Foot on the brake, press in the button on top of the stumpy gear stick and pull back into ‘drive’. Press down on the accelerator and the car silently glides forward. Step on it a bit more and the speed cranks up. Steadily. No jerking through the gears like an ordinary automatic. In fact, stamp on the accelerator and the car takes off – instant torque – down the road with an alarming sense of urgency. Yet inside the car, all is calm and quiet.
eDRIVE roadshow on the slipway immediately behind the Titanic Belfast building, I test drove an electric Nissan Leaf yesterday belonging to Donnelly Group. (The manufacturer didn’t trip when they came up with that name!)
Public test drives will be available again on Friday. Head down to Titanic Belfast during the day, or pre-register online. Don’t forget to bring both parts of your driving licence.
The Leaf is a five-door family hatchback. As the driver of a small Toyota Aygo, I am not a car geek. But I noticed electric windows; built-in GPS and infotainment touchscreen; camera-assisted reverse; air conditioning; and lots of other buttons and knobs. The exhaust pipe is missing from the back of the vehicle.
You can plug the car into a standard household power socket. It will take seven hours or so to recharge the battery. A government grant is likely to cover the cost of installing a beefier three phase quick charge station that will provide one hour recharging. See the e-car NI website for more details.
There’s a mobile app - CarWings - to allow drivers to check their car’s range and battery charge state without going out to the garage or driveway. The app will also let you set the air conditioning to heat up or cool your car before you get in while it’s still plugged into the mains, saving vital battery life.
The Leaf is very quiet – inside and out. Very smooth to drive. And quite nippy. Apparently it goes from 0 to 60mph in 9.7 seconds and has a top speed of 93mph, though Titanic Quarter wasn’t a good place to test that out! The car’s maximum range on a full battery is 120 miles. With its linear acceleration, driving in the ice or snow might require adjustment.
Charging stations are becoming more common. Many council car parks now have reserved spaces with charging stations. But anecdotally, the spaces are often blocked by petrol cars. Ideally, you’d want to be able to let your car charge while you were in work (or at home asleep). According to the map on the eCarNI website, Tesco car park seems to be the only public charge point in Lisburn.
In my opinion, getting an electric car would have to be a lifestyle choice as well as a economic one.
Update - Donnelly Group had a couple of cameras mounted in the Leaf and have passed on a link to some snippets from the test drive!
As a small car fan, I can’t ever see myself forking out £20,000+ for a car that size. At current specs and prices, it will be a long time before there is a sub-£10,000 two or four seater electric car on the market. That would be the tipping point for me. (Even the electric Smart car is coming in at £15,395 or £12,275 with £55/month battery rental.)
For some people the economics, the eco-credentials and the driving range will make sense.
For me, I think I’ll stick with my three-cylinder, low spec Aygo. Even if it is incredibly noisy inside the car compared with the tranquil Leaf.
The future’s electric. But not for a while.
(Dashboard image by Rudolf Simon via Wikipedia)