Quite a cur­rent af­fair

With the win­dows up, you can’t smell the brown coal burn­ing

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - MARK HINCHLIFFE mark.hinchliffe@cars­guide.com.au

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, 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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

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 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.

SAFETY

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.

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 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

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