With their limited range, low ground clearance and lack of all-wheel drive, it’s often assumed that electric cars like the Nissan LEAF are best in temperate climates in large cities where the weather remains fairly pleasant all year round.
Those who live where the weather is a little more wild, many believe, need the all-wheel drive capabilities of a powerful pickup truck or SUV to get through the winter months without incident. Electric cars, it’s assumed, just aren’t cut out for winter weather.
Here at Transport Evolved, we’ve always disagreed with that sentiment. After all, Norway — the world’s number one electric vehicle market per capita — gets some pretty harsh winter weather. And last time we checked, Norwegians don’t make their electric cars hibernate when the mercury drops. They simply put on a set of good quality winter tires.
This year, we’re following those wise Scandinavian electric car owners and seeing just how much difference proper winter tires can make to a city-going Nissan LEAF living through the wet and windy winter of the Pacific Northwest — and how much difference those tires make to handling, economy and safety when we leave the comforts of the city limits behind and head for Mount Hood’s famous ski resorts at the weekend.
Thanks to the folks at Nokian Tyres, we’re spending the next few months with a set of Hakkapeliitta R2 studless winter tires, fitted onto the stock rims of our 2013 Nissan LEAF SL. Specially designed to offer impressive grip in winter conditions while maintaining excellent fuel efficiency and low rolling resistance, we’ve got to admit we were initially skeptical about company’s claims. But just one month after they were fitted, we’re already starting to fall in love.
As we explained at the end of November, winter hasn’t even officially begun — but with snow already falling on the local roads in and around Mount Hood and the traditional Portland autumn giving us deluge after deluge of rain, our Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2s have already been tested through a variety of conditions.
Two weeks ago, the whole of the Pacific Northwest was battered by storm after storm, dumping large amounts of water on already sodden ground. The result? Standing water — and a lot of it — exacerbated by blocked drains full of fall leaves. The rain, coming after a week of lower-than-average temperatures, meant that the R2s were operating outside of their comfort zone: temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) and heavily wet roads.
Yet despite this, our LEAF remained sure-footed. As we noted in our previous report, wet leaves were no problem for the R2s. Nor was heavy flooding. The only time we lost traction? Trying to climb a painted, wet speed bump from standstill, something we’re sure standard all-season tires would have had an equally tough time on.
Last weekend, with the majority of the stormwater gone, we decided to venture out of suburbia and up into the mountains again, this time to put the winter tires through their paces again on the frigid roads in and around Mount Hood. With a full charge and temperatures in downtown Portland hovering around the upper 40s, we headed down the familiar Route 26 towards the mountain. Moreover, we planned the trip the day after a snow storm had dumped 14 inches of fresh snow on the area.
When we left the Barlow Trail Roundhouse — our CHAdeMO DC quick charge stop before the final 1,000 foot climb to SkiBowl West — the temperature was hovering close to freezing. Soon after, it started to snow.
By the time we reached SkiBowl West, the temperature had dropped well below freezing, and while the tarmac was still visible along the tracks laid by other vehicles, we pulled into SkiBowl West to find several inches of blanket snow. Despite the change in road conditions, our R2s just carried on gripping.
After digging the CHAdeMO DC quick charging station out of the snowbank (we’d prepared by bringing a shovel) as well as charging the car back to 80 percent, the snow had started to fall consistently, blowing around in the strong wind. Pushing further along, we opted for White River, an undeveloped sno-park off state route 35.
The road conditions worsening with every mile, we passed plenty of lesser-prepared motorists along the way, including several all-wheel drive SUVs not fitted with appropriate winter tires. Upon arrival at White River, the laying snow meant the road was no-longer visible.
So far, so good. But it was our return trip after an hour of fun in the snow that allowed the R2s to shine.
In that hour, more than two inches of fresh powder fell, making the roads glisten with a mixture of fresh snow and two perfect lines of sheet ice formed by the cars passing along them. Still, the snow fell, and our LEAF remained glued to the road.
It was at this point that we learned an invaluable lesson: everyone leaves the mountain an hour before dark. With the snow now falling in thick flakes and our little LEAF working hard to keep the windscreen clear, we began to notice other road users having far more trouble than we were.
A Nissan note, pulling out onto the road behind us, wiggled with lost traction every time it moved in the heavy stop/start mountain traffic jam. A pickup truck, spun out on the road ahead of us, eventually found itself abandoned by its owner. And a heavy 18-wheeler trying to make it over the pass found itself unable to gain any traction at all, even with all of its drive wheel chained up.
Drivers we passed looked with disbelief too as the tiny city car with its chain-free winter tires pushed on. An hour and a half — and three miles later — we finally pulled into the relief of the charging station. While the snow was still falling heavily, we’d made it around the toughest part of the mountain pass.
We’d battled through laying snow a few inches deep, much deeper snow in the White River Sno-Park parking lot, and handled frozen icy conditions that far more powerful, more rugged vehicles had struggled to tame.
And for that, we’re very grateful to Nokian.
As for efficiency?
Now we’ve had more time to get to know the R2s, we’re also impressed at how little they affect electric range. As with any regular trip, range varies from day to day according to outside temperature and road conditions, but we’ve managed to maintain a fairly constant 3.3 miles per kilowatt-hour efficiency during the month of December thus far (a total of 700 miles travelled). In November, which was driven half on aging Michelin energy Saver all-season tires and half on the brand-new R2s, we averaged 3.5 miles per kilowatt-hour over 1,362 miles.
That’s less than the 4.1 miles per kilowatt-hour managed in September and October, but we note that based on previous experience with the Nissan LEAF, the energy efficiency drop seems in line with temperature change than anything else.
We’ll continue our long-term test review for the rest of the winter — but in the meantime we’d like to know if you’ve got anything specific you’d like us to try and test with the Hakkapeliitta R2s on our staff Nissan LEAF.
Leave your suggestions, thoughts and ideas in the Comments below.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.