Paul Horrell26 July 2010

Nissan Leaf: driven

Real-world electric car is going to be more lifestyle choice than practical motoring solution for a while yet...

Nissan Leaf: driven

It's amazing how quickly you get used to the silence. And yet, the absence of engine noise - apart from a fan-like whirr - is the main difference between driving the Nissan Leaf and, say, an automatic diesel Golf. Or maybe more pertinently, a Prius. Which is pretty amazing given how utterly unlike they are.

I've just been driving the Leaf around Bedfordshire, in suburbs and lanes and A-roads. Obviously it isn't a performance car, even though it steps off smartly from rest. It gets sluggish beyond 60mph, and top whack is just 90.

But it's meant as an econo-car so its cornering is, shall we say, unambitious, although to be fair the steering is direct and accurate. Instead Nissan has dialled in a nice, soft, stable, quiet ride.

The idea being you drive in a more stately and saintly way than you would in a petrol or diesel car, because range is more critical.

If you drive your ordinary car harder than the people in the official mpg tests do, you'll run out of fuel sooner. But then you just buy some more and get on your way.

Whereas in an electric car, if you run out of juice early, you've got to wait several hours to recharge.

There's actually fun to be had in the act of stretching range, by conserving momentum, thinking ahead, and avoiding the brakes. And it doesn't necessarily mean being glacially slow.

The Leaf doesn't only drive like a normal car, it does everything else you might need. Normal boot. Five seats (although the rear floor is a bit high because there's a battery underneath).

It looks odd in pictures, but on the road its range-enhancing low-drag curves aren't at all hideous. The cabin is full of fancy displays and electronics to coach you to eke out the miles.

See more Nissan Leaf pics

Buying an electric car is obviously not something you do on a whim. There are critical questions of your daily driving patterns (do you regularly do more than 100 miles?) and where you recharge. You can use a special mains charger for an eight-hour charge, or a fast-charger that gives you 80-odd miles in 30 minutes.

On-street charge points are coming in their droves over the next few years. But when the Leaf first goes on sale early next year, there won't be many so you'll be charging at home.

The Leaf isn't for the one-car household. Long journeys would be an agony of stopovers. But for a two-car family, it'd be ideal. It'll do the commuting, and then the other car will do the long trips or the holidays.

And it'll be cheap to run. Electricity is far cheaper than fuel. The Leaf will be about £2 for an overnight charge, which will get you 100-ish miles. A gently driven Golf diesel DSG would use about £9 in fuel for that 100 miles. To buy? The Leaf is £28,350 minus a £5,000 grant. Sounds expensive, but it has a lot of equipment.

Even so, buy it because you want it and like the idea of getting off oil, not to save money. The good thing is, it won't punish you as you drive along.

Paul Horrell, Consultant Editor of TopGear magazine

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