We tested a used Nissan Leaf back in 2017, when one of our readers generously suggested we take his for a week. The only issue was it was a 2011 model with just 85km of range, which was a struggle for my daily commute.
Still, I enjoyed it and it gave me a taste of a used Leaf, and what they were about. Launch ahead to 2020, and my wife’s Daily Driver was heading to the ‘too expensive to repair’ department. Was it time to bite the bullet and go EV? Yes, it was. The attraction of extremely low running and maintenance costs were just too big to ignore, not to mention the environmental factors. We have other cars for long trips, so a Leaf seemed like the perfect solution.
I started hunting locally, reading as much as I could. We decided a 30kW (kilo-watt) Leaf would be the best for us to aim for; sure, you pay more for a 30kW over the 24kW model, but the extra range and resale value would be worth it. I looked at all the usual outlets for something that was perfect, but didn’t find it. In the end, I decided that importing our own direct from Japan would be the way to go, and started hunting through the Japanese auction sites.
It took two weeks of trying, but I ended up winning our Leaf for a lot less than what I expected to pay, so that was a win. The model we bought is an X Anniversary Edition, so not the base S, but also not the top of the range G. But our car is fitted with the optional 360-degree camera, a Bose sound system, LED headlights, forward collision avoidance, and two proximity keys. Finished in blue and with sporting some nice alloys, it looked pretty good in the photos. With 11 ‘bars’ of battery left (out of a maximum of 12) and 40,000km on the clock, it was a good buy.
A few weeks later, it was on the ship, and on its way to Auckland. Most readers will know we are mostly Wellington-based. I could have had the car shipped direct to Wellington for the same cost, but here’s the thing; I wanted to see what it would be like to take a Leaf with around a 150km range that distance. How long would it take? How many times would I have to charge up? Would I go mental with all the waiting while it was charging?
In 2018, we took a Hyundai Kona EV from Wellington to Auckland and back, and that wasn’t difficult at all. Since then, we’ve had most of the EVs through for review, including the Jaguar I-PACE, Audi e-tron, Mercedes-Benz EQC, and Tesla Model 3. All nice cars with a decent range, but Auckland to Wellington in a Leaf with a 150km range? That would be a real test.
Once Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, it was a quick flight to Auckland to pick the car up. Using an excellent free app called A Better Route Planner (ABRP), it calculated how long it would take me to get home, and this includes telling the app exactly what model EV model I was driving, the state of health (SoH) of the battery pack, and how much charge was in the battery pack on leaving Auckland.
Allowing for that data, ABRP suggested it would take 11 hours to drive home, with 2.5 hours of charging time, across 7 charges. Time to see how realistic that calculation was. Along with ABRP, I also have the Charge.net app, so when I use a Charge.net point to charge up, it will be easy. Lastly, I have the PlugShare app. While Charge.net is a paid charging service, PlugShare allows you to find free charging stations around the country. Most of the free ones are not fast chargers, and since I’m doing this trip in one day, there’s like only one free charging station I’d use – the fast charger at Hampton Downs racetrack, provided by WEL Networks. By the end of the trip, I’ll be able to see how much it cost to drive 600km as well.
There’s no doubt that the most cost-effective way to run your EV is to charge it at home, unless you are using a free fast charger of course. As well as less cost, consistent fast charging is not good for the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf – even the latest model – is one of the few EVs that doesn’t have any thermal management for its battery pack. Heat is a killer for an EV, and a hot battery pack is something to be avoided. Fast charging will make the pack hot, and that’s why in a Leaf it’s generally a no-no to do it over and over. I don’t have any choice on this trip – I don’t want to take forever to get home, so will be fast-charging all the way, for 600km.
