Road test: a week with the Nissan Leaf

Nissan took a decisive leap into the future this year, making electric motoring a reality with the new Leaf.

Nissan describes the £25,990 Leaf as the first, affordable, purpose-built, zero-emissions car from a major manufacturer.
I spent almost a week with this charged Nissan to see what the Leaf's like to live with on a daily basis.

The Leaf arrived whilst I was out at a launch, but the all-electric car proves to be a draw for friends and I end up taking a mate for a late night spin in the charged Nissan.

I've not driven this car since the UK launch, but the giant-killing acceleration and massive 280Nm of torque still impresses, despite the negative effect hard acceleration has on the Leaf's range.

The Leaf is wonderfully relaxing to drive too; at first I missed the engine note, but then marvelled at what a refined drive the current Car of The Year is. It handles well too.

I attend another car launch today in Marlow, Bucks which is a 120 mile round trip from my home. Normally, I'd have taken the Leaf, but because of its 100 mile range and lack of nearby public charging points, the electric Nissan spends most of the day on my drive.

I end up borrowing my wife's Volkswagen Golf and it makes me think that the Leaf is probably best suited to urban environments, so you'd need another car for long journeys. This is where the Chevrolet Volt and Vauxhall Ampera score over the Nissan, with their range-extending 1.4-litre petrol hybrid generator power.

Wednesday evening means the usual Collins' weekly pilgrimage to the supermarket. Over 80 miles of battery power is still left in the Leaf and with just a 30 mile round trip, it's the electric Nissan that we're going to take shopping. My son's baby seat easily fits in the back of the spacious interior, as there's plenty of head, leg and shoulder room and we're off.

As we sit in rush hour traffic, I look around to see if the Leaf is getting any interest from other motorists. It's not, which is a shame considering how ground-breaking this car is. Maybe Nissan has played it too safe with the exterior styling?

There are some neat features of the design including the huge, blobby headlights at the front and the way the stretched clear light clusters cut into the roof pillar at the back.

The boot is a practical shape and deep enough for a week's shopping and I feel confident enough in the remaining range of the Leaf, to chance a quick trip up the A1 on the way home. All is well until we get caught in a big traffic jam and as we crawl along my confidence begins to drain away like the bars on the power gauge.

Thankfully, we make it home with just over 20 miles left in the battery; still it gives me the chance to learn how to charge the electric Nissan.

A night out in town yesterday means I didn't get the chance to drive the Leaf. Still, I manage a quick trip locally to see my parents before attempting to charge the battery.

It's actually surprisingly easy to plug the Leaf in, but again I run into problems and this time it's my fault and not the car. If you buy a Nissan Leaf, you'll probably end up having a charging point fitted outside your home or garage.

I didn't and had to rely on a plug point at the back of my garage for power. Except that the charging kit and cable wasn't long enough to reach past my car and on to the drive without leaving my garage unsecure.

I manage to charge the Leaf for a couple hours before it gets dark and am impressed to find over 50 miles range in the battery. I'll charge it more tomorrow before we go out.

After more charging, we head out locally to do some shopping and run errands. Another three hours charge equals an 80 mile range. It struck me that during the time I had the car I hadn't really got into a charging routine, which I believe if you're a Leaf owner, it's essential.

The Leaf also holds the record for sending my son off to sleep quicker than any other car I've had on test this year. The lack of engine noise and refined ride obviously helping here.

Inside, the Leaf feels modern but not space age, but I'm not sure that the light coloured plastics are very family friendly.

However, the seats are comfortable and supportive, the digital instruments look more advanced, the gear lever has been replaced by what looks like a computer mouse and it has a two-tiered dashboard, similar in design to the current Honda Civic.

My time with the Leaf is almost over and it has been fascinating to see how a modern electric car can fit in with everyday life.

It's great to drive and practical to own. Yet, despite government subsidies and having to modify how you use a car to suit the charging, the £25,990 list price is a lot to pay for a car that will effectively travel just 100 miles before needing eight hours of charge. I can't help thinking that in the quickly moving green car market the Leaf might get left behind.

Still, there's no doubt the Nissan Leaf is a landmark car and if you're in the market for a family car that's at its best in the urban environment and you have accessible charging points, then I'd totally recommend it.

Nissan Leaf
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Road test: a week with the Nissan Leaf
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