer this to the iOn which had a port on each side of the car at the back, each one like a fueling access cover. There were two levers in the cab attached to cable releases, one for CHAdeMO and one for home charging. The LEAF has a single electric switch on the dashboard to open the port cover, which is much more convenient. I can drive straight up to the charger to plug in, rather than having to back up. Though it is very convenient, I sometimes think that it would be good to have a manual method of opening, such as a key for emergency access. If that switch failed, I would not be able to charge the vehicle.
LEAF charging ports – Image by Andy Miles
For the CHAdeMO, it can be selected in the menus to charge to 100% or to 80%. With the iOn it would always stop at 80%, but could be plugged back in to go beyond. Generally, I prefer the 80%, as charging to 100% shortens the life of the battery and the charge rate gets painfully slow after 80%, but it is nice to have the choice. It would be even better to be able to set an actual percentage number rather than just 80% or 100%, but it is easy enough to stop charging at the desired state of charge. As a general rule, the bigger the battery the more miles of range per hour can be added, because the bigger battery will accept bigger currents. I find that in terms of percentage it seems to charge slightly faster than the iOn, and as that is a percentage of a bigger battery, I am adding a lot more miles per hour when charging. It seems to take around 20 minutes to charge up to 80%, but that is from a 20% to 30% charge. It would be closer to 30 minutes if down to 10%.
I Got 12 Bars on my Wagon
Though my LEAF is a 2013, it still seems to have the full 22 kWhs of capacity. I often have parity between the battery percentage and the remaining range, such as 25% with 25 miles of range, so that 100% would be 100 miles of range. At 4.5 miles per kWh, which is what I average, 4.5 X 22 = 99. So 100 miles of range suggests the full 22kWh capacity. In the illustration I have 60 miles of range on 62% of the battery, which would work out at around 97 miles on 100%. The LEAF has a State of Charge indicator and right next to it a Battery Health indicator, both displaying an arc of 12 white bars. I still have 12 bars on my Battery Health indicator. I am quite pleased with the range, as my iOn used to have a range of 70 miles at the absolute, running-on-fairy-dust maximum. I’ve not gotten down to fairy-dust power on the LEAF yet, so I have less confidence in what its real maximum is.
60 miles range on 62% battery – Image by Andy Miles
Time For Charging Up at Home
The home charging side has a very good programmable interface, which allows a start time and a finish time for each of the 7 days in the week, and also a field to select 80% or 100% charge. This is much more sophisticated than the iOn, which simply started charging as soon as it was plugged in. I generally have it set to come on at 01:00 every morning to charge to 80%, but change it to 100% if I’m going on a longer trip that day. There are 3 blue lights on the area between the windscreen and the dashboard which are visible from outside the car. If the car is plugged in but timed to come on later, the lights pulse between the first, second, and third lights, but if the car is charging the first one pulses until about 33% charge, then the first is on, while the second pulses, and then towards 70% the first and second are on, with the third pulsing, and then all 3 on at 100%. Then, after a while they all go off. That is quite a reassuring feature as I can see at a glance roughly what is happening with the charge from outside the car. There are 3 useful buttons on the lower right dash, of which the first opens the charge port, the second locks the charge lead into the port, and the third bypasses the timer for when you need an instant start to charging.
Charge Timer display – Image by Andy Miles
Charge Timer Interface – Image by Andy Miles
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Charging indicator lights – Image by Andy Miles
Charging controls and pedestrian warning off-switch- Image by Andy Miles
In the EU, from July 1st 2019, EVs have to make an audible sound while moving slowly or reversing. The LEAF is way ahead of the game there, as it already has that feature even on my 2013 LEAF. It has a slightly confusing switch for switching it off, and when it is off, the indicator light comes on. Until I checked in the manual, I thought I was switching it on, but was dutifully switching it off. I now leave it well alone to do its thing.
