Nissan LEAF falls to earth


Ok, we know what you're thinking - yet more on the hyped-up so-called electric car revolution.

But hear us out - electric and many of the other 'alternative' fuels are here and they ain't going away. And the Nissan LEAF is one car that will be in the news more and more over the coming months and years - and with good reason.

Ever since Nissan announced that Sunderland would play a leading role in the production of Nissan's family-sized electric car, the familiar arguments over the real green credentials of electric cars have been raised. More of that later.

But for now, we reckon what you really need to know is just how good the LEAF is. We were given the opportunity to drive a prototype of Nissan's baby around the appropriate surrounding area of the Cranfield Technology Park - and we weren't disappointed.

The first thing to appreciate is how good the car looks. Nissan haven't just stuck together a box on four wheels; you're getting a decent-sized five-seater with plenty of internal space as well as a healthy-sized boot. The interior of our model wasn't the finished product but was attractive, modern and with a comfortable driving position.

Once we'd given the car the once-over we were shown the instruments. At top is a digital speedometer alongside a clock, exterior temperature gauge and an LCD display that tells you how much power you're using. The further left of this gauge you stay, the more efficient you're being.

That efficiency extends to the 'gears' as well. There's Normal drive as you would expect but also an Eco selection that helps to keep the power usage down. Although unusual at first, once we'd become used to the slower acceleration we found this mode to be more than suitable for our leisurely driving conditions but if you do want to put your foot down, the LEAF will respond accordingly.

And that was the real revelation - the torque. Setting off from the Technology Centre, we drove with some caution (after all, this was the only LEAF in the country) until we found some stretches of open Bedfordshire country roads and put our foot down. The LEAF just pulled and pulled with as much ease and confidence as any car of its size and power from the 'traditional' fuel sector. It just brought a smile to our faces.

The car's handling and ride were impressive, in fact we've been struggling to find anything to complain about. That is, until you talk about cost. The LEAF will hit the UK market with a hefty price tag of £28k. Even with the Government incentive, that figure will only fall to just over £23k so it's not for the faint-hearted, but remember that after the initial payout, running costs will be considerably lower than its equivalent petrol or diesel-powered competitors.

Clearly, the LEAF has its limitations. The 100-mile range (less if you give it some welly) and eight-hour plug-in to full charge will be a turn-off for some but for a leading car in its class the LEAF is a stand-out product. Sure, the electricity has to come from somewhere but it's still less of a carbon footprint than conventionally-powered cars. If you have the pioneering spirit and are prepared to take the sceptics on, the LEAF will be a powerful weapon for a greener future.

The Nissan LEAF goes on sale in the UK from March 2011