What I learned about myself from test driving a Nissan Leaf Electric Car

2013-Nissan-Leaf-1We heard the ad on Classic FM. Test drive a Nissan Leaf for seven days. Really? Seven days of free motoring? No hard sell. Surely this was too good to be true. We had to find out. One online form and one phone call from Nissan UK and the test drive was booked with Bishops Nissan Guildford, our local dealership who promptly confirmed by email.

On the day of collection, a thorough run through of how the car works and it was ours to enjoy. No onerous forms, no hard sell – what joy!

Confined to working at home for the next couple of days, I personally had little need for a car, however, my partner took full opportunity exchanging his usual walk and train journey combo for the effortless drive to work in the car (we had chosen the start of the summer holidays for our trial so this was the perfect time to enjoy those quiet roads).

The evening was perfect though for a drive up into the Surrey Hills and this was my first experience in the car – first as a passenger.

IMG_20150725_155445Are you sure the engine is on? I asked my partner as he pressed the start button, the dashboard came to life and he moved into reverse in near silence. It was the most surreal experience, almost as if you were in a space age movie. Floating out of the close, we joined the main road. Moving up to 30miles an hour was completely seamless and effortless – were we really driving? We arrived at the Surrey Hills relaxed and fresh, enjoying the last few hours of a setting sun. I could get used to this.

Final stop before home was at the Ecotricity charging point in the Cobham services off the M25. New to the art of charging, it took us a while before we realised the left hand charging machine wasn’t working and we moved across to take advantage of the free electricity provided by Ecotricity. Yes, really – free electricity fuel. Thanks Dale Vince.

IMG_20150725_155321Ecotricity have made a huge investment in installing charging points at each motorway service station for electric car users to enjoy. Typically found at the back of the service station car park, discreetly branded with their green and white logo, they are a beacon of what is possible when you have the will and determination to bring about a change and accelerate the move to more sustainable transport.

But more about these chargers on a later journey.

Saturday morning, the sun was shining, picnic packed, route worked out. We were on our way to Devils Dyke in the South Downs, just outside Brighton. Without the benefit of a charger at home, our first stop was back at the Ecotricity charging point at Cobham services, less than 5 miles from our home to get some much needed juice before heading off for our road trip.

What we’d learnt from our first charging experience was getting up to 80% was rapid charge and took around 18 minutes but for some reason, going past 80% everything slowed down and the remaining 20% took at least the same amount of time to charge.

We were first to the pumps on this Saturday morning, but barely a moment later we were joined by a fellow Nissan Leaf driver who pulled up with his family at the non working charging point next to us. With thoughts of the recent road rage incident still fresh in my mind and knowing peoples patience is at a low point when out at the weekend, we were pleasantly surprised when this family seemed quite relaxed at having to wait until we had finished charging our car.

IMG_20150725_121337I have to say one of the best things to come out of our charging experiences, was that it gave us a real chance to chat with fellow Nissan leaf owners, who I have to say, on the whole, are a pretty friendly bunch. Not sure why I was surprised really as lets be honest how many guys do you know who don’t want to talk about their cars!

Our first Nissan Leaf family were from Cambridge, the driver, a man in his forties I’d say, who worked at University of Cambridge and lived in St Neots, typically driving around 40miles a day, and had his own charger at home. Like us, they were on their way to Brighton so not surprisingly they were behind us in the queue for a rather busy charger at Pease Pottage which saw a real procession of Nissan Leaf drivers that morning.

Having discussed all the merits of driving a Leaf, one of the last things he said to us before we parted company was how he felt he was doing something to help his children and the planet. How many times do you meet someone for the first time and within 10 minutes you’re talking about how your actions are helping the planet – the power of the Electric Car – it definitely leads to different conversations.

IMG_20150722_195744Pulling into Pease Pottage just outside Brighton to give us that all important final charge before heading into the hills, a Nissan Leaf with its driver was already in charging mode as we pulled up alongside him.

Again we fell into easy conversation, the shared experience of driving became the natural talking point. This older gentleman had only had his brand new EV for a matter of days so this was his first charging experience.  He couldn’t speak highly enough of his Nissan Leaf.

What was also interesting was that having seen how Ecotricity are giving so much for free to electric car drivers, this new driver was already considering switching his electricity supply to them – an added incentive being that he said you get another free 100 miles as a new home customer.

Just as we were finishing we were approached by a third Nissan Leaf driver who was waiting to charge his car, looking like he enjoyed the good life, sporting a healthy tan, he revealed he had three other cars but he wasn’t using any more of them as he loved using his Leaf so much. Clearly the Nissan Leaf is doing something right.

Heading into the South Downs, I have to admit you do feel a little range anxiety, it’s at times like these that you really consider whether you need to get as close as possible to your destination or you can just settle a bit further away. The petrol pumps are now useless to you which is a unique experience – both a tremendously freeing feeling in that you’re no longer reliant on them but also a bit scary as it’s all down to you to manage your miles and hope that no unexpected diversions hits your path.

I suppose it’s a bit like life really. You have a choice you can rush through your journey dashing to your known destination or you can slow down, learn to trust in the journey and enjoy the experiences it throws in your path.

Parking up, just short of our destination in the South Downs, we enjoyed a beautiful and peaceful walk up to the top of Devils Dyke. Not only did this benefit our wellbeing but in doing so we kept our parking costs at zero, as we avoided the pay and display charges of the car park at the top of the hill.

IMG_20150722_194621On the route back it was my turn to drive – the first time since we’d picked up the car. It always takes me a while to pluck up the courage to do something new but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t give it a go. Embracing the whole experience, I charged the car myself and then slipped into the driving seat, put it into reverse and then into drive and was swept away; it was a dream to drive.

Moving away from the services and accelerating down the motorway slip road, it was so smooth! 50, 60, 70 miles per hour; you just can’t feel the shifts between the speeds, it really is effortless and so relaxing to drive.

Embrace the change and you will be rewarded – in more ways than one.

Thank you Nissan Leaf and thank you Ecotricity for showing the way.

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