Last summer I drove a Tesla for an hour. The sudden, smooth acceleration was a revelation. It dispatched nought to 60 in about five seconds but it’s nought to 30 time was the quickest I’ve ever experienced in a the car. Apparently it was quicker to 30mph than a Ferrari Enzo. It certainly felt it.  The new four-wheel-drive Tesla can apparently reach 60 in about three seconds, similar to a Bugatti Veyron for a 10th of the price! I can’t wait to try one.


Tesla – good looking and fast


Whilst the Nissan Leaf was nowhere near as quick as a Tesla it still felt very nippy up to 40mph. In urban driving the Leaf’s acceleration is probably more than adequate, certainly more than enough to embarrass a warm hatchback.

When I picked up the car it had been fully recharged and showed a maximum range of 78 miles. To drive it home to Surrey the quickest route was via the M25, a Journey of about 30 miles. I drove the car like I would any other. As such I did not have it in eco-mode and I had the climate control, wipers and headlights on. By the time I reached home the range remaining showed only 22 miles. I was not that worried as I intended to charge the car overnight but I was surprised at how quickly the battery had depleted.

The following day I found the car had not not charged at all. I thought I had made a mistake in fixing the charging cable, although everything had seemed correct at the time.  As I only had a short journey to do that day I didn’t bother trying to charge it further. However my short journey, with wipers, climate control and headlights, again drained the battery faster than I anticipated. The last couple of miles home were rather fraught as the car was showing zero mileage left on the remaining battery charge. Range anxiety became a reality.

When I tried to charge the car again that evening I found it would not take a charge. It would start charging for a short period and then would cut out. The next day I rang Nissan to see if they could help. They thought it could be a problem with the charging cable or potentially the car. They told me to ring Nissan Assist who would arrange for the RAC to come and look at the problem. The RAC, however, said they were not able to look at any problems with electric cars as they were not qualified to do so. All they could do was recover the car back to me Nissan. This they did so after only two days my test drive was over.


So what have I learnt about electric cars?

Firstly, home charging with a three point domestic supply is not practical. You really need a fast charger and to get that in the UK you have to do battle with the incompetent British Gas if you intend to buy a Renault or Nissan. You also need offstreet parking.

Secondly, the range of current electric cars (except the Tesla) is simply not enough even for average suburban or urban driving. This is especially true when driving in winter. Even the range of a Tesla is hardly sufficient for winter driving of any more than 150 miles.

Thirdly, unlike a petrol or diesel car, if your electric car has a problem, no one will be able to fix it at the roadside. The best you will be able to hope for is being recovered to the manufacturer’s nearest garage.

On the positive side I enjoyed the smoothness, rapid power delivery, silence, lack of vibration and zero emissions of the electric motors. Once you have driven an electric car anything with a combustion engine feels like driving an antique. Electric cars are undoubtedly the future, just not yet.

I have , in the past, wondered what was the point of hybrid cars. I can now see the point. Electric cars are just not yet able to provide the worry free motoring that the public require. Maybe in the future people will look at hybrid cars as nothing more than a complex and expensive step towards electric cars, but for the time being they seem to offer the correct balance between usability and efficiency. I hope to try some hybrids soon.

My daily drive is a Jaguar XKR. Designed to cover long distances in comfort and at great speed, it is perhaps not so well suited to short suburban journeys to the station and shops. In fact despite a top speed of 175mph I was surprised to find that in the last year I have averaged less than 30mph. If I stripped out longer journeys of over 100 miles I imagine my average speed would decline still further. In addition, whilst not an avid environmentalist, even I am embarrassed by my average fuel consumption over the year of less than 17mpg.

Suitably ashamed of my environmental foot print I am considering buying a second car for use as my daily driver which would allow me to reserve the Jaguar for more long-distance travel. Whilst I could have look at a frugal diesel hatchback of some description, the thought of an electric car caught my imagination. As such, when I was contacted by a journalist working for the Honest John column of the Daily Telegraph to see if I would like to run a Renault Zoe electric car on a long-term test, I jumped at the chance.

Arrangements were made with Renault to deliver a Zoe but first they insisted I had a domestic fast charger being installed at my house. Apparently the Zoe charges so slowly from the mains using a three pin plug that Renault required each car taking part in the test to have access to a domestic fast charger. This is where my troubles began.

Renault and Nissan have contracted British Gas to install home fast chargers. Ironically seeing they are sister companies, the chargers are different for each company. I tried ringing British Gas to agree a date for them to install a charger but it proved almost impossible to get a date within a six week window. Renault interceded on my behalf and gave me a special number to ring to get an accelerated installation. I eventually agreed a date with British Gas and then waited in all day for them to turn up. They failed to do so and when I complained they could offer no excuses as to why they had missed the appointment. This happened twice and in the end, rather than waste any more time, I pulled out at the test. As such I’m afraid I cannot tell you whether the Renault Zoe is any good or not. What I can tell you is that British Gas are not up to the job of installing domestic chargers for Renault or Nissan. I can also tell you that presumably it is not very satisfactory to charge a Renault Zoe from a domestic supply. So if you are intending to buy a Renault Zoe, make sure that you have a home fast charger installed before your car is delivered.


The Renault Zoe is a nice looking little car. Here is one doing something I could not manage due to the incompetence of British Gas