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Nissan Leaf review

David Ludlow
11 Apr 2011

An electric vehicle that feels like a real car. It's expensive but fun to drive and comes loaded with kit.

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Although electric cars have been touted as the eco-friendly future of motoring, they have yet to make much of an impact - you're more likely to think of the much-mocked G-Wiz than a high-tech car of the future. Nissan hopes to change this perception with the Leaf, the first purpose-built, mass-produced family electric vehicle.

One of the key things about the Leaf is that, in order to banish forever thoughts that electric cars are just golf carts with wind-down windows, Nissan has built it to look and feel like a standard petrol-driven road car. We're happy to report that the Japanese manufacturer has been largely successful.

Nissan Leaf

From the outside its curved lines make it look like a regular family hatchback (it's slightly bigger than a Yaris and slightly smaller than a Focus). Inside the cabin there's plenty of room and the Leaf will comfortably take four adult passengers, with room in the back seat for a fifth for shorter journeys. The cabin is well finished with a pleasingly chunky steering wheel, but the plain fabric seat coverings and abundance of plastic mean the car will never be taken for a luxury model.

Nissan Leaf rear

The Leaf is powered by an 80kW electric motor which produces 280Nm of torque - slightly more than a Porsche Boxster S. The healthy amount of torque means it's quick off the mark and acceleration is rapid up to around 30 or 40mph, but drops off after that. Despite this it's important to note that we had no problems reaching a comfortable 70mph cruise or joining fast main roads from a sliproad - the Leaf feels, to all intents and purposes, just like a normal car. In many ways it's smoother and easier to drive than a petrol car as there's just one gear. The only thing that gives you any clue that you're in an electric car is the complete lack of engine noise. For a more in-depth look at the drive and feel of the car read the Nissan Leaf review on our sister site, CarBuyer.

Nissan Leaf engine

As there's no engine noise, Nissan claims passengers would notice other sounds, such as wind noise, more. Nissan has made some clever tweaks to achieve a quiet ride. For example, the headlights are shaped to direct airflow around the wing mirrors, and Nissan had to fit new windscreen wiper motors, as the standard ones sounded too loud without engine hum to drown them out. As the car is so quiet there was worry that pedestrians wouldn't hear it coming - for this reason a speaker mounted in the bumper makes a whooshing noise at low speeds.

The Leaf doesn't just have an advanced powertrain - Nissan has also spent a lot of time kitting out the interior with the latest technology. As there's only a single version of the Leaf, all equipment is standard and comes with every model - which helps to make the relatively high purchase price easier to swallow. The Leaf's UK list price is £30,990, but you qualify for a £5,000 government grant. This brings the price down to a still-hefty £25,990 - top-of-the-range Ford Focus territory.

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