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It says much about Nissan’s leadership in the field of full electric vehicles that at a time when most manufacturers are finalising prototypes with this technology, this forward-thinking Japanese brand has already fully revised its game-changing offering in this sector. This model – the LEAF.
Nissan has aimed to capitalise on the LEAF model with a more affordable pricing structure, a smarter, more practical interior and a longer operating range. And the result could very well be the best car of its kind we’ve yet seen.
The LEAF can travel nearly 20% further than it could before on a single charge and, if you spec it right, you can finish that charge in half the time. If that’s enough to get your interest, then let’s get behind the wheel and see what it’s like to drive.
Get yourself settled and if you’ve tried a LEAF before, you’ll find that things aren’t very different with the improved model. If you haven’t, then the whole experience will be as futuristic as it always was. Initially, it feels just like the family hatchback it is. But release the now foot-operated parking brake and push the starter and the electric experience begins. Virtual instrument graphics spring up in front of you accompanied by a cheery chime before a few seconds later, you’re ready to pull the mouse-shaped auto gear selector into ‘Drive’ (electric cars are of course always automatic) and set off. But before you do, a quick check is needed of the all-important range indicator, designated by the bar graph and the mileage figure displayed beneath it. It’s a display you’re going to get very used to staring at since it’ll determine exactly how and when you can use this car.
The Nissan LEAF is probably now able to assume the mantle of ‘best of the rest’ thanks to an increase in claimed operating range from 110 to 124 miles (LEAF 24kWh) or up to 155 miles (LEAF 30kWh), it's easily enough to cover most people's needs.
In the real world of course, you won’t regularly achieve the kind of total range Nissan is talking about unless you habitually drive like a nun. But the difference the most recent changes make is to allow a three figure operating range to be less of a pipe dream and more of an achievable reality, especially if you make good use of the useful ‘B’ mode that’s been added to the gearbox. Select it rather than the usual ‘Drive’ setting and you’ll increase the energy that can be harvested from regenerative braking and therefore extend the distance you can travel.
In a cabin that seems very different from that of the original – until you realise that apart from the adoption of a foot-operated handbrake, the only major change is the adoption of a darker palette of plastics. The original light-coloured trim looked very modern but proved pretty impractical. So, as before, there’s an appropriately futuristically styled split-level dash, with blue-tinted graphics that look pretty conventional until you peer closer and find that they’re primarily geared towards advising you just how much further you can go before a charging top-up is needed. A mobile ‘phone-style percentage reading is now also included. The graphics advise you of your success in regenerating electricity and there’s an eco-indicator to display the status of electricity consumption, with little tamaguchi-like trees growing on the display, depending upon how frugally you’re driving.
Longer journeys ought to be quite feasible in a car of this sort – but they won’t be until a more powerful and widespread public charging infrastructure is in place to make them possible.
This LEAF won’t be for everyone of course. But then, no car is for everyone. Where Nissan has succeeded though, is in finally offering us a relatively affordable family-sized pure electric car that’s pretty free of compromise, a model you could pretty painlessly switch into from something conventional. Which leaves us with what? A defining moment in electric vehicle history? It certainly feels like it.