Electric cars. To some, they are the future of motoring but to others, they are expensive and impractical vehicles. Whether you’re a sceptic or a fan of electric cars their prominence is set to increase over the next few years.
Express.co.uk took delivery of a Nissan Leaf, the most popular electric car in Europe, to test how suitable an electric car is and whether you travel long distances in one.
Ahead of the initial testing which was to begin on Friday at 15:30pm there were a few initial concerns. Firstly it was Friday night traffic plus the inevitable rush hour that we would face along the way. Secondly, the vehicle was delivered with 111 miles of range, not enough to make it 117 miles to the destination.
However, a short charge would certainly solve that problem and the car could always be charging during the worst of rush hour to escape that mess.
Shortly after setting off we turned the car’s heating system off and immediately gained back 10 miles of range taking the total to 124 miles of range. The traffic was as bad as you’d expect but the stop point was still in sight and the car would have enough range to get there with a little bit of range left over.
However, after stopping for a five-minute bathroom break the range dipped from 57 miles to 42 miles just like that. The car was fully switched off and had been away from it a matter of moments and I had been robbed of those precious miles I had so diligently tried to conserve en route.
Arriving at the fast charger, recommended through the Nissan Leaf’s navigation system, located at Colchester football stadium it was a welcome relief to see a completely empty charger.
When stopped at the charger the vehicle has 38 miles of range, due to some redirections, higher motorway speed and use of the heater. It was sufficient but didn’t leave a lot of contingency as the nearest fast chargers were over half that amount away.
Unfortunately we had not been signed up to this electric charger network and, therefore, didn’t have the relevant card to start charging. However, there was a mobile app to sign up for which would’ve sufficed. The app crashed twice with no real explanation why the application couldn’t be approved. There was an emergency hotline which we called to then see if they could remotely override the charge so I could get the vehicle plugged in. It’s three degrees outside but after 15 minutes on the phone we are trying to get the car connected and charged. It fails, so the system is rebooted. It fails again and is rebooted a second time. It is only after the latest attempt and about 20 minutes on the phone that the operator informed me that this charge point hasn’t been working properly for months and was referred back to the manufacturer Siemens to be fixed.
The Nissan Leaf is Europe’s most popular electric car
Electric Highway is a UK charging network
The charging network not only passed the buck here but also wasted half an hour of time with reboots that they were aware wouldn’t work and then also offered no possible alternative. Why was it still being recommended to its customers? Why should they go of their way to stop there just to be told it doesn’t work and then go through the palaver of finding a suitable alternative? Why wouldn’t they just black mark it from the system?
He informed me that the in-car sat nav don’t update that quickly which means that it probably doesn’t have the correct information. This sadly didn’t do it for me as a justification as they should either force carmakers to update their systems or alternatively, carmakers need to be more involved in helping out their customers.
There were now two options here. Gamble and drive to the next fast charger which was around 17 miles away, with the limited range left in the car or head over to a local Asda and use the 7.2 kWh slow charger to give me enough juice to get me there. It’s 20:30 and my original arrival time was 7:30 pm. Not ideal. I have the correct card for this station but it does not work which feels completely typical at this point. Another 10-minute call later and I’m plugged in and charging, albeit slowly.
After the hour, which felt like an eternity staring at those blue lights flashing on the dashboard another phone call is required to be able to disconnect the car and get moving again.
The hour charge gives a paltry few miles of range but enough to get the next charge point with a little contingency. It’s worth having a contingency given how the range is affected so drastically by a number of factors and it’s not like running out of fuel in a car. With an electric, when it’s gone, it’s gone.
The fast charger is POLAR again but the card isn’t working again so another call is required. It was resolved relatively quickly but it’s still around three degrees Celsius and 10 minutes is 10 minutes at that temperature standing outside reading codes and having to repeat them again as the signal is bad. You could refill a petrol or diesel car a few times over in the time it took to just get the vehicle plugged in.
It does, however, work and within 45 minutes the car is at about 90 per cent. One more phone call and the car is disconnected and another 90 minutes on the road and it arrives at the destination. It’s 23:15, which means it took almost eight hours to go from Central London to Halesworth.
Thankfully the Belle Grove barn accommodation was the jewel at the centre of the mess of a trip. Its quirky decor, eerily peaceful silence and stunning backdrop make it the perfect countryside getaway. The properties on the site are all five-star converted barns which range in size are well-equipped and there is even an electric charger on the grounds.
Nissan Leaf has around 150 miles of range
The next few days going around town and driving up to the seaside the car was in its element and came alive. It’s nippy and agile, comfortable and well equipped. The parking sensors and 3D camera view are great for getting into tight spots and the vehicle is in its element.
