What is it?
The first credible, fully electric family car. The Leaf is rare among all-electric cars firstly because it’s pretty good and secondly because it was designed to run on batteries from scratch, where most other mass-market electric cars have been adapted from internal-combustion-engined models. That makes the Nissan better placed to tackle the task in hand. Even better, it’s now being built here in the UK – and Nissan has used this opportunity to introduce a series of running changes too. The range is up, the handling is better and it’s generally easier to use. You’ll be able to buy these cars from summer 2013.
A 0-60mph time of 11.9 seconds doesn’t sound all that impressive these days, but the Leaf feels a bit quicker than that. If you haven’t heard already, electric cars have all their torque available as soon as you prod the accelerator. It’s not confined to low-end pulling power either, so it’s capable enough on motorways and A-roads, certainly a match for a diesel hatch.
A lack of any sort of engine noise means the Leaf is about as refined as it gets, too. There’s a faint whir on the move, but it’s less than anything you’d get from a petrol or diesel engine. Rough surfaces are soaked up adequately and body roll is well controlled. The steering is light, so it’s perfect for manoeuvring around town. That’s exactly where you’ll want to keep it, with the fear of running out of power keeping you within an extension cable’s reach for a slow recharge. Out of town, you’ll look at nothing but the battery gauge.
On the inside
Nissan has sensibly designed the Leaf to be as normal and accessible to the masses as possible, so it’s not really any different to a conventional internal-combustion-engined car On the inside. The cabin is reasonably well built, and everything’s laid out in a logical and easy-to-use fashion. There’s even loads of leg- and headroom in the back, and the boot can swallow 330 litres of luggage, which is another advantage of the underfloor battery stowage. It’s well kitted-out and even the touch-screen sat nav is straightforward to figure out.
The good bit is that you won’t be visiting the pumps. Yeah, your electricity bill will go up a bit, but you won’t be spending anything like you would at the filling station. The bad bit is the limited 100-mile average range, although this will go up to 124 miles when the British-built cars come on stream (and Nissan has various fast-charge solutions in the pipeline too). Even so, for many, 124 miles simply won’t be enough, and even super-fast charging won’t be convenient. Then there’s the price of nearly £26,000 even with the £5k Government grant factored in...