Sensible doesn’t mean not fun

 
Ryan Borroff
I’m caning it on eco,” exclaims my excited co-driver, immediately proving that he may not be an ideal customer of Nissan’s new electric Leaf car. That said, in the pursuit of thorough journalistic investigation we were trying to see how much we can deplete the range by hammering the car, rather than driving it normally.

Sensible driving may yield as much as 109 miles on a full charge, according to Nissan, but we manage to half that by behaving like children. But the Nissan Leaf is surprisingly good fun. Out in the countryside somewhere near Milton Keynes may not be be the most exotic of locations for a drive but the car surprised us in a number of ways. On country A-roads, the Leaf felt surprisingly similar to a conventional car. It made quick progress albeit in near silence – there was a satisfying whirring noise under acceleration and some wind and tyre noise – but the overall effect was that driving the car at speed felt like a refined driving experience in a far more premium vehicle costing twice as much. The Leaf also proved quite nimble and handled pretty well too thanks to its low centre of gravity. Though the steering was a little light and the brakes felt a little vague to me, the car felt stable and comfortable.

The exterior is a little unusual thanks to its frog-like design. But those headlamps channel air over the door mirrors to increase efficiency and the blue logo and badging looks very cool in the metal. Inside the car is comfortable, light and spacious. You’re immediately met by an unconventional dashboard that includes a brightly coloured flat screen instrument cluster, a gearshift selector that is cool to the fingers and operates similarly to a computer mouse and a cool blue centre console which seems to have more in common with the displays on high-end smart phones than the usual pixel-challenged displays in conventional cars.

There’s room for five adults plus there’s a spacious boot and the rear seats fold so you can transport stuff from Ikea should you want to. Which means in terms of day-to-day practicality there’s little compromise in buying this car, unlike some of its EV rivals.

According to Nissan, charging can take as little as 10 seconds in the sense that you plug it in and then go and do something less boring instead, a far more agreeable experience than the misery that is conventional refuelling. That said, you’ll need somewhere to charge it. On-street parkers and apartment dwellers may struggle to find a satisfactory solution that isn’t running an extension lead out through the letter box. But those with your own drive will have a much easier time of it and Nissan can help advise you on at-home installation points. At home it’ll need charging overnight or 45 mins on a public quick charger (which will give you an 80 per cent charge).

So what’s not to like? Well, surprisingly, not much. The key issue is that the Leaf’s list price is not particularly cheap. For a car that is equivalent to a VW Golf in size, £23,350 (with the £5k government grant) or £399 a month on contract, may seem steep, though it is well equipped. Nissan eggheads claim the car can save you £140 on fuel each month if you’re doing 12,000 miles a year. But you’ll need to do some clever maths to work out whether the running costs will leave more money in your pocket than running a conventional car.

If you’re a one car family it may not be for you.

But as a second car or a primary City commuter it’s an intriguing option. And you do get to watch trees grow on your dashboard in the knowledge that you’re going to get to work and back for a quid.

THE FACTS:
NISSAN LEAF

PRICE: £23,350
0-62MPH: 11.9 secs
TOP SPEED: 90mph
CO2 G/KM: 0g/km
MPG COMBINED: n/a

THE VERDICT:

DESIGN
PERFORMANCE
PRACTICALITY
VALUE FOR MONEY