The
most perceptive thing I’ve read so far about the Nissan Leaf — my top car of
2010 — is that it has done more than any other single machine to “normalise”
electric cars.

 

If
you live a lot of your life in London, as I do, your first familiarity with the
Leaf completely counters all the bad stuff about electric cars you’ve accrued
over time from watching the G-Wiz and its ilk: that they’re ugly, toy-like,
horrible to drive and don’t comply with the safety standards of other small cars.

 

Okay,
the styling of the Leaf doesn’t suit everyone, and I admit it isn’t the most
beautiful of cars, even to me. But when you understand what that little panel in
the nose is for, and why it has to look a bit different from other cars, and
how efficient it is aerodynamically (those protruding headlights actually
‘condition’ the airflow to reduce noise as it passes the exterior mirrors), you
do warm to it. And there are no packaging compromises. It’s a classic workhorse
five-seater with a big boot.

 

But
the light really comes on when you drive it. Every electric car I’ve tried has
been a kind of glorified milk-float, its funny whirrings accompanied by tyre
noise, wheel bearing noise, crashing suspension and a deep-seated lack of
refinement. The Leaf is the very reverse of that. It's smooth, quiet,
comfortable, rides and steers nicely and its engine, when you can hear it,
actually sounds quite good.

 

Most
of all, there’s a smoothness and tranquillity about it, and a linearity of power
delivery, that is quite different from any petrol or diesel car you’ve ever
driven. I was lucky enough to take an 80-mile out-and-back trip in a Leaf
(cruising much of the time at 70 mph), and its serenity and dependability were
new experiences for me.

Read Autocar's first drive on the Nissan Leaf

I’m not saying they’re better or worse in “normal driving" (why, in any case,
should we obsess on that question?) but they’re very pleasant and very
different. The Leaf isn’t for everyone, but it will suit plenty of us and
definitely adds a new dimension to driving. What is more, the progress it represents
is all in the right direction. We should welcome it.