Let’s get one thing straight: the Nissan Leaf electric car is a fine piece of engineering.
It achieves the objectives its planners set out for it, and functions very well as an automobile.
Canadian customers can go online and reserve their Leaf now, starting at $38,395, with first deliveries scheduled for later this fall.
The larger question is: does the Leaf — does any pure electric car — make any sense?
Or is the entire Leaf program a multi-billion dollar public relations exercise instituted by Nissan to counter the fact that arch-rival Toyota has captured the high ground on hybrids, whose practicality is at least as equally dubious?
The Leaf is built on what Nissan calls a dedicated platform, shared with other electric cars from the Nissan-Renault Alliance, although I’ll bet you’d find similarities in some chassis and suspension components to other front-wheel drive Nissan compacts.
- PHOTOS: What's Brewing in Steamy Hallows, the Harry Potter-Inspired Cafe19 Pictures
- PHOTOS: Frida Kahlo at the Brooklyn Museum doesn't hold back23 Pictures
Leaf is officially classified as a mid-size car, having total interior space roughly equivalent to Nissan’s Altima. It seats four comfortably, five in somewhat of a pinch.
Power to the AC synchronous electric motor comes from a Lithium-Ion battery pack consisting of 48 four-cell modules nestled under the floor where it takes little space away from passengers and cargo.
Only when the 60/40 split rear seatbacks are folded does the high bulkhead between rear seat and trunk become obtrusive, preventing the loading of bulky objects.
Electric motors generate their maximum torque at zero r.p.m., which means the 107 horsepower 207 lb.-ft. unit launches the 1,525 kg Leaf away from rest at a satisfying rate.
Nissan won’t quote a 0-100 km/h number, but various Internet sources suggest mid-seven seconds, which is very good.
There is no transmission as such in the Leaf; the motor winds up until it runs out of revs at around 140 km/h.
Reverse simply runs the motor backwards.
If you choose the ECO mode, acceleration is considerably more leisurely; the payoff is longer range.
Nissan says Leaf is good for about 160 kilometres of normal driving. Lights, wipers, A/C, etc., will affect this; hard acceleration and high speeds dramatically so.
A multi-screen display gives you the distances possible in either normal or ECO mode. It even draws concentric circles on the standard SatNav map to give you a clear indication of where you are and where you can get to.
If you do have to call the Roadside Assistance number to get flat-bedded home, you can’t say you weren’t warned.
Electric motors are a lot quieter than internal combustion engines. The obvious advantage is a quiet ride; the loudest thing you’ll hear apart from the sound system is the engine cooling fans up front.
Driving the Leaf is simplicity itself. Punch the On button, and when you get the green Ready light on the instrument panel, pull the shift lever left and back, hit the gas, and off you go.
The car is indeed quiet, and rides and handles well, partly due to the 50-50 weight distribution.
A substantial portion of Leaf’s braking effect is achieved by electric resistance as opposed to friction — the regenerative brakes convert kinetic energy back into electricity to re-charge the battery.
These are standard fare in electrics and hybrids; the trick usually is massaging brake feel as the system transitions from “regen” to friction and back again. Leaf does this as well — probably better — than any other such system I have tried.
As I said at the start, the Leaf functions very well as a car. It fulfills Nissan’s promise that it drives like a real car, not a fancy golf cart. It also is very relaxing to drive.