Long before the Nissan Leaf, electric cars were significant players until the 1920s, and again in Japan in the late 1940s.

But it was with the invention of the lithium ion battery that Nissan’s modern involvement began. In 1995 it launched the Prairie EV (and made 30), then the Altra EV (and made 200). It followed that with the compact Hypermini in 1999. The 2005 Pivo and Pivo2 concepts heralded the start of a development process that resulted in the Leaf.

The electric car has long been at the heart of the motoring industry’s future-proof plans, but its evolution has not been an easy one so far. Held back by battery technology, electric cars have failed to be a viable proposition for the masses due to a high price and a severe compromise in usability. Nissan hoped to change that with the Leaf, a five-door hatchback that runs on a 107bhp electric motor.

Claiming a range of up to 124 miles per charge (dependent on model, on individual use and the ambient temperature), Nissan is realistic about the target market. But that low-mileage market is still a broad one, and if the Leaf can prove that it offers the same ease of use as its conventional rivals, excepting the range, this could be the start of the electric car revolution that has been on the brink of happening for years.

The Leaf was originally introduced with retail prices starting from £30,000, though a government discount of £5000 helped, but that left a lot for Nissan’s electric family car to prove. Shifting production from Japan to the UK in early 2013 reduced retail prices, as did the new pricing scheme, which allows buyers to lease the car’s battery, with the pricing based on three different annual mileages.

Top 5 Family hatchbacks

  • Seventh generation Volkswagen Golf
    More than 29 million Golfs have been sold since 1974

    Volkswagen Golf

    1
  • The popular Ford Focus in 1.5 TDCi Zetec form
    The standout component of the Ford Focus has always been its handling

    Ford Focus

    2
  • Seat Leon
    Seat offers five engines for the Leon, ranging from a 104bhp 1.2 petrol to a 181bhp 2.0 diesel

    Seat Leon

    3
  • Seventh generation Vauxhall Astra
    The seventh-generation Vauxhall Astra seems to be a collection of General Motors' latest and greatest technology

    Vauxhall Astra

    4
  • Mazda 3
    The SkyActiv platform used in the 3 features more high and ultra-high-strength steel, offering greater strength and less weight

    Mazda 3

    5

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