James Stanley

2014 Nissan Leaf: first impressions

Mon 8 July 2024

Browsing AutoTrader I found that secondhand electric cars are now cheap enough to be a reasonable option. I took a punt on a 10-year-old Nissan Leaf, and drove it to work today for the first time. This is my Nissan Leaf story.

I currently commute to 2 different offices, and they're both about a 30-mile drive, so if I am to get to work and back without having to charge in between then I will need a car that can reliably go 60 miles on a charge.

I paid 3600 Great British Pounds for this specimen:

It's done a bit over 52000 miles.

The market

The Nissan Leaf was not my first choice. It is unnecessarily big, heavy, and ugly, but it is the best option if you want a cheap secondhand electric car.

My first choice would have been a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which you can pick up for about £2500. The claimed range when new was 94 miles, but from reading around I gather that the real-world range is less than 60 miles, so it's a non-starter. Shame, because it is a much cooler car than a Nissan Leaf.

The next best option is a Renault Zoe, which looks a lot cooler than a Nissan Leaf, and is a bit smaller, and plenty of examples sell for a bit less than a Nissan Leaf, but you have to watch out because usually the battery is leased from Renault. I don't want to have to deal with that arrangement, I just want to buy the car and own it. There are Zoes available with an "owned" battery, but that puts the price well above a comparable Leaf.

So that leaves us with a Nissan Leaf.

First drive

The Leaf I bought was the cheapest one I could find within a reasonable radius.

We already have a separate "main" car, the Leaf is just for commuting. If you only want to own one car I would not suggest a secondhand Nissan Leaf because the range is too poor. Mine has a reported range of 79 miles when fully charged, with 11 out of 12 bars shown on the battery health monitor. My plan is to only ever charge the car from home, on a normal 3-pin plug, and never drive it any further than to work and back. That way I won't have to subject myself to the public charging infrastructure.

When I picked it up I was very impressed by the acceleration at low speeds. The acceleration is doubly impressive when you find out that the car weighs nearly 1600 kg! At 50mph the quietness isn't really notable because you get the same kind of wind noise and tyre noise that you get in any car, but at low speeds the lack of engine noise is very notable.

The ride is very smooth and comfortable, this probably comes with being about 2x as big and heavy as necessary. Perhaps this is why people like big cars.

As a "trial run" for my commute, we drove it on a shorter journey last week, and found that on a 22-mile round trip, the indicated range was depleted by 40 miles (1.8x). That suggests that a 60-mile round trip would deplete the range by 109 miles. Which means I'm not going to make it! Bad.

The commute

Anyway, not put off by the bad news from the trial run, I committed to driving the car to work today. The plan was that if it broke down on the way home, I would quietly sell it and buy another Micra. I left the car on charge right up until the point I left, because I didn't want to take any chances. I left it in "eco" mode all the way, and I even picked up lunch the night before so that I wouldn't have to stop en route, which would cost me precious metres of range.

The first part of my outward journey is very much uphill, and as expected the indicated range dropped by much more than 1 mile per mile. I mainly occupied myself by doing mental arithmetic to work out whether I would make it home or not.

I still had 44 miles of range remaining when I arrived at work, which is more than half what I started with, so I felt pretty confident that I would make it back.

And I was about to write here that the outward journey is net uphill, and I was going to calculate how much extra energy it will have cost me to raise the car's altitude, however I have just checked and the office and my house are at almost exactly the same height above sea level! Strange how a journey can be deceptive.

I had 9 miles of range remaining when I arrived home this evening, which means the total range of the car is about 69 miles, rather than the reported 79. And that's (with an admittedly inexperienced EV driver) trying to drive as economically as possible. 69 miles should be plenty, but it does mean I may struggle come winter. I definitely won't be running the heater until I gain more confidence in it.


Both the outward and homeward journeys depleted the range by 35 miles, and both showed an average of 3.7 miles per "kilowatt hour". (The idiosyncratic nomenclature of the EV world tends to use "watt hours" instead of Joules).

And both journeys grew 2.5 trees (top left on dash). The Leaf has a strange feature where as you're driving along it grows a diagram of a tree. I gather the tree grows faster if you're driving more economically. Once a tree has fully grown it gets moved to one side and another starts growing in its place. I initially thought this was very stupid, but I quite like the idea now because I can try to remember where the trees got completed and then compare one journey to another by seeing if I complete my trees slightly earlier or later than average.


I'm not quite sure how the throttle pedal is meant to work. If you are at a standstill, in "drive", and with no throttle input at all, the car will creep forwards. But if you're moving at 30mph or so and you lift off, the car will start doing light "regenerative braking", even with no brake pedal input. So is the throttle zero position meant to be applying positive power or negative power? It seems to depend how fast you're moving. I don't have a good mental model for it.

I'm also a bit confused about how the brake pedal works. If you just press the brake pedal gently then that increases the regenerative braking beyond the level that just lifting off the throttle pedal gets you. If you press it harder then it works like normal car brakes. But if you keep pressing harder than it stops feeling like brakes and starts feeling like you're just stretching a spring. I think the spring is something to do with using the same pedal for both regen and traditional braking, but it seems like there's an upper bound on how much brake pressure you can physically apply before you're just stretching a spring, which is mildly concerning. I mean, presumably it is safe, it just violates my assumptions.

When you're driving an electric car there are 3 sources of energy you need to bear in mind: battery, momentum, and altitude. Short of picking an alternative route you don't have a lot of choice about what you're doing with altitude, because you have to follow the road, but you can turn battery energy into momentum with the throttle pedal, and you can put momentum back into the battery with regenerative braking. But neither acceleration nor regenerative braking are 100% efficient, so you would rather keep your momentum if possible, rather than decelerate and then accelerate again. The throttle pedal's equivocation about whether it's a throttle or a brake means that so far I keep accidentally adding and subtracting momentum when I'd really rather be coasting. In eco mode the car is very sluggish so you become acutely aware of the energy transfer between the battery and the momentum. It feels a bit like cycling, in that you become very reluctant to slow down at all because it is such a waste of energy. I can only recommend not stepping out in front of an electric car, because the driver won't want to stop!

The car has a feature where if you are in "drive", it won't roll backwards on a hill. This is quite handy because the handbrake is operated by your left foot, which means it has no feel at all and would make hill starts very difficult. What I'm not sure about is whether the "hill hold" feature wastes power. Conceivably it could be done either by applying a brake, by locking the gearbox, or by continuously supplying just enough power to the motor to hold the car still. There is a bit of a noise from the rear when it goes into hill hold mode, so I'm guessing it is doing something with the brakes, but I'm not completely sure. It comes in and out of hill hold mode very smoothly indeed, which makes me suspect there is an element of holding it by using the motor like a servo. So maybe the noise is just the car settling on the suspension? Or maybe it really does apply the brake but just manages it very well? Don't know.


For charging the car I have an outdoor socket:

I'm just using the 3-pin plug "granny lead", but it can fully charge the car from empty in less than 12 hours, so is adequate for my needs.


So far I'm glad I took the risk on the Leaf. Driving the electric car is an interesting new experience, and may end up saving money compared to taxing and fuelling a petrol car.

If you're only going to own one car, don't get a 10-year-old Nissan Leaf. The range limitation will be too annoying on longer trips.

If you are a two-car household, and your range requirements for your second car are modest, a 10-year-old Nissan Leaf could be a great choice. The range suggested by the trial run of my car was not promising, but in reality it has about a 15% range buffer for my commute, at least if I drive as carefully as I can and don't use aircon or heating. If your commute is shorter then you'll have an even larger buffer.

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