Nissan’s silencing the city
It’s a dilemma many motorists will face when it comes to the crunch decision of whether to ditch oil burning vehicles in exchange for a new world of almost silent travel, with zero emissions.
The temptations are obvious. Nissan’s LEAF (their shouty capital letters, not mine) is widely acknowledged as the most accomplished of the new breed all-electric.
You can recharge it from home, at work or when out and about; it’ll take you up to 109 miles on one charge (a 30-minute plug-in); and it will give you the equivalent of over 300mpg.
How? Because Nissan estimate the average 10,000 miles a year driver would pay around £186 for electricity to cover that distance, as opposed to around £1,262 for a petrol car.
So what’s the catch? Price is the main stumbling block – the LEAF is from £25,990 and that seems an awful lot of money – even though the Government will stump up five grand of that in subsidies.
There’s also the question of infrastructure.
Charging points are springing up all over the place, but they’re not well publicised or mapped out, also not everyone can easily plug into a socket at their home without an extension – and that’s out, as they’re considered dangerous.
There’s also the horror of running out of energy and the inconvenience of turning off energy-consuming functions in the car to save juice, although an economy button will help you conserve more.
The LEAF is unmissable on the streets, with its massive, elongated headlamps and ice-white, boomerang shaped long rear lights rising into the roofline.
And its interior is undeniably smart and high grade – a light, bright space, with a snazzy ‘piano black’ centre stack.
Pressing the ignition button initiates a series of whirrs and clicks as the LEAF readies itself for action – unfortunately this is accompanied by your own ‘signature tune’, much like an overblown mobile phone ringtone. If it was mine, I’d have to get it turned off somehow or risk damaging my own car. A two-level dash display is half conventional, with a digital speedo readout, time and temperature alongside less familiar info showing power being used and recovered.
There’s also a paranoia-inducing countdown on mileage left.
And of course, we have to put up with puerile tree symbols, with the challenge of increasing their number the more economically you drive. Makes me want to shout: “We’re not children!” Despite vague adjustment, the seats are well contoured, supportive and highly comfortable.
Once you’re away, it’s a strange but rather wonderful experience.
Starting is entirely silent and motion initiates a strange thrum, rather like a distant helicopter.
I couldn’t make out if it was wind or road noise, to be honest.
Nevertheless, LEAF is a smooth, very quiet runner and deceptively quick.
Progress is more akin to gliding than motoring, thanks to LEAF’s ultra-smooth CVT seamless auto set-up.
This is operated by a poached egg shaped disc on the centre console that’s very simple to understand and use.
Driving is surprisingly involving, with a light, easy feel and total simplicity of operation – it makes manual petrol and diesel cars look and sound prehistoric.
Make no mistake, we’re on the verge of an electric revolution, but it hasn’t happened yet and sales all over Europe are still a tiny percentage of the market – just 0.5% in the first six months of last year.
But Nissan are in the driving seat, so to speak, in the all-electric car market as the LEAF shows us the first shoots of a new age.