First drive: Nissan LEAF
What is it?
In a nutshell, a clean, green family machine that delivers a smooth ride and plenty of environmental and financial benefits. With Nissan's new battery-leasing scheme, you can get behind the wheel for less than £16,000 including receipt of the £5,000 Government grant currently available. There's added peace of mind for owners with an enhanced battery warranty and a host of clever touches designed to enhance the ownership experience. Some will still say that it simply can't travel far enough between charges though.
What's under the bonnet?
A new electric powertrain based around a high-response 80kW motor that's powered by improved lithium-ion batteries. It's all very hi-tech and a better system than existed in the old LEAF. The charging time has been cut in half (from eight hours to four) and there are a couple of associated techy bits worth drawing attention to: the aforementioned heating system that's 70 per cent more efficient than its predecessor (meaning far less impact on range); and a new 'B' setting on the transmission that increases regenerative braking during deceleration and braking.
What's the spec like?
In our humble opinion, old LEAF felt a bit left-field and 'out there'. This one seems far more like a fully-fledged member of the Nissan range that's performing so strongly just now. It's good to hear that many changes (there's a little light above the charging port to aid night-time visibility for instance) have been made as a direct result of feedback from Nissan's army of eco warriors – sorry, early adopters. The CarWings telematics system, which has proved a hit with owners of the current vehicle, allows unprecedented convenience for customers with a compatible phone, tablet or PC. The new version of CarWings allows customers to choose the temperature the car should achieve by cooling or heating before a journey.
Yep, and there are more arriving all the time, which paradoxically Nissan are pretty pleased about, on the basis that more EVs on the market will just make the whole EV proposition a bit more mainstream. Mitsubishi's iMiEV, Renault's Zoe, and the Smart FourTwo electric drive are all contenders but for our money, the LEAF can more than hold its own and the new purchase options will increase its appeal for sure. Fifty-five thousand Nissan LEAFs are on the road worldwide and the company is hoping to shift up to 5,000 in the UK this year.
What's it like to drive?
Lovely. If that sounds like a slightly odd word to use, let us explain. With a few electronic bings and bongs as you switch it on, there is clearly no engine noise and the car just glides away so effortlessly, you feel relaxed and at ease immediately. The ride and handling have been firmed up a bit for UK roads now production has started at Nissan's Sunderland factory, and the steering feels a tad more direct which is no bad thing. Nissan like to talk about the EV smile people have when they step out of the car for the first time, and after a trip round the bumpy and busy streets of Oslo on the press launch recently, we were happy too. News of the BOSE sound system was music to our ears and it sounded great without an engine noise in the background.
The AOL Cars verdict
Nissan has played a blinder with this new version of LEAF. The company has listened and learnt from the last two years of marketing the first version and not only has the car been improved, the new battery leasing and trim levels give purchasers so many more options if they're planning to giving petrol the push.
Price: From £15,990 (Visia with battery lease) to £25,490 (Tekna with batteries bought outright). Both include £5k Government grant.
Engine: All-electric powertrain with 80kW AC synchronous motor with lithium-ion batteries.
Max speed: 90mph