Leaving Auckland at 8am with a full charge and 152km of range, I headed to my first stop at Hampton Downs. The temperature outside is just 8 degrees, and surely this will help my range. A quick charge to 80% at the race track, and then I’d be hitting the road. With little traffic, I got to the free charger quickly, and then I spotted it: a Nissan EV200 van already on charge. Bugger. A quick check of the charger, and I could see he still had 33 minutes of charging left. No drama, I jumped back on the Plug Share app, and spotted another free charger – again, supplied by WEL Networks – at nearby Te Kauwhata, and according to the app it was available. That would do. A short ten-minute drive south and I plugged in for my first charge of the day, the unit telling me it would take 44 minutes to get to 80% charge. I still had 34% charge left, and this was a bit higher than what the ABRP app suggested it would be, perhaps down to temperature outside or the light traffic, making for nice and smooth driving.
On leaving, my battery temp gauge had gone up one bar, so I’ll need to keep an eye on that.
Charge 1: Te Kauwhata
Once I hit 94%, I decided to just hit the road. Heading south, traffic was still light, I cruised for the first time along the Huntly bypass. It was bliss not having to crawl through Huntly. Getting close to Cambridge, I was down to 29km range left, and with 22km to Tirau, I felt it was too risky to try to make it until I got used the car more. I pulled of the expressway and into Cambridge, heading towards The Warehouse, since they have free charging. It’s only a 22kW charger (compare to 50kW for most Charge.net chargers) but hey, free is free. The trouble was, two non-EV cars were parked in the EV parking, so that was a no go. Who knew how long they were going to take shopping.
So instead, I headed back into Cambridge and to the Charge.net 50kW charger, and kicked it off. The battery was down to 20%. Post charge, I noticed I had another bar up on my battery temp gauge – hopefully this wasn’t going to be an issue later. (spoiler alert: it does)
Charge 2: Cambridge Charge.net
16 mins to 80%, 11.4kWh (kilo-watt-hours) $7.02
Driving on and being a bit more careful with my right foot, I was trying to keep it as smooth as possible, but by Tokoroa I was getting a few flashing lights – my range was 20km, and the battery at 14%. Thankfully, another New World to the rescue where Charget.net have a 50kW charger. I’ve got charging down pat – plug the car in (using the cable attached to the charger, no need to get my own out), wave my Charge.net keyfob in front of the reader, and hit the Start button. Then it’s just hop back in the car and do some work on the laptop, or play Words with Friends.
I’ve decided to charge the car to 100% this time (in hindsight, a no-no) – it’s not going to be worth stopping in Taupo for another top up, so hoping I’ll make it to Turangi for the next charge.
Charge 3: New World Tokoroa (Charge.net)
To 80%, 17 minutes 12.6kWh, $7.55
Onwards to Taupo and I’m not going to make it to Turangi, so Taupo it is. Pulling up at the charge station, it’s a Unison charger, but my Charge.net keyfob will work. But there’s already a Nissan EV200 plugged in (argh the same one from Hampton Downs!), so it’s a 20-minute wait until I can use it. My battery temp is pretty high, so I’ll definitely be only charging to 80%, and focusing on more frequent charges but at a lesser rate, to help maintain the battery temperature. That’s the theory, anyway.
There’s 4 Tesla chargers here, but none of them are being used. Such a shame I can’t plug in there.
Charge 4: Unison Taupo
To 80%, 8 minutes, 10.5kWh, $4.20.
Next stop will be Turangi, to make sure I make it through the Desert Road. Hitting 80% in 8 minutes, it was a quick charge and much time for anything other than a toilet stop.
Charge 5: Charge.net Turangi
To 80%, 8 minutes, 4.8kWh, $3.33
Next up, the Desert Road. I must admit, this one had me worried a bit. There’s not a lot of anything between Turangi and Waiouru, so I’d be taking it carefully. Heading out of Turangi, I had 120km of range, so plenty for the 65km trip. Yeah, nah. The hills took their toll, and my range fairly plummeted. Two-thirds of the way to Waiouru, I was down to 20Km range. Not a lot, and not going to make it.
With careful use of the accelerator, and trying as much as I could to husband my momentum, at one point I got that up to 29km range. This was the first time I felt any sort of range anxiety. I did make it to Waiouru, with 11% battery and 18km left in the battery bank. Phew. There’s a Charge.net charger (two of them, actually) in the army museum car park, and at 4pm, the whole car park was empty, so I could charge.
