Nissan Leaf (2010) electric prototype CAR review Road Testing …

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Nissan Electric Cars

Nissan Leaf (2010) electric prototype CAR review

By Gavin Green

First Drives

11 June 2010 00:01

It’s finally here. The world’s first practical affordable electric production car that doesn’t look like it’s designed by a kid with a crayon and driven by Noddy. The Nissan Leaf may not be an exciting car. But it is an important one.

If it sells – and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn is betting his company’s future on it – this may be a Mini/Model T moment. Game changers aren’t released very often.

The Leaf goes on sale early next year and, as long as David Cameron rubber-stamps Lord Mandelson’s grant, European production will come from Sunderland from 2013 (and from Japan until then). Unlike the G-Wiz and other similarly risible electric runabouts, this is not a ‘quadricycle’ that circumvents all safety rules (and common sense). It’s a proper car, meeting all Golf-sized hatchback safety expectations, seats five, and looks like a ‘proper’ car. Nissan purposefully made it look ‘normal’, hinting at unconventionality (note the rakish TGV like-nose) but not going too Dan Dare.

This is a mass-produced Nissan, after all, and expected to have mass appeal.

OK, so what does the new Nissan Leaf cost – and what’ll she do, mister?

It’s £28,350 – but that drops to £23,350 after the UK government grant. (Many European governments, as well as the US and Japan, are offering similar rebates.) That’s still a fair bit more than a same-size Golf or Focus. But when the much lower running costs – the electricity should cost about a fifth as much as petrol or diesel – are factored, the AA reckons you’ll get that extra money back in about three years. The Leaf is also exempt from London’s congestion charge and road tax, and there is zero company car tax for the first five years.

Top speed — 90mph — is some way behind petrol class rivals, although 0-60mph in 11.5 seconds is similar to a mainstream petrol Focus. But the Leaf isn’t designed for top-end motorway and A-road speed. Rather, it’s for urban and suburban use. Off the mark and from 20-40mph, the Leaf feels brisk.

That’s a corollary of its meaty V6-like torque. What’s more, that torque is delivered almost instantly.

The Leaf accelerates with amazing smoothness and refinement. It’s quieter than a Rolls Phantom at low speed. Up to 15mph, the only discernible sound – more obvious to pedestrians than occupants – is a muted jet engine whirr, an artificial sound (conveyed by a nose-mounted speaker) designed to warn pedestrians of its imminence.

Nissan Electric Cars

Over 15 mph, it cuts out. Nissan figures tyre noise and engine whine provide enough aural warning after that.

And the handling?

This was the really pleasant surprise. The Leaf is no lightweight, at just over 1500 kg, mainly due to the batteries. Yet those new-generation lithium ion batteries are all cleverly mounted in the floor, under the seats.

This keeps the main mass of the car nice and low.

The upshot is agile handling and little roll. The light electric motor up front helps. This is one front-drive car that doesn’t have the majority of its mass perched over its front axle.

Turn-in is sharp, steering pleasingly linear and light, and overall agility is a notch or two better than the mid-size hatch norm. Mind you our test was on a billiard-smooth Japanese track. We’ll have to wait and see how it fares on Britain’s broken B-roads, but the signs are promising.

Click ‘Next’ below to read more of our Nissan Leaf first drive

Nissan Electric Cars
Nissan Electric Cars
Nissan Electric Cars

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