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Nissan Half Leaf – twice the engineering for half the car

We test drive Nissan's Half Leaf bisected electric car, which was much more of a challenge to build than you might think

Nissan’s Leaf is one of the first fully electric vehicles we’ve had the chance to drive here at Expert Reviews, excluding the bonkers Renault Twizy quadricycle. Before we took one out on the open road, Nissan put us behind the wheel of its jaw-dropping Half Leaf demo vehicle. As the name suggests, it’s literally half a car, having been chopped through its centre to reveal its inner mechanics and electronics. The result is an eye-catching party piece that shows how much effort Nissan has gone to with its electric initiative.

As one of the first entirely electric cars on Britain’s roads, the Leaf is currently competing with petrol-electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius. However, as it was built as an electric vehicle, aspects like battery placement (spread out across the entire undercarriage) were incorporated into the design, rather than an afterthought. You can see the orange cover in our photos, peeking out from behind the dissected chassis.

Nissan Half Leaf

The Half Leaf is more than a design statement – it’s also an impressive piece of engineering. The build process was far more complicated than simply taking a circular saw to a production car. Starting with a brand new Leaf taken right off the factory floor, Nissan’s engineers stripped it down to the outer shell, removing every mechanical and electrical component.

The entire car was modelled with a CAD program, detailing every single component and working out where a cut could be made. A 25 degree angle was then laser aligned through the car to show the mechanics where to cut – the angle was chosen specifically to show off as much of the car as possible, whether you’re watching from a distance or sat behind the wheel. The chassis was cut, then any holes were filled and covered to maintain as much structural rigidity as possible. Each component was then cut individually and fitted in place, until the car had been rebuilt

Nissan Half Leaf

The bisected windscreen was a first for both Nissan and the company hired to perform the cut. A water jet cutter was chosen, but the procedure cracked the glass on the first attempt. The second time was a charm, leaving no sharp edges and a smooth, angled cut, which was then locked in place to complete the car.

Because Nissan wanted people to be able to drive the Half Leaf, some concessions had to be made in order to get it moving. As the bodywork is missing from one side of the chassis, it puts more pressure on the left side of the suspension, causing the car to lean. Nissan’s engineers had to weld the suspension in place on both sides to keep it level. This makes for a bumpy ride, but one that’s only interrupted by road noise on account of the silent electric engine.

Nissan Half Leaf

Being able to see the very corner of the car makes it feel like you’re driving a Go Kart at times, particularly with the Leaf’s startling acceleration. Unlike a combustion engine, which delivers its power gradually, the electric motor puts down all its power at once – at 80kw it’s not going to outpace a Ferrari, but it launches forwards surprisingly quickly.

Nissan Half Leaf
News editor Tom gets behind the wheel

Naturally, the Half Leaf isn’t road legal – it lacks a complete set of brake lights, would never pass NCAP safety tests and has a compromised chassis. The air conditioning and heating systems have been electronically disabled, as not only has the ducting has been removed, there’s no cabin to keep the air to temperature.

Unsurprisingly, the Half Leaf isn’t going into production – Nissan only has one, and that’s usually kept in the company’s design centre. However, we’ll be bringing you a more in-deprh road test of the Leaf you’ll actually be able to buy later on today.

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