I’ve just driven Nissan’s great white hope. The Japanese firm is about to unveil it to the public – the first global-market electric vehicle it has ever produced, a zero emissions five-door hatchback that’s only slightly larger than a VW Golf. And the security and secrecy surrounding it is such that as I write these words, the night before the grand unveiling, I don’t even know what it’ll be called.
But I can tell you how it drives. Earlier this week, we were given the chance to take a quick spin in a development version of the car. It looked like a Tiida – to see the shape of the real thing, consult our news section – but it was much more remarkable from behind the wheel.
Nissan’s EV features a 108bhp, 208lb ft electric motor and a 24kWh lithium ion battery. It does 62mph in around 10sec and has a top speed of about 90mph. What’s interesting about the way it goes down the road relative to a car with a combustion engine, however, is a) how responsive it is to throttle inputs, b) how quiet it is, and c) how torquey it is as pootling speeds.
There is barely any delay when you hit the throttle in this car; you just get seemless and serious acceleration almost exactly a tenth of a second after you’ve asked for it. That makes it sound like a fast car, which it clearly isn’t, but there is something strangely addictive about getting 208lb ft of torque when the electric motor’s literally just beginning to turn. It makes the car feel that bit more manoeuvrable, and ready to nip into a gap on a busy traffic island.
As your speed increases so the powertrain’s accelerative force diminishes, but not to the point where the car feels exposed or vulnerable above 60mph, as other EVs have; just a bit slow. Truth is, with a range of just 100 miles, this isn’t a car that’s likely to spend too long on the motorway, which is fine. Because around town it’s got all the oomph you’ll ever need.
The quietness with which it goes about its business is extraordinary too. With no engine noise to speak of, all you hear is tyre roar and wind rustle, and in recognition of that, Nissan has designed the finished car with extra thick door seals, low-drag door mirrors and elongated headlights, which are all intended to reduce wind whistling.
So do I think it’ll be a hit? As a family’s second car, absolutely. Perhaps it doesn’t make as attractive a case to the one-car household as the Vauxhall Ampera will, with its EV capability and its extended petrol range. But Nissan wants to sell 200,000 a year from 2010 and, with government incentives looking lucrative on battery cars, I think that’s a realistic if not slightly conservative prediction.
After all, if Mandy’s still promising £5000 off one of these by the time it arrives in the UK in 2012, you could get one for mid-spec Focus money. And if petrol prices remain as volatile as they have been, that could be a very canny buy.