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First Look: Nissan Leaf

Over 2 days in Auckland, I had 6 business meetings spread far and wide: from Albany to Takanini, East Tamaki to Mangere. With 135km of range in my rented Nissan Leaf, notorious Auckland traffic to negotiate, and just 7 DC fast chargers available in the city, would I end up trumpeting the glory of an EV future or be left longing for petrol-power?

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The BEV Leaf I rented (from BlueCars.nz) looked like a typical small hatchback. The electric vehicle giveaways were its slightly “futuristic” feel, battery range and motor power indicators, and a sprinkling of pale blue lights — the colour seemingly adopted by EVs.

The Leaf comes highly specced with infotainment equipment. However, this highlighted a downside of imported EVs: the control and connectivity displays are unusable unless you can read Japanese. That’s a shame, as this car had Bluetooth connectivity, built-in navigation and NissanConnect (that pairs with your smartphone to show charging locations on the in-car display and lets you control charging and climate control functions). But all I got was a swag of indecipherable touchscreen buttons.

It was strange starting the Leaf and hearing … nothing. Despite being heavy at 1.5 tonnes (blame the batteries), the Leaf was a rocket off the line, outgunning anything at the lights. Overall, it was zippy and responsive at city speeds — great fun to drive. The regenerative mode was good to use in start-stop city travel, reducing wear on the brakes and adding to range. On the highway the Leaf felt like a conventional car, plenty powerful with the silence broken by wind and road noise.

And what about that much-feared Auckland traffic? Well, the Leaf scoffed in the face of jams. The Leaf is more efficient at crawling speed than at highway speed. When everything grinds to a halt, it doesn’t use any battery.

Any range anxiety disappeared, as I realised 135km covers a lot of city driving, even in the Auckland sprawl. I only charged once at a DC fast charger, topping up for 7 minutes outside The Warehouse in Albany, and replenished the battery with an overnight charge. In total I drove 240km, the longest segment between charging being 91km, and never saw the range indicator dip lower than 58km. The biggest charging stress was finding another Leaf using the fast charger. Never mind “range anxiety”, I experienced “charge anxiety” — what happens when another EV is using the charger you need.

Charging an EV overnight is easy if you can park in a garage or on a driveway close to a power point. But you could run into problems if you live in an apartment, or park on the street. Something to consider before buying an EV.

So, what was the conclusion of my Auckland EV experiment? Was I left longing for petrol-power? Absolutely not.

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons. The Nissan Leaf was rented from BlueCars.nz.


By Paul Smith
Head of Testing

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