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What's it like to ride in the Nissan BladeGlider?
Fascinating and fun, it turns out. And yes, it'll drift. Full story here
It’s a bit of a squeeze in the back of the Nissan BladeGlider. Particularly once its enormous backwards-butterfly door has been pressed shut on its heavy-duty gas strut.
My Recaro bucket seat is perched atop the car’s 220kW lithium-ion battery pack, and the inner door sweeps narrowly past my shoulder. But it stops short of being claustrophobic, thanks to frameless visor-like glass and a lack of roof. It’s all very alien, but downright cool too.
Nissan has built two BladeGlider cars, as a fully operational update of 2013’s Tokyo motor show concept. Twin rear motors capable of torque vectoring and a mysterious drift mode deliver 230kW (about 265bhp) to the rear wheels.
The result is a claimed (and very rapid) 4.8 second 0-62mph sprint, and a 115mph top speed. If the Leaf is Nissan’s go at making the electric car a mass-market commodity, then this is the attempt to show electric cars aren’t all work and no play.
We’re on a go-kart track about an hour outside of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. It’s about 35 degrees Celsius and the circuit is grittier than a Scottish police drama. When I ask how much the car is worth, eyeing its bespoke bodywork and intricate wheels, immaculate fit and finish and Williams-developed, Formula E-derived powertrain, the Nissan boys simply wince and scuff their shoes. “Lots”, apparently.
Not that anyone seems to have told ex-Lotus and current Williams Advanced Engineering engineer – and today’s driver – Darren Cockle. Darren’s in quali-mode, and ready to scare some journalists.
He scrolls through the menus of the steering wheel screen, turning off the traction control (it’s so hot there’s no need for it, but little chance of drift antics either), before booting it out of the pit lane.
The BladeGlider’s Boxster-matching 0-62mph claim immediately feels very, very accurate. This is an extremely quick bit of kit, and sheds its speed, despite the 1,400kg kerbweight, just as brutally.
Of course, electric cars usually play tricks on your brain, because the lack of roaring V8 or shrieking V10 doesn’t calibrate with the g-forces acting on your inner ear. Anyone who’s tried Ludicrous Mode in a Tesla will be grimacing with agreement right about now.
However, the BladeGlider offers a couple of clues it’s travelling rather damn fast. The first is the airstream attacking my face, as the stadium seating mounts passengers further into the wind than the sheltered driver.
The second is how grateful my knees are for the padded sections grafted into the rear of the driver’s seat and the door insert, because at the rate they’re being flung about by the relentless direction changes my kneecaps would otherwise be sawdust about now.
Thanks to 265-section rear tyres and a very rearward weight bias, the BladeGlider doesn’t just have massive traction, but huge purchase on the way into bends, allowing Darren to flick the needle-like nose accurately left-right-left, taking care to avoid neatly clipping the apex. He’s not rubbish at driving, by the way, that’s deliberate. The BladeGlider’s several inches wider across the rear track than the front, so if the front wheel is kissing kerbs, the rears are lumbering messily across the infield.
Above 50mph, the motors finally start to whine and shriek, challenging the wind shear for the right to deafen you. It’s powerful enough to unstick the rears just on the exit of some of the circuit’s tighter bends, with a chirrup from the tortured inside rear and armfuls of corrective lock from Darren up front.
From my vantage point over his right shoulder, I can keep an eye not only on how he’s working the steering, but his braking points, throttle management and when he dials the regenerative braking up to eleven (okay, +2) via the metal paddles behind the steering wheel. There’s no gearbox on board, but what’s a fast car these days without a sop to the PlayStation set?
And that’s the reason for Nissan pouring oceans of money into the BladeGlider. It knows worthy electric hatchbacks and vans aren’t going to excite a disillusioned Generation Z who struggle to care about cars at all, let alone ones without engines.
The BladeGlider is an ambassador for battery power being fun. That’s why it looks like the love child of a Shinkansen bullet train and the SR-71 Blackbird – it’s an attempt at a new poster car. I have to say, in the metal (and carbon) it’s stunning. The ‘real’ BladeGlider also doesn’t look as tall as it appears in images. It’s impossibly rakish and aggressive up front, but also quite dinky and well-proportioned. Anyone else spying BMW i8 cues in those rear lights?
It’s also why there are indicators and working lights and four cameras providing rear visibility. There’s even a handbrake. Why does a design study need such things? Because Nissan is going to tour this machine around the world, and let you have a go in it if you plead hard enough.
The BladeGlider is potentially a few crash tests (and a planet-sized heap of money) away from being road legal, and if that idea excites you, then that’s the first step to getting EVs on all of our wish lists.