Charge 6: Charge.net Waiouru
To 80%, in 21 minutes, 11.9kWh, $8.39
From Waiouru, it feels like an easy downhill drive, with a next stop in Mangaweka. There’s a café on the north side of the highway, The Dukes Roadhouse – closed, which was a bummer – with a Charge.net unit there. A quicker stop this time, from 44% to 80% in 11 minutes.
Charge 7: Mangaweka
To 80% in 11 minutes, 5.8kWh, $4.33
With my new aim of quicker charges more often, next stop Bulls. The Charge.net unit here is just off the main highway in the library car park, and at 6:30pm on a Sunday in May, dead quiet. Not a single car in the carpark, and a great time to sit for a few minutes and do some work.
Charge 8: Bulls
To 80% in 16 minutes, 9.0kWh, $6.38
Pitch black out there now, and it seems every driver has decided this is the night to drive with their fog lights on, even though it isn’t foggy. It’s blinding my eyes, but hey, as long as they aren’t speeding, right?
I make it to Levin with 40km left to go, but figure the ‘quick and often’ charge is working for me, so pull into one of the Charge.net parks in the New World car park on the south side of town. In not too long I pull out to head south.
I’ve been relying on the TXTs from charge.net to find out the total charge and the total amount of kWh that went into the batteries, but for some reason I didn’t get a TXT this time – and it doesn’t end up on my account. That’s great, but it doesn’t help totaling up what it cost for my whole journey. I do remember seeing $4.something on the display, so going to take a stab at the amounts.
Charge 9: Levin
To 80% in 11 minutes, 5.8kWh, $4.33
I did plan my next stop to be in Paekakariki, but if I make it only 20km more, I can get to Mana and then that’s it – one change at Mana and head home. Getting to Paekakariki I have 38km left, so decide to wing it to Mana. Then I get to the base of the Pukerua Bay hill, and the traffic is stopped. My heart plummeted, but then I remembered I’m in an EV. While a traffic jam is the worst thing for a car running really low on gas, it’s great for an EV. Slower speeds = less kWh consumed. Crawling up the hill, and then getting some charge back in on the way down, I end up at the Mana New World on Highway 1 for that one last charge – lucky number 10.
Charge 10: Mana (Paremata)
To 58% in 17 minutes, 6.3kWh, $4.17
I think 58% is going to be enough to get home, so I stop the charge with my app and hit the road. What time did I get home? 10pm. So that’s a 14-hour drive from Auckland. I’ve got to say, it wasn’t exhausting at all. With all the short stops, I get home and do not crash instantly. Stopping regularly has its benefits. Interestingly, when I drove the Hyundai Kona EV from Wellington to Auckland, it took 13 hours, so in reality not a whole lot less. Our ‘fuel’ economy for the Leaf was 6.6kWh/100km.
But it’s not over just yet. How much did it cost me to do the 600km? Something to keep in mind, again, is that my Leaf needs a firmware (software) upgrade. A normal 30kW Leaf with a good battery State of Health (SoH) and with the firmware upgrade (which reduces the overheating with lots of fast charges) would have need far less stops, and that would have meant less time and less money in charging.
Regardless, the trip cost me $49.70 in power, keeping mind my free charge in Te Kauwhata. Comparing that to a similarly sized car, say a Mazda3, which we know from testing gives a real-world figure of 7.2L/100km, or 43.2 litres over 600km. At an average of say $1.85/litre for regular gas, that’s $79.92. So my savings? Not that great, but with my firmware upgrade, I’d expect it to be at least half, if not down to a third.
Would I do it again? With the upgrade, yes, but not every week. We’ve said it before; if you are going to drive long distance regularly, you need to plan your trip well with something like a Gen2 or Gen1 Nissan Leaf. In saying that, of course it was incredibly quiet, and those regular stops made for a long but enjoyable journey.