What is it?
You’ll be familiar with the Nissan Leaf by now. It’s already won car of the year 2011 and made a name for itself as potentially the first really usable everyday pure-electric car. This is the first time we’ve had the chance to drive it in the UK to see how it manages on our roads.
What’s it like?
Crucially, it’s much the same as many conventional family hatches. Disregard the electric propulsion and there’s no denying that the dynamics are fairly average. Firm damping means you get some fidgeting at higher speeds over any road less arterial than a motorway, though low speed bump absorption is good and it’s not an uncomfortable car at any point.
With the 48 lithium-ion batteries mounted at floor level, handling is linear and predictable enough for the Leaf’s purposes. Sharp brake response (emphasised by very short pedal travel) and light, sterile steering ensure there is very little sensitivity to the drive, but the initial surge of torque from the electric motor actually makes the Leaf quite entertaining around town. Even in Eco mode with the increased engine braking and reduced power output that it entails over standard ‘D’ mode, the Leaf is quick enough to keep up with urban traffic.
The interior has a quirky, futuristic feel to it due to the ‘mouse’ that controls the auto-box, but ultimately it’s a pleasant place to be with lots of standard equipment and adequate space. In essence, this is a usable family hatch that happens to run on electricity.
Should I buy one?
Range limitations (our test suggested that a real-world range would be about 80 miles with gentle but varied driving) will dictate whether you can live with a Nissan Leaf or not. Given that it will take 12 hours for a full charge from a standard socket, there’s no denying there are still limitations, and the list price is simply too high by comparison to conventional rivals for most to justify it. However, for company car users the fact that this is free – no, really – of any benefit in kind charges and costs around £2 per charge makes it an almost surreal proposition.
The Leaf won’t suit everyone, but it is easy to see its huge potential as a comfortable and practical school-run car or short-distance business commuter. It finally proves that the everyday electric car isn’t just wishful eco-thinking, even if the price for private buyers is still too big an ask.