I drove from Dublin to Wicklow and only used the brakes four or five times on a winding, twisty route.
Sounds strange, I know, but I was driving normally. I happened to be in Nissan’s new electric car, the Leaf, which has what they call e-Pedal technology.
Basically, it means you use the accelerator pedal for picking up speed, slowing down and bringing the car to a halt etc once you turn on the e-Pedal (just press a button). Once you get used to it, you’ll find yourself doing it as second nature.
Of course, you still have to use the brake to stop suddenly, but most of the time I didn’t need to.
It worked so well for me that I had to remind myself when subsequently driving another car that I needed to brake.
It’s a subtly different way of driving and, as such, an apt way of heralding the arrival not just of the new LEAF but another step further on the long and winding road to the electric era.
The e-Pedal may be the headline-grabbing element of the LEAF, which I was delighted to see won the World Green Car of the Year award (see P2), but there is a lot more to this vehicle than meets the eye, so maybe a bit of background will help.
The LEAF arrives here at a critical juncture (or at least Nissan hope so) as our politicians confidently tell us there will be no new diesel, petrols, hybrid cars or vans sold here from 2030. Only electric vehicles (EVs), they say. We’ll see.
Globally, it is being forecast that one in six vehicles on the road by 2030 will be electric.
But let’s face it, there has been a slow enough start for EVs here, and in many other countries for that matter.
However, Nissan Ireland insists there is evidence of a real pick-up this year. For example, 200 people put down a deposit early in the year even though the new LEAF wasn’t due until late March.
Now they are saying they will sell 1,000 before year’s end, so long as they can get enough of them.
Ultimately, as it will be their C-segment car, the company expects annual sales of up to 2,500. Now that’s a lot of EVs.
So what will you get as a buyer? For a start, you get a much better-looking car with a longer range, a more powerful battery pack (40kW) and a far higher standard of spec (especially safety equipment – AEB, pedestrian recognition, blind spot etc).
The more powerful battery pack (+38pc, 150bhp) translates into a range of 378km (under old NEDC measurements) – 270km is realistic; the old one did 175km at best.
With the battery (eight-year warranty or 160,000km) under the floor, the lower centre of gravity helped handling and balance on my drives. And it was so quiet. Charging is straightforward, if disappointingly long.
Up to recently you got an ESB free home charger, but now you have to have the wall box fitted and then get the €600 back from the SEAI.
There is a cable for normal domestic sockets, but it takes a whopping 21 hours. Wall box charging, meanwhile, takes 7.5 hours, and fast chargers can do it in 40-60mins. A 6.6 kW charger and 50kW ChaDeMo rapid charge port come with the car.
There are four trim levels: XE, SV, SV Premium and SVE. The e-Pedal is standard as is a spare wheel.
Prices (including VRT rebate and SEAI grant – total €10,000) start from €26,290 for XE models; SV from €28,690, SV Premium €29,940, and SVE €32,600.
The outgoing 30kWh (claimed 250km range) cost from €24,490.
Standard spec also includes lane departure warning, intelligent emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, intelligent lane intervention, cross traffic alert, high-beam assist etc.
SV has the NissanConnect EV 7in touchscreen telematics system (active charging, eco-routing, driving range etc) and smartphone app integration (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto).
SV Premium adds heated seats, around-view monitor and 17in alloys with ProPILOT as a €1,000 option.
The Range-topping SVE option includes ProPILOT, Bose premium audio (7 speakers), leather heated front/rear seats, full LED intelligent auto headlights.
And so off I went from west Dublin to deepest Wicklow. I nudged ‘Drive’ twice to get B mode for increased regeneration and I put it in Eco mode (keeps air con to within two degrees of outside temp).
On board my test car was the Pro-Pilot system (a combination of sensors, cameras etc). It is not autonomous driving, rather a strong driver aid. You can set your distance to the car in front, as I did, and settle on a top speed. You must keep your hands on the wheel. It worked fine.
We were shown how Pro Pilot Park (€1,700, due soon) works: just keep a button pressed and the car does the rest of the parking.
My drive down to BrookLodge in Macreddin village came to 73.5km of mixed hilly and twisty roads (up and over the Sally Gap). I had 99pc battery charge on start and 311km range. I had 64pc charge and 173km range at destination.
My return journey next morning was much quicker and more direct: 100pc (253km) to start, and I ended after 80.5km with 58pc and 210k.6 in the tank. Not bad at all, considering the driving.
Mixing both drives and being reasonably smooth, you could see why they say you’d commute a reasonable distance in this and only have to charge every two or three days. If you get into the habit of charging each night, all the better.
As part of the overall exercise, it was interesting to pit the LEAF against a 1.2-litre petrol Qashqai in terms of running costs.
The LEAF costs 1c/km v 7c/km for the Qashqai (Nissan’s own estimate). Here’s partly why:
* Fuel:€200 for electricity v €1,400 year petrol
* €120 road tax vs €270
* Total minimum savings €1,350
They estimate it could be a lot more, and you sure will save on brake pads with that e-Pedal.
Of course the D-word was raised, with Nissan executives saying we’re getting to the stage where diesel will not be affordable.
Contrast that with the mega support electric vehicles are getting here to make them more affordable, such as the VRT rebate, SEAT grant, €7k taxi grant, 0pc BIK and €600 for a home charger etc. And tolls are due to come down soon.
For all that, there is no doubting the current infrastructure is a drawback on expansion despite the fact that 90pc of EVs are charged at home. Infrastructure is more a safety net, but I think a vital one. We need reassurance we can top up and refill on our longer journeys.
Apparently, a different sort of buyer is emerging too, joining the ranks of early adapters. Early or late, it appears we’ll all have to adapt in the long run.
But getting to the EV era will be a long run and it’s going to take a massive amount of work and planning for anything approaching the seismic shift electrification requires.
It doesn’t mean diesel or petrol are dead – not for some time – but, a bit like the e-Pedal, we need to learn how to judge where to slow down and where to pick up speed.