With soaring petrol prices hitting motorists harder than ever, the electric switch has never been so appealing.
Imagine a car running on full battery power for just £2 when the average family car drinks over £80 of petrol per tank.
Then dream of driving around town in silence, cruising through the countryside without harming the environment and driving along the motorway at 70 mph just like any other car.
If that sounds appealing, then Nissan’s revolutionary electric car could be to your taste. I test drove the “Leading Environmentally friendly Affordable Family Car” around the streets of Cardiff. But having switched off the engine and plugged the battery back in to recharge, it was clear the Nissan Leaf promise is still a work-in-progress.
The Leaf is Nissan’s ”biggest kept secret” according to the salesman who accompanied me for the ride. Little advertising has gone into promoting the vehicle, and few are sighted outside London. The mystery of why it has remained secret starts to unfold when you take to the driver’s seat.
The engine starts at the press of a button. The roar of the engine won’t greet your foot hitting the accelerator though. The vehicle moves off slowly and operates with superb noise reduction.
It is a comfortable, easy-to-drive car with few thrills. You can chose between eco mode and drive mode, depending on whether you want to maximise fuel efficiency or focus on getting from A to B.
Low speed sounds alert pedestrians of its presence, but this car won’t turn heads. The engine is silent above speeds of 15 mph, reflecting the vehicle’s efficiency; noise energy would be wasted energy.
Speed is not a selling point, but the days when electric vehicles were hardly faster than a milk float are long gone. The Leaf can do 0-60 mph in 11 seconds, and apparently can reach 100 mph. It coped more than adequately above 60 mph on the dual carriageway.
Unfortunately several downsides put the Leaf revolution into perspective. Few families are being lured by prices starting at fractionally under £26,000, including a £5,000 government grant.
Even though charging only costs around £2, it will need an overnight stop to give you the full 109 mile range next day. The interior display system tells the driver where he can fill up, but stations in Cardiff are few and far between.
Recharging is straightforward, but installing a home Pod Point will cost another £1,000. Simply plug the car into the socket and wait eight hours. The laminated lithium-iron battery will indicate the charge level on the dashboard. Fast chargers are also available, giving you around 80 miles in 30 minutes.
The Leaf is visionary both in fuel-type and image. Despite a familiar hatchback design, little else on the road compares with its unconventional exterior style.
In creating this ecological vehicle, manufacturers have sacrificed beauty for efficiency and substance over style. A large battery tucked under the seats raises the height of the body, while the long tail is intended to improve aerodynamics.
After being manufactured in 2010, the Nissan Leaf arrived in the UK a year ago. The 2011 World Car of the Year has been sold more than 22,000 times worldwide.
It also won 2010 Green Car Vision Award, helped no doubt by its composition of 95 per cent recyclable materials and absence of any greenhouse emissions. A five-star car rating by the European New Car Assessment Programme is an additional bonus. No surprise when you count the six airbags and learn it has survived tsunamis.
The electric invitation is waiting to be embraced by a generation. As petrol prices continue to ascend, the temptation to shift is getting stronger. However, if you wait a few years, reduce the price and increase the battery size, and the Nissan Leaf will be more than a tangible reality.
Thanks to Wessex Garages, Hadfield Road, Cardiff, for providing the car.