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Turning over the engine of a new Nissan Leaf Plus
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Car handles city driving with ease, but don't expect it to live up to the 363-kilometre official range when taking it on the highway
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By MARK RICHARDSON
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Special to The Globe and Mail
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Friday, June 14, 2019 – Print Edition, Page D4


Nissan Leaf Plus

BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $44,298 Engine: 62 kWh Lithium-ion battery, with 160 kW AC synchronous electric motor Transmission/Drive: Single-speed reduction gear/FWD Fuel economy (litre/100 km): 2.0 City, 2.4 Hwy Alternatives: Chevrolet Bolt, Tesla Model 3, BWW i3, Volkswagen e-Golf, Kia Soul EV

The new Nissan Leaf Plus electric car has the model's longest range yet: an official maximum of 363 kilometres. That should be enough for almost anyone, right?

It gets better. When I first settled in, the onboard display showed a range of 409 kilometres, which is more than enough to get me home to Cobourg, Ont., 120 kilometres from Toronto.

I drove to Highway 401, set the cruise control at 115 km/h, and sat back to watch the battery drain. Which it did. Quickly.

It was an easy drive with very little traffic. The warm spring weather meant that I needed neither heat nor air-conditioning. I barely touched the brakes, so the car regenerated very little electricity back into its storage battery. All it did was use power to turn the wheels, but when I arrived home, my range was 260 km below the initial charge.

I wrote to the contact at Nissan who provided the press car to ask why the consumption was twice as high as first indicated. "That energy consumption is pretty good considering you had cruise control on and presumably didn't brake as often," she replied.

This didn't sound right. I'd just read a report from someone in Britain who drove a regular Leaf for 325 km, even though it was rated with a range of 241 km. He attributed the range to setting the cruise control to 105 km/h and staying on the motorway, which was fairly hilly. That was with a Leaf that had a 40 kW/h battery, and the new Leaf Plus has a 62 kW/h battery. My only difference was that I travelled 10 km/h faster on a completely flat road.

I then called Nissan's chief marketing manager for the Leaf, François Lefèvre, to ask about the car's real-world range. He had driven the test vehicle just before I collected it and left it with the claimed 409 km of range.

"I went to Barrie with it [about 100 km from Toronto] and there are so many things," he said.

"You go uphill, you go downhill, there's wind, and obviously temperature plays a huge factor.

The speed of the car at 115 is a factor, too. That plays a big role in the temporary loss of range, especially when you're on the highway."

The second-generation Leaf, which was introduced last year, now resets its gauges every few minutes to take driving conditions into account - it will show a more realistic range as the journey progresses, depending on how the vehicle is driven.

That night, I plugged in the Leaf at a public Level 2 charger. In the morning, with a full charge, it showed an estimated maximum range of 287 km. It was onto me and my high speed.

The Leaf and Leaf Plus are sold alongside each other at Nissan dealerships, and Nissan expects them to sell in equal numbers. The regular Leaf starts at $41,698 and the Leaf Plus costs an extra $2,600. The higher price is almost entirely accounted for by the larger battery and a slightly faster potential charging rate. The federal government now offers a $5,000 subsidy off those prices, and additional subsidies are offered in Quebec and B.C. Ontario cancelled its electricvehicle subsidy program last year.

Over the week, I drove the Leaf Plus around town and on the rolling country roads to Peterborough, Ont., all at no cost because I recharged for free at the public Level 2 charger. The car's computer readout showed I was slurping electricity at a rate of about 15 kWh for every 100 km.

Since hydro at my home costs 6.5 cents a kWh at night, it would have cost me just less than $1 to drive 100 km using my own charging station.

In comparison, with gas at $1.20 a litre in Ontario, a Toyota Prius costs more than $5 to drive 100 km, and a Honda Civic costs close to $9.

Don't even think about pickup trucks. Those vehicles all need oil changes and wear out their brake pads far more frequently.

My range improved significantly over the week as I drove at a slower pace, rarely exceeding 100 km/h, and as my speed varied. At one point, after a full charge, it showed a potential range of 417 kilometres. I set the Leaf to "onepedal" mode, which meant I drove it like a golf cart: push the throttle pedal and it sped up, back off the throttle and it slowed hard enough to activate the brake lights, but using the motor to do so, saving the brake pads. This used maximum regenerative power, but the level can be changed to almost nothing if you prefer.

The Leaf also has an Eco drive mode, and when it's not activated, the car is very peppy. It didn't seem to change the range by more than 10 kilometres or so. Similarly, turning on the air conditioning or the heat didn't decrease the range by more than another 10 kilometres. The standard heated front seats and heated steering wheel take their power from a separate battery, so you don't need to feel guilty turning them on.

Toward the end of the week, I had to make an unexpected round trip of 100 km to the doctor's office in Peterborough, and I had not bothered to charge the car for a few nights. I was grateful for the extended range of the Leaf Plus, although in practice if I owned a Leaf, I'd make sure I had a charger installed at home and I'd plug it in every night.

On my final drive to return the Leaf Plus to Nissan, I set out with an almost full charge and a range of 369 km. It was the middle of the night, and I drove for 115 kilometres on a flat highway with the cruise control set to 105 km/h. My average speed was 101 km/h, and at the end of it, I'd used 235 kilometres of range, pretty much the same as I'd done before. So much for that British example. I guess hills make all the difference.

My power consumption was up to 19.3 kWh/100 km on that final drive, which means it would have cost me a $1.25 for electricity over the hour, with 40 per cent of the battery left.

Range will always be an issue, but when you do the math, a lot of the other arguments against EVs just fade away.

Special to The Globe and Mail The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

Associated Graphic

The Nissan Leaf Plus resets its range gauges continually to take driving conditions into account, updating its estimates as your journey progresses.

MARK RICHARDSON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL


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