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Nissan Leaf 2012 review: road test

Imagine being able to travel through time. To jump forward to the future and see what sort of cars we will all be driving in the years to come.

That's exactly what we did this week when we travelled from Homebush to Penrith in Sydney's west behind the wheel of Nissan fully electric car — the Leaf. If that's what the future holds, then bring it on because the Leaf was so much better than expected.

Nissan hopes the car will become the Prius of electric vehicles.

Value

Running costs are negligible. Fully charging Leaf during the off peak period costs as little as 10 cents per kWh — or $2.40 for a full charge. This could put a lot of service stations out of business, not to mention the environmental benefits if you pay a little extra for green power.

Nissan hopes to offer the for sale to the public by May or June next year, with the price to be revealed closer to launch. It won't be cheap, but then Leaf is a premium vehicle with lots of luxury inclusions — think around $49,990 and you're probably in the ballpark.

Design

It's a large, comfortable five-door hatch with plenty of rear legroom that will seat four adults comfortably — five at a pinch. Looks can be deceiving because it looks like there is an engine under the bonnet but the electric motor is actually located further back.

Technology

You don't really notice the lack of engine noise, because there's plenty of other noise to compensate — but as a precaution below 40km/h it generates an artificial warning for pedestrians. Powered by an 80kW electric motor that generates 280Nm of torque (same as a Golf GTI), Leaf offers surprisingly strong performance. Switch to Eco mode and it takes the punch out of the throttle but gives the car a 10 per cent greater range.

Range, the big drawback with electric vehicles, is a claimed 170km — but this varies greatly depending on the weather and the way in which the car is being driven.

Driving

At 110km/h on the motorway, for instance, the 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack is quickly depleted and, if the remaining charge falls below 4kWh — power output is cut by 50 per cent and speed capped at 20km/h. Maximum speed is 145km/h.

With the trip computer showing just 20km to empty after our brief sojourn on down the motorway, we began to get anxious about whether we'd make it home — but the situation never reach crisis point. This is called "range anxiety" and Nissan is trying to change this to "awareness", with standard satnav for example that tell you where the nearest charging station is located.

Leaf is an impressive car and one that could easily take the place of that petrol guzzler in the driveway, provided you don't travel long distances. But Nissan is up front about the fact that it is not the car for everyone. Unless your have two cars, drive less than 100-120km each day and have off street parking, Nissan will recommend against buying the car.

Nissan also recommends installing a proper charge point at home.

The car comes with a special cable but at the very least requires the installation of a special wall socket on a dedicated 10amp circuit — the full monty will cost about $2000 but allow you to fully exploit the car's green potential.

Quick charging the battery to 80 per cent capacity takes less than 30 minutes, but a full trickle charge takes up to eight hours. Nissan recommends against fast charging more than once a week of it could reduce battery life. If you're caught short so to speak Nissan's roadside assistance will send a flat bed truck to collect the car or give provide a quick charge to get you going using a portable generator. You can't just plug in to someone's extension lead.

Pricing Guides

$16,986
Based on 6 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$14,990
Highest Price
$19,999

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) —, EV, 1 SP AUTO $14,990 – 19,999 2012 Nissan Leaf 2012 (base) Pricing and Specs