Leaf, grown: Nissan’s electric e-NV200 Combi driven

31 October 2014

Nissan e-NV200 and Nissan Leaf

e-NV200 Combi
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars Good: spacious, versatile, nippy, very quiet
Bad: low-rent interior, no 7-seater, drives like a van
Price: from £22,859 for the Combi, with plug-in grant
Nissan’s Leaf is the UK’s best selling pure electric car, accounting for two-thirds of battery powered cars sold in the first nine months of 2014. That amounts to 2,969 sales – still a tiny sliver of the two million conventional cars sold over the same period, but a wedge that is steadily expanding. The whole of 2013 saw sales of only 1,812 Leafs, a number that could easily be doubled by the final tally for this year.

Now Nissan is branching out with its second electric car. Though it’s not really a car but a commercial vehicle. Nissan has taken the Leaf’s core hardware – battery and on-board charger, power electronics and electric motor, and even the whole front axle, and transplanted the lot into its NV200 van.

The battery powered e-NV200 that results can be bought either as a workmanlike light commercial or as a capacious five-seater Combi.

Nissan e-NV200 rear view

The van version can carry up to 770kg of payload and provides a cargo bay more than two metres long, with a rear opening more than 1.2 metres tall and roughly the same in width. That’s big enough to swallow a couple of pallets. Twin sliding side doors are fitted as standard.

The Combi edition is big and boxy and undeniably looks like a van with windows. It boasts a three-seat rear bench, spit into 60:40 sections, either piece of which tumbles forward for extra stowage. And the rear seat backs can be adjusted for rake by pulling on a strap at your shoulder. But there the resemblance to a modern compact people-carrier abruptly halts. The roughly finished interior is much more redolent of DIY than MPV.

Nissan e-NV200 side view, doors open

Nip around the back of the Combi and you’ll find an absolutely huge, top-hinged tailgate. When open it rests horizontal, propped on gas struts, well over six feet in the air. That could be handy if you need an impromptu gazebo to keep off the rain, but not so clever if you struggle to reach things on shelves in supermarkets.

The boot is massive, cubic, has a very low lip and is bisected by a sturdy plastic parcel shelf. Remove the shelf and you’d have no trouble slotting a washing machine or similar chunk of bulky domestic hardware into the back.

There’s enough room for another row of seats in the back, but alas the Combi is available only as a five-seater.

Nissan e-NV200 boot

Climb into the driver’s chair and you’ll find strong echoes of the Leaf, albeit much higher up in the air. The steering wheel looks identical, though when bolted to a van’s steering column it greets you at what feels like the same angle as a dinner plate. The helm can also be twirled, quite literally, with one finger. The steering is not especially direct or full of feel – I lost count of how many turns will take you from lock to lock but it’s a lot.

The centre console, finished in glossy black plastic and containing a bright display screen as standard, also looks familiar though is not quite identical to the equivalent fascia in a Leaf. Helpfully, a reversing camera comes as standard though the mirrors are big and give a good view of the rear corners when inching around in car parks. Nissan’s clever Around View Monitor, which makes use of multiple cameras to give a bird’s eye view of things in every direction on the centre screen, comes fitted to the plusher Tekna trim levels.

Nissan e-NV200 dashboard

Plush being relative. The interior of even the top-spec model provides vast swathes of hard and shiny plastic. There’s no mistaking the industrial nature of this beast.

On the move, the e-NV200 Combi feels surprisingly perky and responsive. That comment comes with two caveats: firstly, I don’t have any washing machines aboard and secondly, you have to press the accelerator quite hard to unlock full performance. There’s a sort of false floor built into the throttle pedal’s travel. You can push through it, but it’s there to remind you that travelling fast and accelerating briskly will rapidly sap the battery.

The front-mounted electric motor provides 80kW (107bhp) and 254Nm or torque, or enough to get the Combi to 62mph in 14 seconds. Brisk acceleration produces a high-pitched whine from under the bonnet, but drive more sedately and you’ll barely hear the motor. Wind noise is noticeable in the absence of other sounds, and there’s a degree of body boom over big bumps, but compared to an average diesel van the Combi is as peaceful as a monks’ library.

Officially, range on a full charge is 106 miles and terminal velocity is 76mph. The closer you veer towards one of those numbers, the further you’ll stray from the other. A domestic wallbox will deliver a full charge in eight hours or so, best done overnight. Support for faster DC charging is an option, and Nissan has installed the beefed-up chargers at 50 of its dealers as well as at Ikea stores and some motorway service areas.

Nissan e-NV200 rear seating

The e-NV200’s battery uses lithium-ion cells fabricated in Britain, assembled into one big 24kWh battery in Barcelona, where the rest of the e-NV200 is also screwed together. The battery is identical in concept and capacity to the one in the Leaf – the laminated, air-cooled cells have simply been rearranged to lie flat under the floor rather than bulking up under the Leaf’s seats. There’s fresh air under the seats in the Combi instead, ensuring a flat load floor when they’re folded away.

Other tweaks include a higher maximum rate of energy recuperation (otherwise known as regenerative braking), as befits a bigger vehicle capable of carrying a lot more weight.

The gearstick is more conventional in operation than the spring-loaded mushroom in the middle of a Leaf. Knocking it sideways lets you toggle in and out of a “B” mode that increases the regeneration level when descending slopes.

Nissan e-NV200 gearshift

A square button on the dashboard activates Eco mode, which cuts the peak power available to the motor, gives the accelerator a sedative, and dials down the air conditioning. The range prediction shown on the digital dashboard will also go up by a few miles as a result. Driving in Eco mode feels a little like travelling through treacle but is fine if you’re not in a hurry, though it might not be so tolerable with a full load.

As a fully electric vehicle, the e-NV200 qualifies for a government sweetener at the time of purchase, as well as free entry to the London Congestion Zone (following a one-off registration fee). The Plug In Van Grant offers a 20% subsidy of up to £8,000, while the Plug In Car Grant contributes 25% capped at £5,000 – the car subsidy is the one that applies to the Combi.

After the grant, the e-NV200 van costs from £16,562+VAT, while the Combi range begins at £22,859 including VAT. By way of comparison, the Leaf electric car range starts at £21,490. A top of the range Combi Tekna Rapid Plus costs from £26,309, while a top spec Leaf in Tekna trim starts at £25,490.

Nissan e-NV200 front interior

As with the Leaf, Nissan also offers the e-NV200 with the option to lease rather than buy the battery. For the van, battery leasing starts at £61+VAT per month for a three-year contract capped at 6,000 miles per annum, rising to £106+VAT per month for a 12-month contract and up to 15,000 miles. Choosing the leasing option drops the purchase price of the e-NV200 van by £3,169+VAT, giving an entry point of £13,393+VAT. Note that there’s no option to buy out the lease later on – a leased-battery vehicle stays that way for life.

Private punters opting to buy-plus-lease the e-NV200 Combi will need to pay between £73.20 and £127.20 per month, including VAT, according to the contract length and annual mileage.

Running costs ought to be low, with electrical top-ups much cheaper than tankfuls of diesel, plus the e-NV200 has a lot fewer moving parts to go wrong. And with battery leasing to spread the cost and keep the entry point low, Nissan will be hoping to attract those who might otherwise go shopping among keenly priced used vans instead.

Nissan e-NV200 front view

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