What’s the best electric car for keeping it simple? | Top Gear
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Sunday 10th December

What’s the best electric car for keeping it simple?

The original Nissan Leaf is a glorious bridge between the analogue and digital ages

Published: 01 Jun 2022

In this brave new age of smartphone dependence we’ve probably all found ourselves having sunk several weeks of our lives into a time dump of a game that sucks your attention into it and gives nothing back. Like the most recent obsession, a strategy thing where you send trucks back and forth between places carrying stuff. No more sophisticated or interesting than that, but boy was it addictive. 

Until it was updated, presumably by someone who never opened the app before, let alone played it. One eight-second download and suddenly the game was rendered unplayable and useless. Sure, it enjoyed a smart new look, some spiffy graphics and a bit of jaunty new in-game music, but the very basic functions had been changed in a blink and it was impossible to work out how to do them. So… deleted. 

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But what happens when they do that to your car? Manufacturers are cock-a-hoop about over-the-air updates and the boundless potential of what they can do. Polestar recently did an update that made its cars drive longer distances, Volkswagen did one that meant they could charge harder for longer

That’s all very nice, but the time will come when they get it completely wrong and forget to put the heated seats button back in, or decide that now you’ll have to pay extra to move your wing mirrors. Maybe you’ll get three free radio station changes a month and then you’ll have to watch an advert. Some design supremo could proclaim that Comic Sans is now officially cool and change all the fonts in your infotainment to the hateful typeface. And we’ll long for the days that they actually finished building a car before they sold it to us. 

But there’s an electric car out there that snuck under the wire, that bridges the gap between the stinky petrol-filled analogue days and the tech-laden emotionless digital era of the car. We’re not saying it’s a classic, but you won’t come out to jump in one morning and find that it’s a completely different car and all the settings are hidden in a different place. The Nissan Leaf was the car that sold EVs as a viable mass-market alternative to internal combustion engines. Sure, it looks like a frog that just got some bad news, and it’s cheap and plasticky inside in a way that no modern buyer would tolerate. But on the other hand, any over the air updates would involve swapping out the air freshener you’ve got hanging on the rearview mirror. 

There are plenty of very well used examples out there, and if you got one you’d be on the very front line of trying to work out how long electric vehicles will last before they either spontaneously explode or simply come to a shuddering inexplicable halt. But you can take advantage of all this by getting yourself an unloved 24kWh example with its generous spec levels and pay someone who newly specialises in such things to pop in a new battery for you. Maybe even a bigger one that takes advantage of the strides forward in battery tech that have been made since the Leaf was booted onto the market. It’s not a seamless, sneaky over the air update, but it would at least keep your Leaf fresh and green. 

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Best EV for keeping it simple – Nissan Leaf
Price: £4,000–10,000
Range: 124 miles (lol)
Engine: 107bhp e-motor
Battery: 24kWh
Top speed: 89mph
0–62mph: 11.5secs
Boot space: 371 litres 
Over the air updates since launch: 0

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