Quite a current affair
With the windows up, you can’t smell the brown coal burning
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.
Nissan isn’t saying how much the Leaf will cost when it arrives about this time next year, allowing that it will be about the same as the top-level Toyota Prius i-Tech ($53,500) and Lexus CT200h ($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.
The Leaf 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 station – 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 timers to set up the vehicle to be charged when power is cheap or start the airconditioning before you get in the car.
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, that the bumpers are made from recycled bumpers from other vehicles and that the car is 90 per cent recyclable.
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 bug-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 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 slipping on your slippers, instead of driving.
The rear seats are elevated in theatre-style because of the under floor battery pack.
The European New Car Assessment Program has awarded the Leaf the highest five-star safety rating following its performance in the independent organisation’s stringent crash tests. The Leaf is the first electric vehicle to earn this distinction.
It comes with six airbags and all the usual safety gear. Importantly, a collision detection system shuts down the high-voltage system.
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 as 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 deceleration 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 ample headroom, space for legs and the peace and quiet.
The instrument graphics and my Nissan passengers encouraged placid driving behaviour. However, I did flick the natty mouse-like transmission from economy to power mode and planted the size 11 a couple of times.
Response is tops 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.
City car: The newNissan Leaf is an ideal spare car to have on stand-by in the garage