I’ve just been back behind the wheel of an electric car – and it’s like the automotive version of a stealth aircraft.
Three years after last driving the nondescript Nissan Leaf, I remembered its quietness but had forgotten how impressive its low-speed acceleration is. It can really move.
For all the justifiable concerns about the practicality of electric vehicles, with features like these, they sure are fun to drive.
Just press the start button, select “Drive”, and you have to watch to believe you are moving, and as the speed increases, the faintest jet aircraft-style whine is the only sound.
I don’t accept the bleatings of jaywalking pedestrians that it’s a road safety hazard. It’s a problem cyclists have had to contend with since cars were invented (decades after bicycles), and too many people cross roads without looking simply because they can’t hear any vehicles – even if they aren’t wearing earphones.
Vehicle-sharing firm Enterprise Car Club, which operates in cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, kindly provided me with another loan of a Leaf after my first in late 2015, this time to look at electric sceptics’ main worries – range anxiety and recharging the battery.
The white car I picked up was a first-generation model, which can only do about 80 miles between charges, but Enterprise plan to replace them with newer versions that have a range of about 140 miles later this year.
I picked up mine from its base at Glasgow Caledonian University, where it was fully charged, having been left plugged in by the previous user.
With an 84-mile range showing on the dashboard, I set off on the M8 for Edinburgh, smiling as I sailed past another car belching fumes from its exhaust.
However, despite going no faster than 70mph and avoiding rapid acceleration, the range alarmingly fell faster than the number of miles covered, and I wondered if it would suddenly drop towards zero like that annoying habit of some mobile phone batteries.
Happily, the range recovered, and I reached Corstorphine to collect a standing desk for the office with 34 miles spare, although the gauge showed I had used 50 miles on what was only a 43-mile trip.
After all the talking up of charging stations by Transport Scotland, I thought they would be everywhere by now in built-up areas – and especially at places with things for people to do while charging, like shopping centres. But to my surprise, I couldn’t find any such ones on the official ChargePlace Scotland map, such as at the Gyle shopping centre.
Even odder was that no chargers were shown in Leith – so my plan to look round the Royal Yacht Britannia while I topped up was scuppered. I headed for the nearest chargers instead, at Drumbrae Leisure Centre, where they were available and I was able to plug in without any problem. The rapid charger there – the fastest type – filled up the battery within an hour while I had a coffee in the cafe.
Back in Glasgow and down to 16 miles range left after a detour to The Scotsman office in Cessnock, I stopped off at the Riverside Museum to recharge again, to find none of the chargers seemed to recognise the charging card supplied by the car club. Perhaps it was a glitch, and the charger did work the next day after I went to another nearby one to top up, but it was irritating nonetheless.
Overall, it was a fun experience, which I would pay to repeat, but needed more planning than I had realised. I’ll get to Leith next time.