When I passed my driving test in the mid 1990s, the nearest thing I had to assistive technology was power steering. How times have changed.
Driving an electric car allowed me to really find out first hand what this type of car would be like to drive, away from strict test conditions.
As it is a new technology, people are naturally weary as it is outside of their comfort zone.
On Friday, I picked up a top-of-the-range Nissan Leaf from Greenhouse, Shrewsbury.
It was like something from a future age as James the Sales Manager took me for a spin before handing over the key fob.
I currently drive a 1960s Volvo, so all the technology and low noise took some getting used to. The most high tech feature of my Volvo is a buzzer to tell me I have left the door open with the lights still on!
I was impressed by the car being able to park itself with minimal involvement from the driver. This was a reassuring component as car park spaces are seemingly getting smaller and parking for many (me included) can be a stressful experience.
I spent the next 24 hours driving the Leaf around Shropshire where I live, being held comfortably in the ergonomic, heated leather seats, with the cabin offered plenty of leg room for my long limbs.
I was impressed with I how could hear the birds singing outside as the car made so little noise. It was like the closeness to nature I feel when I ride my cycle through the countryside.
The ‘E-pedal’ system actually feeds energy back into the battery from regenerative braking and I was able to control the speed with just the pedal. Truly effortless driving.
My initial reservations about the charging station infrastructure was short lived as I found out that much of the Shropshire region had a plethora of points in which to charge the Nissan.
It was good to see the energy from the charging station at Shifnal services off the M54 was derived from solar and wind energy. This fact coupled with the zero emissions from the Nissan gave guilt-free driving.
These rapid charging stations which are being rolled out nationwide, can give a full charge in around 45 minutes. It was time for a coffee as the ‘Ecotricity’ app allowed me to pay by a digital handshake and it gave me minute-by-minute updates as regards to the charging status.
Once I got on the longer stretches of road, I engaged the Propilot Assist. This is cruise control with an upmarket twist.
After I set the cruise speed, it kept a defined distance from the vehicle in front, adapting the Leaf’s speed to the changing distance of the vehicle in front.
The Leaf’s cameras give all round vision. It senses painted white lines and will keep the car within those lines. It is strange to feel the steering wheel being gently nudged into perfect alignment under my hands.
This is not technology just for driver comfort. It has safety implications.
It is no surprise this latest Leaf model scored a perfect five out of five in a recent NCAP rating.
Saturday afternoon arrived all to soon and it was time to return the Leaf.
With government grants towards the cost of the Leaf, it will surely tempt many car buyers.
Within the next couple of years, stopping to charge will become a thing of the past, as power induction loops are fitted on road networks and sensors to give a fully driverless car experience.
I am certainly an electric car convert but it might prove slightly too expensive to retro-fit my poor Volvo!
By Steven Michael Collins
Photo Credit: Eddie Phams