The journey home was a little smoother as we signed up to Electric Highway which allows you to remove the mess of needing a special card, which doesn’t always work, to be able to charge. You download the app, sign up and scan a QR code.
It charges you as a premium per kW it uses but after 45 minutes it stated that there was no charge to my account and the energy used was renewable from wind and solar, which also feels great. That whole charge and the next 100 miles driving in the car utilised completely free energy.
As an EV owner, you’re going to spend more time in service stations and waiting for your vehicle to charge. This is neither good or bad it’s just the way it will be going forward. If you think of them as elongated breaks to go to the bathroom, grab some food, a coffee or do some work then they don’t seem all that bad.
Let’s talk about range
So let’s break down the range a little bit. 150 miles is purely idealistic. As soon as you put the radio on or put the heater on you can lose between 5-15 miles of range just like that. We found ourselves intermittently blasting the heater every 15-20 minutes to clear the condensation just to preserve those sacred miles of range which were depleting as the miles and night pushed on. So your 150 mile car can soon become a 120 mile or lower if you total up all the aggravating factors.
The Leaf is a great car which perhaps lets itself down by its limited range. This range will not be a concern on short trips and if you live in a city or a small village then it’s almost a no-brainer if you want an electric car. However, if you’re regularly putting distance drivers into your car, it just don’t make sense right now to pick that one.
We need to remember to not entirely blame the vehicle but instead question the infrastructure. Why haven’t people followed the Tesla model? How are these established brands with tens or hundreds of years of experience falling behind to a veracious tech start up? For example take the Jaguar I-Pace, it is compatible with 100kW fast chargers but there are none currently in the UK. Why are EV early adopters still guinea pigs?
The other frustrating thing is needed an app or special card to just be able to charge up. Why isn’t too as simple as petrol? Quite simply, money. There is money to be made but it massively complicates the process. Charge us more but make it easy and allow people to plug in their bit charge to pay for the charge. Why would that not work? Why do I need the apps and as many cards just to be able to use my vehicle?
There are around 20 or 30 different charging networks which require you to have a card or an app to use. You can commit to one but then that limits your options. Plus the card I received to tap and use the networks didn’t work once which meant I had to spend about 10 minutes on customers services to be Abel to charge up the vehicle. One of these charge points had not signal which really left me stuck as I couldn’t get through to the services.
This made the 45 minute charge to 80 per cent closer to an hour. Doesn’t sound like a lot but if you’ve been on the road for a few hours it can be really frustrating. Secondly, not all the charge points actually work. I got to a fast charger with 29 miles of range and the point didn’t work which meant I had to go to a slow charger for an hour to get 10 miles of range to be able to get to a fast charger to top it up.
The three hour 45 minute trip actually took 7 hours which is less than ideal. If you mostly drive short distances and want to switch to an EV then you absolutely should choose the Leaf. However, if you do do long distances you’re going to end up frustrated with the infrastructure. Nissan is bring out the
One caveat the should be added is that the Electric Highway app is a great way to get charge ion the go. After a journey from hell on the way down to my destination, I signed up for the app which allows you to scan a QR code and pay via your phone. It saves needed a card or to remember anything else as it can just allow you to top up your range quickly.
There are two ports one for fast and one for slow charging
Electric cars are getting better and more established car brands are developing and producing them in 2019 and over the coming years.
The infrastructure will also get better but there needs to be some standardisation in charging to make the transition for drivers easier. Similarly, motorists need to make sure that they are genuinely suitable for them.
Running and owning an electric car is cheaper than a petrol or diesel vehicle and this is only expected to be better over time.
However, the thing you need to do is to work out if an electric car is really for you. They are expensive and still relatively in their infancy so you need to ensure that it is something that can facilitate what you need without creating many extra issues.
There are different types of charger on the road and different ports on cars
Belle Grove is part of Premier Cottages’ new collection of cottages with EV Chargers. A week’s stay in Belle Grove’s The Stable for up to two guests starts from £575 and a three-night weekend break from £460 (www.premiercottages.co.uk, 01873 811200)
Unlike many of the very large holiday rental websites, Premier Cottages does not add a booking fee to the price of your holiday. This means you can save 15 percent or more by booking with Premier as their prices are “all inclusive” with no hidden charges, cleaning fees or service costs. In peak holiday periods this can result in savings of hundreds of pounds. With Premier you book directly with the cottage owner rather than through a central reservations number and all properties have been inspected and rated 4* or 5* by the national tourist board.