Lately I’ve been reading a lot about electric cars. What was at first just curiosity turned into an obsession. I’ve been reading blogs, magazines, forums and everything there is about EVs. And I’ve learned a lot.
For example, do you know the difference between a BEV, a PHEV and a conventional hybrid? I didn’t, but now I do. BEV stands for Battery Electric Vehicle. It’s the term used to describe 100% electric vehicles. PHEV stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. PHEVs are those cars that have an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) engine as well as an electric motor. They can be plugged to recharge the battery, hence the plug-in in the name. Conventional Hybrids are similar to PHEVs, but they can’t be plugged to recharge. This means that if the battery runs out you need the ICE engine to recharge it.
See? There’s lot’s to learn about EVs.
Time to get behind the wheel
After learning so much about EVs and never having driven one myself, the next logical step was to schedule a test-drive. So I booked a test-drive of a Nissan Leaf, the best selling EV in the world.
The Leaf is not the best looking car, but I kind of like it. Everybody tells me how awful it looks, but I see myself driving one on my daily commute without a problem.
There are two models available with different battery capacities: a 24kwh model with an announced range of 190km and the newer 30kwh model which Nissan claims to have an autonomy of 250km.
The model I drove was the 30kwh in Accenta spec (there are four trim levels available: Visia, Visia+, Acenta and Tekna). It has a long list of equipment, like rear view camera, parking sensors, bluetooth with voice control, keyless entry and many other items.
Gentlemen, start your engines
After entering the car, closing the door (and then closing again to hear the sound of the door closing) and adjusting the seat, it’s time to start the engine. “Just press this button to start the engine”, says the Nissan representative. And so I did. And nothing happened. Oh wait, this an electric car, there’s no noise coming out of the engine! And that’s the first strange feeling of driving an EV. No noise at all. “Is this thing really turned on? Will it move when I press the pedal?”, I say to myself. The answer is obviously yes.
Nissan Leaf Gear Selector
Pictured above is the Nissan Leaf gear selector. It’s more like a joystick, as it always returns to the middle position after selecting a gear. You move it backwards to engage drive mode (“D”). Press once again and you’ll engage “B” mode, which I’ll describe later. Finally, move it forward and you’ll engage reverse drive. When you want to park the car you press the little “P” button on top of the gear selector.
Let’s drive this thing
After engaging drive mode you feel a little thump that confirms you’ve engaged a gear. It’s the first mechanical sensation you feel. As with any other car with an automatic gearbox, as soon as you release the brake pedal the car starts moving slowly, even without pressing the gas pedal. But in the Leaf it’s all silent and smooth.
As you start to accelerate you feel like you’re in a sci-fi movie. You just hear a little electric buzz and the car goes forward in silence. The acceleration is different from a normal car and it’s hard to describe why. Driving this car really feels different. EVs have all the torque available right from 0 rpm. There’s no torque curve, so the acceleration is linear.
The other strange feeling comes when you remove your foot from the gas pedal. Thanks to the regenerative braking system, no energy is wasted, and so when you lift the pedal the car starts to brake even without you pressing the brake pedal. This is a double win: on one hand this system brings back energy to the battery, while at the same time sparing your brakes, because you almost don’t have to touch the brake pedal. If you press the gear selector two times backwards, as described above, you’ll engage in “B” mode, which is a more aggressive regenerating mode. Driving in this mode really brakes the car when you are not accelerating, but it allows the system to regenerate more energy. It’s ideal to use on long descents when you’ve gained enough speed.
I must say I fell in love with this car. It’s extremely comfortable, not only because it’s so smooth and silent, but also because it’s well built and the suspension does a great job, even on bumpy roads. The handling seems to be good, although I haven’t driven at high speeds.
It’s a whole new world and you start asking yourself why the hell have you been riding those ancient vehicles all your life, polluting the air and making noise. Driving an EV is a relaxing experience and you feel better with yourself, knowing you aren’t damaging our planet. I suspect that as more EVs start rolling on our roads, the driving habits will start to change for the better.
Would I buy one?
Definitely yes. After driving the Leaf I made a decision: my next car will be electric. There’s no turning back. It feels so more advanced and makes so much more sense that you’ll never want to go back to a normal car.
Of course the Leaf isn’t the only electric car available and there are other interesting choices. GM will launch the Bolt EV at the end of this year in the US, which should be sold as the Opel Ampera-e here in Europe. It will cost $35.000 and have an autonomy of 320km. Hyundai just announced the Ioniq, which will be sold this year and has three versions: BEV, PHEV and conventional hybrid. And of course, in 2018 we’ll have the Tesla Model 3. Nissan itself is preparing a new 40kwh Leaf which will probably have a minor facelift, ahead of the launch of a totally new model.
Tesla Model 3
Other manufacturers are starting to announce plans for a massive electrification of their model ranges, like VW, Audi, Mercedes and many others. And they should, because there are already countries where EVs account for 30% of the market, like Norway.
For now I’m still learning about this market. I dont’ have plans to buy a new car this year so I’m watching the market to see how it evolves, but if I had plans to buy a new car today it would be the Nissan Leaf. Let’s hope the new model regains the crown of the best selling EV on the market and next year maybe I’ll convert myself to the proud owner of a Nissan Leaf.