The LEAF has keyless operation which has taken a bit of time to get used to. I even left the car switched on while parked during the first few days of owning it. On a trip to my daughter’s house, everything was fine until I tried to lock up at the charging station and it wouldn’t lock. I went all around the car checking all the doors were shut, and it still would not lock. Then there was a eureka moment when I realized that the spare key was packed away in the suitcase, and the car was not allowing anyone to lock it with a key left inside, as obviously anyone could then unlock it.
It has buttons on the front doors to lock or unlock. On the door to the boot it has a button for locking and a button for unlocking. It is certainly convenient when carrying things not to have to fish in the pocket for keys or a remote. The main way I still go wrong with it is when I go to open the door that is already unlocked, as there is something about a button that just makes me want to press it, which locks the door so I have to let go and unlock it again. I’m beginning to get that right now. I can feel my fingers reaching for that button and have to consciously restrain them.
I get so used to not having to think about keys and remote controls, and just being magically able to open the door as if the car recognized me as its rightful owner, that sometimes I come up to the door, press the button, and nothing happens. Then I realize that the key is in my jacket pocket and I am not wearing my jacket, so I have to go back inside, put my jacket on, and have a re-run. I am getting there. Only very occasionally now do I find my subconscious imagining getting a key out of my pocket when I sit in the drivers seat, before my conscious mind reminds me that there is no key and I just have to press the button. A final disadvantage of keyless entry is that car thieves are also able to get in without a key, by using a signal amplifier to reach the keys nearby when the vehicle is parked. I overcome this by putting my keys in an old metal box overnight. Radio Frequency blocking bags can also be bought.
I Can’t Get my Hands on That Brake
Another strange thing that is taking time to get used to is that there is no hand brake. Every car I’ve owned since the age of 17 has had a handbrake, and even the iOn had one, but this car has a Park position on the selector which seems to lock up the transmission, but it also has a third pedal on the left of the brake pedal which is specifically a parking brake. It works on a ratchet so you press to engage and then press to release. I have not quite worked out if it is needed in addition to Park, but it gives a sense of greater security if parked on a hill. I generally remember to press on it to park, but often forget there is such a thing when it comes to driving away until all the warning lights and beeping remind me to release it.
To Go or Not to Go That is The Selection
The selector for Drive, Reverse, Neutral, and Park is a mushroom-shaped knob that sits in the palm of your hand and rocks about to select the different options. The Park selection is via a recessed button on the top of the selector. Of course, like any EV, the selector is purely electrical and is not connected to any gearbox. The Park seems to work by operating some kind of lock in the transmission. When applied, the car rolls back or forwards slightly before the lock engages. It also applies automatically when the car is switched off.
LEAF Drive selector – Image by Andy Miles
An additional selector function is that a double select of Drive, which selects a further drive mode, called “B” mode, which gives increased regenerative braking on the speed pedal. Personally, I find D mode, the normal drive mode, to be a bit pointless, as all or most of the regenerative breaking is on the brake pedal. One-pedal driving is one of the big advantages of an EV, so I always drive in “B” mode. I would prefer the “B” mode to be selected from a button, like Eco-mode is, as it is vaguely irritating to have to do this double select every time I start off. Another minor niggle is that Reverse is selected by moving the selector forward, and Drive is selected by moving it back, which is counter-intuitive, and I still sometimes select Drive when I want Reverse.
A Car Like Any Other
It is a roomy comfortable family car, a 4-door, 5-seater, hatch-back, and has all the usual stuff, like alloy wheels, ABS brakes, traction control, power steering, radio, CD, MP3, Bluetooth hands-free, voice commands, climate control, electric windows, and electrically retracting and adjusting mirrors, and if you get the top-spec version, it has heated seats and steering-wheel, and Bose mega-sound-blaster audio system. I am only talking about its unique features here, so won’t bore you with all that.
