What is it?
The Leaf is the gateway to a brave new electric world from Nissan. Forget the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Mini E, and even the dorky G-Wiz. The five-seater Leaf is the world’s first, purpose-built mass-produced electric car.
And it could very well be a defining moment in automotive history on the way to cleaning up emissions and weaning us off fossil fuels. As it’s purpose-built, the Leaf employs its own unique platform and body that meet all C-segment safety regulations.
It’s powered by 48 laminated lithium-ion battery modules and a high-response synchronous electric motor that generates 107bhp and 206lb ft of torque. The battery pack is located directly beneath the front and rear rows of seats to keep weight low and central for greater on-road stability and handling.
It’ll travel 100 miles on a full charge claims Nissan, takes around eight hours to recharge using 220-240V power supply and produces – need we say – zero tailpipe emissions.
What’s it like?
It certainly looks better in the flesh than in photos. Designers were able to differentiate the Leaf’s styling from conventional hatchbacks and give it a unique, short-nosed, rakish front end simply because the car doesn’t have a bulky engine up front.
In the driver’s seat, the Leaf feels like any other hatchback. Push the starter button and a three to four second long computer-like ‘reboot’ jingle plays to inform that the vehicle is ready for action. Flick the mouse-shaped gear selector to “D” mode, floor the throttle and you have 100 per cent instant torque on tap.
From zero to 30mph, the Leaf accelerates faster than a V6 but progress slows as revs rise. The Leaf will reach 60 mph from rest in 11.5 seconds which is comparable to a base-spec petrol Golf. Top speed is 90mph, but then the Leaf was not designed for loads of motorway miles.
Power delivery from the CVT is silky smooth, effortless and above all, whisper quiet apart from a barely audible whir from the motor. To warn pedestrians of its presence, engineers have fitted an engine bay mounted speaker that sounds a low-pitched whistle at speeds of up to 30km/h and in reverse. This is clever and answers early critics of EVs.
Flick the mouse to “Eco” mode and the on-board computer automatically switches its programming to dial down the air-con and throttle response while boosting regenerative braking, thus improving driving range by as much as 10 percent.
We remember smiling as we took our first corner, because the Leaf handles with surprising poise and purpose of mission. With the heavy battery pack positioned nice and low in the platform, the Nissan turns in with precision and well-weighted steering while exhibiting almost no body roll and no understeer.
Ride quality was firm and comfortable on Nissan’s Oppama proving ground, although we reserve our verdict on ride until we can get onto some worthy B-roads. But even on Nissan’s smooth test track, we were not so sure about the choice of eco-tyres.
While they maximise mileage and minimise rolling resistance, the all-weather rubber do not grip as well as summer tyre option and tend to squeal in corners. But even with the eco-rubber, the Leaf’s brakes deliver excellent stopping power with a healthy helping of regenerative effort on the side.
As the first kid on the electric block, Nissan has really made an effort to make the Leaf as appealing to as many buyers as possible. While the car looks very approachable from the outside, its interior is finished in a bright stylish trim with wave-like contours and blue-hued illumination, highlighting the car’s planet-conscious slant.
Seats are comfortable, head and legroom are sufficient and the rear luggage space, which houses the charging plug and cord, will take one large suitcase.
Should I buy one?
If you don’t drive more than 70 or 80 miles a day, and evidence from Nissan suggests that more than 80 percent of us don’t, then the Leaf might just be the perfect planet-friendly transport for you. While slightly more expensive than a Golf for example (even with the government grant), Nissan claims that the price difference will recoup itself after around three years of use, taking into account the lack of having to visit a petrol pump.
We think it’ll generate strong sales when it lands in showrooms early next year, but there will also be thousands of potential buyers waiting in the wings to see how the car performs and how the infrastructure issue pans out.