Nissan LEAF Review
Nissan LEAF electric car
Nissan LEAF review 2011: The LEAF electric car is a spacious yet compact family car, similar in size to a Ford Focus, Toyota Prius or Volkswagen Golf.
Nissan have worked hard to create an electric car that can be compared with more conventional family cars in terms of ride, handling, refinement, interior space and features, yet with the benefits of electric propulsion and at a price that compares with high end models from Toyota or Volkswagen.
By and large, they have succeeded. I have driven the Nissan LEAF a number of times over the past few months, both on the road and on private test tracks, and have been impressed with how easy they are to drive, the performance and the ambience of the interior.
I am not the only one to be impressed: the Nissan Leaf has recently been voted European Car of the Year 2011 by a panel of fifty automotive journalists.
Nissan LEAF interior
The official range of the LEAF is 100 miles and in a recent drive in Portugal, my co-driver and I managed to achieve this on a mixed road journey incorporating inner city driving, country roads and fast freeways travelling between cities. Charging up from a fast charger takes around 20 minutes whilst a Home Charger allows the LEAF to be charged from flat to full in around seven hours.
Sitting inside for the first time, the first thing you notice is the height of the floor is slightly higher than you expect. This is because the batteries are fitted underneath the floor and the result is a feeling that you are sitting in the wrong position. As a consequence, several drivers have said that it can take a few minutes to get used to this high floor. Yet once you have adjusted yourself to the car, it feels very comfortable indeed with supportive seats and plenty of headroom and legroom.
Nissan leaf on the road
Rear passenger legroom and headroom is reasonable, but not great. The high floor and the tapering roofline means that it is comfortable enough for people up to 6 foot (183cm) in height, but very tall people will find the rear space in the car rather cramped. Surprisingly, the much smaller Mitsubishi i MiEV has much more rear legroom and headroom than the Nissan LEAF.
It is always fun watching somebody drive off in an electric car when they haven't experienced one before and that experience is even more entertaining in the LEAF. Many people think that electric cars are little more than golf buggies or tiny city cars. The LEAF is so different to that stereotype, many people do not know what to expect. One motoring journalist told me that on his first drive he felt like he was piloting a space ship rather than driving a car! The power, the silence and the light coloured airy interior combine to make it a very different first experience to most other cars.
Nissan LEAF charging
In many ways, the LEAF is an 'ordinary' car: the quality of interior fittings is reasonable, ride and handling is reasonable, interior space is reasonable. In none of those areas is the Nissan LEAF class leading. There are a few areas, however, where the car excels: performance, ease of use and noise levels.
The electric motor produces a comparable amount of torque to a 2½ litre V6 engine. That makes for rapid and instant acceleration the moment you put your foot on the accelerator. The very smooth power curve makes for enjoyable driving with enough power to safely overtake other cars should you wish and the acceleration continues all the way up to an indicated 99mph (159km/h).
The LEAF is very easy to use. The visibility, light steering and excellent turning circle makes the car easy to drive through town. On the negative side, the interior plastics feel cheap and the instrumentation is a little confusing to take in at first.
Nissan have made the LEAF as quiet as possible on the inside, whilst incorporating an electronic sound on the outside when it is travelling at walking pace to warn pedestrians that there is a car on the move.
Nissan LEAF electric car
In a conventional car, the noise of the engine masks wind noise, road noise, noise from the brakes and the windscreen wipers. In an electric car, the lack of engine noise makes these other sounds more obvious. Nissan have worked hard to ensure these other noises are suppressed too. The result is a very quiet interior, making for a very relaxing driving experience. The LEAF is quite possibly the quietest car in the world. When travelling at 40mph with the windows down, you can hear the birds singing as you drive past.
Nissan have incorporated a number of interesting gadgets into the car to help owners. Owners can use an iPod to 'talk' to the car and check the available range, or to switch on the heating or air conditioning remotely. Inside the car, the information display shows your remaining range whilst the satellite navigation system also shows you your range as a radius from where you are now and shows all the charging points that are on or near your route.
In summary, the Nissan LEAF is a very impressive car. Slightly cheaper and better equipped than a Toyota Prius, it can be justified as a wise choice even if you are not particularly interested in electric cars. If you want a compact family car and you are happy with a 100 mile range, the LEAF should definitely be on your list of cars to try.
The 2011 Electric Car Guide
The book is available from Amazon and all main bookshops
For a taster, why not read the first chapter of the book.