Keeping in Touch
It also has a 7-inch touchscreen, which was fairly advanced in 2010 but fairly common now, and it has satellite navigation on it. It is nice to have navigation built in that doesn’t have to be stuck to the windscreen every time, and the music is muted for voice directions, but it is not as good in some ways as my old Tom-Tom device. The Tom-Tom had very realistic scaled depiction of the road systems, where this has just thin lines to represent roads. It gives good junction information though, and is more accurate at knowing precisely where I am. When the business-like English lady says “Turn right now,” I am usually bang on the junction. The map is about 6 years out of date though, and as it would cost me £90 for a new one, I put up with the old.
7″ touchscreen displaying reversing camera – Image by Andy Miles
Unlike a Tesla, the touchscreen is not the only display. It has all the menus and settings on it, and information about climate control, the phone, and the audio system. The 2 main displays for driving are in the usual place just behind the steering wheel, one with speed, turn indicators, an eco-meter, time, outside temperature, and a warning triangle, and below that, one with all the battery, range, and current flow information, and indicator lights and symbols. The Eco-meter is quite a whimsical device, as if I drive nicely, it creates little white Christmas tree symbols. On long journeys I get a whole row of little Christmas trees. Another whimsical device is the ability to set a sound for every location in the navigation address book. I have a fanfare of trumpets for my return home, and something more melodious for my girlfriend’s street. More useful displays are a miles per kWh display and a precise battery percentage. My iOn used to have just a fuel gauge mimic to say how much battery was left, and it was only when connecting to a charger that I would see on there the precise state of charge as a percentage. On the LEAF it has the fuel gauge mimic in the form of an arc of up to 12 blue and white bars, but also the precise percentage. The percentage is on a variable display, where the selectable options are miles per kWh, battery percentage, trip distance, and trip average speed, and an estimated time to an 80% charge from the current state of charge. I mainly use the battery percentage, and sometimes the miles per kWh, which is around 4.5 miles for my normal driving style.
Battery display – left to right – temp, power, range, SoC, SoH – Image by Andy Miles
Left to Right – Warning triangle, eco-meter, speed, time, temp – Image by Andy Miles
Exact percentage display – Image by Andy Miles
Miles per kWh – Top- Average, White Bar- Instantial
Looking to The Future
Next to the 12 white bars for state of charge are 12 narrower white bars for state of health. With time, charges, and miles, white bars will disappear from it, along with part of the resale value and the maximum range. The one I’ve bought is like a brand new car. I get the impression it has been in a garage for most of its 6 years, and has been driven only 20,000 miles. The next 20,000 miles will be added in about 18 months now that I have it, and at some point I’m expecting my state of health indicator to lose a bar. So far, I have 99% of my battery left and a range of 100 miles, so I am happy with it. England, even in the recent heat wave, is not very hot, so the lack of cooling doesn’t seem to have any effect. I have yet to see my temperature gauge go above 50% even on a hot day, on a longer journey, doing a constant 65 mph, with rapid charging on the way back.
There is supposed to be some kind of connection between the car and a data center somewhere, and I am supposed to be able to use a Nissan smartphone app to get all manner of information, but so far I’ve not been able to get that to work. It might be useful, but I can’t miss what I’ve never had. Every time I have tried connecting to the Nissan data center, I just get a “No Service” message.
Plenty of Room Inside
That is about it really. The front of the car is quite stylish, but the back end is decidedly ugly. I’m not too bothered about that, but the one thing I do not like is the hatchback door, which instead of opening to the floor as in my previous 3 cars, opens to a boot-like lip a good 12 inches tall, over which heavy items have to be lifted rather than just slid in and out. The boot (trunk) is capacious enough, and when I am called upon to help friends with DIY-type jobs, I can get all my tools in there, including my tool-chest on wheels. I am very happy with the car, and glad I decided to upgrade. It is a very comfortable car, with adjustable steering wheel position, and has ample room for my long legs and head room for my 6′ 2” physique. My next car will probably be a 40 kWh LEAF or something similar. It all depends on what is available at the time.
Capacious Luggage Space – Empty………. Image by Andy Miles
Capacious Luggage Space – Full……………. Image by Andy Miles