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Nissan Leaf EV 2012 review

Road rage will be a thing of the past when electric cars rule.

A short drive in frenetic traffic in the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle left me feeling calm and relaxed.

That's because it is so quiet in the cabin. There is no motor noise and very little wind noise.

Even the monitor in front of you encourages you to drive smoothly and slowly, building little graphics of pine trees to reward your environmentally conscious driving behaviour.

Value

Nissan isn't saying how much the Leaf will cost when it arrives about this time next year.

All they are saying is that it will cost about the same as the top-level Prius i-Tech ($53,500) and Lexus CT200h (from $39,990-$55,990).

But I remember when a large-screen plasma TV cost a month's wages.

Technology becomes cheaper with time and volume, so expect prices to tumble in the next decade.

Technology

This is laden with technology and not just its lithium-ion battery and AC synchronous electric motor.

The most interesting technology is the satnav system which is integral to turning people's fears about limited range into a working understanding of how to get the most out of the vehicle.

Every Leaf has satnav which is linked to the "Global Data Centre" in Japan so you can just press a button and find the closest recharging stations - that is, when recharging stations are established.

But don't worry, because your GPS position is not logged or tracked for privacy reasons, Nissan reassures us.

There are also timers that will set up the vehicle to be charged when power is cheap or to turn on the airconditioning before you get in.

You can even control the car's temperature and check on battery status by mobile phone.

It's also interesting to know that you are sitting on recycled PET bottles, the bumpers are made from recycled bumpers from other vehicles and that the car is 90 per cent recyclable.

Design

For a change, an EV doesn't look like a golf cart or something out of a comic book.

This is a real car that looks like a real car, albeit with bug eyes.

Those bud-eyed headlights actually divert the airstream around the wing mirrors. You see, EVs are so quiet, your attention is diverted to other noises, such as wind noise on the wing mirrors.

The design is very aerodynamic without looking strange like a Prius.

Inside, the environment is soft and inviting.

You almost feel like sitting back, opening a good book and wine, and slipping on your slippers, instead of driving.

The rear seats are elevated in theatre-style because of the underfloor battery pack, providing rear passengers with a less claustrophobic feel.

Safety

The European New Car Assessment Program has awarded the Leaf the highest five star car safety rating following its performance in the independent organisation's stringent crash tests. The Leaf is the first electric vehicle ever to earn this distinction.

It comes with six airbags and all the usual safety gear. Importantly a collision detection system shuts down the vehicle's high-voltage system.

Driving

Once you get used to the lack of noise, the car feels and drives like any other car.

However, there isn't a ponderous heavy front nose like you would expect. The weight is evenly dispersed down low, so it doesn't greatly understeer.

Take your foot off the accelerator and there isn't dramatic braking as expected from a car with regenerative braking.

It is easy to get comfortable and relaxed in the car, although it is annoying that the steering is only adjustable for height, not reach.

Passengers will enjoy the open and airy cabin, the acres of legroom and headroom and the peace and quiet.

While the instrument graphics and my Nissan passengers encouraged placid driving behaviour, I did flick the natty mouse-like transmission from economy mode to power mode and planted the size 11 a couple of times.

Response is immediate because the 280Nm of torque is available from the get-go.

Thanks to an attenuated throttle it doesn't jolt your neck, but the car certainly has plenty of go for the traffic-light derby and overtaking duties.

Verdict

If only our power stations didn't burn dirty brown coal, this would be a wonderful contribution to our environment.

While initial cost is high, whole of life ownership costs should be low.

Despite the lengths Nissan has gone to convert "range fear" into "range awareness", this is still a city car. But it's a good second car to have in the garage.

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