WHAT an experience. I drove for more than two hours and 100km in urban traffic — and did not once have to use the brakes.
Nor did I use any petrol. Or make a sound, or emit anything to annoy a polar bear or bitter little Swedish girl.
That’s because I was at the wheel of the just-arrived new Nissan LEAF, the world’s biggest selling all-electric car, and I’d selected e-Pedal mode, which slows and stops the neat five-seat hatch when the accelerator is released.
More of that later.
Nissan released LEAF in late 2010 and has since sold nearly 500,000 of them, or, to put in in perspective, about five times the annual sales of the entire Australian motor market.
They’re extremely popular in Norway, which probably has the highest global LEAF-per-population ratio, but many more are whirring along the roads of US, China, Japan, all of Europe and now the latest one has just lobbed in Australia.
Which, incidentally, begs the question, what is the plural of LEAF? LEAVES? LEAFS would be right, but just looks wrong in print.
Anyway, the worry for makers of piston-engined cars is that statistics indicate anyone who has owned a LEAF, or other electric car, simply does not go back to buying a combustion-engined car again.
Nay, the electrics kind of grab hold of you, and can quickly change conventional car thinking.
I’ve driven petrol and diesel vehicles for the first six decades of my life, but I’ve been at the controls of four electric vehicles, one of them a bus, in the past two months alone — so it’s clear the volts are rapidly gaining on the kiloWatts.
What’s it cost?
Cost-wise, a new Nissan LEAF will give you $1 change from $50,000, but its drive-away price is around $54,500.
Drivetrain apart, it comes with contemporary styling, 8.0-inch touchscreen display, 7.0-inch Advanced Drive Assist Display, satellite navigation, a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear leather-accented seats and it’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.
It’s also got a 5-star safety rating and a vast array of stuff like Intelligent Emergency Braking with pedestrian detection, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Lane Intervention and Intelligent Forward Collision Warning as standard equipment.
There’s more: an Around-View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, Cruise Control, Driver Alert, all with an ‘intelligent’ prefix, front and rear parking sensors, six airbags and Vehicle Dynamic Control.
Then there’s keyless entry, push-button ignition, 17-inch alloy wheels and LED lighting fore and aft.
And if you’re in pedestrian traffic, push a dashboard button and a high-pitched sound is emitted to warn of an approaching something.
It’s quite a tall hatch, easy to get in and out of, with wide-opening doors, vast headroom and generous leg and shoulder space front and rear, and the boot is quite good too at 435 litres.
Although rated as a five-seater, it’s really a four-seat and the back seat backrests have a split-fold feature to extend the boot capacity, but they jut out above the boot floor.
What’s odd is there’s no spare wheel, but there is a Bose noisebox mounted east-west across its rearmost section, and an umbrella. Then there’s a neat zippered bag tucked into one corner and a wound-up cable on the other.
The bag also contains a cable – it’s the one you need if you’re re-charging your LEAF from a home socket. The other is for use on a 7kW/32A wall unit that you can have installed at home, which costs about $2200 and cuts recharging time from overnight to about 7 hours.
Or you can go to a public spot where they have a Chademo rapid charger and get a full charge in about 45 minutes.
Chademo is an abbreviation of ‘CHArge de MOve,’ but there are many more 7-hour stations all over the country than Chademos. You can get an app to show where they’re all located.
To plug in, pop open the little panel in the snoot and select which of the two plugs to use. One is for the Chademo thingy.
Nissan dealerships and various other spots around the country nearly all have the 7-hour jobbies, so you can actually do a lap of Australia in a LEAF. Just remember to take a good book along while you wait to get charged up.
About the missing spare wheel: well, it’s not in the boot, but under the car. It’s a space saver and chances are you’ll never have to use it.
The car was really designed for urbanites. Nissan’s research shows most people travel an average of just 38km a day, so the car’s full charge capability of around 300km will last a long time.
What’s it go like?
What’s it like to drive?
A neat, blue-illuminated ‘gearshift’ knob lets you select D or R, or P for when you park. And it has a foot-operated parking brake, just like Nissan trucks.
Left in its normal D for Drive mode, LEAF’s 110kW/320Nm 40kWh battery delivers instant torque and acceleration of less than 8 seconds to 100km/h.
Press the ‘eco’ button and you get a less brisk run, but it can still go as fast as you want if you put more pressure on the accelerator.
Or you can toggle a console switch to pick ‘e-Pedal.’
In this mode you get strong regenerative braking to the extent the car almost stands on its nose if you take your Skecher off the accelerator.
But spend a minute playing with it and it becomes second nature, allowing you to drive and then slow, or stop, just by judicious use of the accelerator.
You can also use it in conjunction withe eco mode to extend your driving range.
It’s a very clever and effective system, and don’t worry that the klutz behind might run into the back of your LEAF if you suddenly decelerate. The e-Pedal also activates the stop lights when it figures what you’re going to do.
I believe it will improve your driving ability. You get such a kick out of its operation that you sharpen your skills, and at the same time know you’re recharging the battery when decelerating.
The car has very good handling qualities too, thanks to its low centre of gravity and mass of its e-drivetrain.
Comfort levels are high, visibility is fine, instrumentation different, but clear – and interesting, and programmable.
LEAF has a five-year warranty and eight years on the battery and servicing should be done every 12 months or 20,000km. Costs for the latter seem pretty steep, considering there’s no engine or gearbox.