Nissan Leaf road test: Our friends electric, take it or Leaf it?
Time now though, to make this vehicle more real world viable, a process that starts right here, right now with this upgraded version. Previously, this model could take you up to 124 miles on a single charge. With this improved version though the quoted range figure is boosted to 155 miles, now we're talking.
So what's changed about the way the LEAF drives? Next to nothing because that never generated any complaints. In fact, the LEAF might just be the most stealthy fun car out there, this Nissan has a very crisp way of stepping off the line and with all of the weight - the batteries - mounted so low in the car, it has a centre of gravity that a mid-engined supercar can only dream of.
In recent times, Nissan's engineers have finesse the damper settings to reduce float and deliver a more agile and dynamic drive without adversely affecting ride comfort. The steering system has been given a touch more weight to provide steering feel more in tune with European tastes, while the performance of the brakes has been improved to make them more progressive in use, while also increasing the amount of energy recovered.
Changes have also been made to the Eco driving mode. A 'B' setting on the transmission increases regenerative braking during deceleration while a seperate 'Eco' button on the steering wheel extends driving range by altering the throttle mapping to discourage rapid acceleration.
The LEAF was the first mass production electric vehicle to be designed from the ground up for purely battery power. Perhaps the most important thing here is the overally size. At around 4.5m long, this was the first pure electric car big enough for proper family use, no more than around 200kg's heavier than a similarly shaped conventional model and offering cabin space and overall dimensions very comparable to that of a conventional Ford Focus-style family hatchback.
Even today, no other EV on the market can offer you more back seat space. The rear bench can comfortably accomodate three adults on short journeys, two on longer ones and a trio of kids all day long. Luggage room is 330-litres and you can increase that to 680-litres by pushing forward the rear backrest.
Up front, as before, there's an appropriately futuristically styled split-level dash, with blue tinted graphics that look pretty conventional until you peer closer and find that they're primarily geared towards advising you just how much futher you can go before a charging top-up is needed. The graphics can even advise you of your success in regenerating electricity and there's an eco-indicator to display the status of electricity consumption.
The 30kWh LEAF is offered in two familiar trim grades - Acenta and Tekna. Prices start at just under £25,000, but that's for a model without the necessary 6kW charger. Get this and also include the useful Solar Cell panel that'll help you charge up via the sun's rays and you'll be paying up to aroun £26,000 for the Acenta version or up to £28,000 for the luxuriously specified Tekna variant.
Acenta versions have 16-inch alloy wheels, suede fabric seat trim, body coloured mirror caps and rear privacy glass. Top grade Tekna models feature LED headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, a Bose stereo and Nissan's rather wonderful Around View Monitor, a system which takes feeds from external video cameras to create a bird's eye view of exactly what's around you. Safety provision is as good as ever, with front, side and curtain airbags, ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution with brake assistance as standard, along with the Electronic Stability Program (ESP).
Nissan has worked hard to improve the LEAF and has clearly listneed to customer feedback. Range has been improved, equipment levels bumper up, driving manngers have been sharpened still further and practicality is now much better than it used to be.
Where Nissan has succeeded though, is in finally offering us a relatively affordable family-sized pure electric car that's pretty free of compromise, a model you could pretty painlessly switch into from something conventional. Which leaves us with what? A defining moment in electric vehicle history? It certainly feels like it.
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