What Car? Awards 2012 website
List price £23,990 (including Government grant) Target Price £23,990
There's no room for sentiment. Sooner or later we’ll all need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, so whether electric cars are the future of motoring or merely a stopgap before commercially viable hydrogen fuel cells arrive, they’ll play a huge part in our lives.
The revolution is already under way, which is why we’ve added this important gong to our Car of the Year Awards.
You can banish any notions of milk-float performance, because the Nissan Leaf's 108bhp electric motor makes it as nippy as an equivalent petrol or diesel – and it’s actually easier to drive. The full 207lb ft of pulling power is on tap from the off, and there aren’t any gears to worry about. You simply press the accelerator to go and the brake to stop.
It isn’t only the environment that’ll benefit from you driving a Leaf, either. Nissan reckons you’ll spend just £257 on electricity every 12,000 miles, and even if that’s optimistic, the fuel costs will be around a quarter of an equivalent diesel’s.
Refinement is another bonus. Other than a whine as you accelerate up to speed, the motor is virtually silent. There’s a bit of wind- and road noise, but it’s only really noticeable because there’s no combustion engine noise.
Owning a Leaf does demand compromise. It has a maximum range of just 100 miles. Then, when you’re out of juice, you’ll need to plug it in and wait eight hours for a full recharge. A three-hour plug-in will give you a 50% charge. Fast-charging stations cut that time to 20 minutes for an 80% top-up, but these are few and far between at the moment.
Then there’s the price. Even after a £5000 Government grant you’ll be forking out nearly £24k: you can get a bottom-end BMW 3 Series for that. On the plus side, the Leaf’s pleasant interior is stacked with equipment.
So what did the Leaf beat to win? The Tesla Roadster is a true supercar in every sense.
It’ll whizz you to 60mph in under four seconds and even trounces the Nissan for range, managing up to 211 miles on a charge. However, with only two seats, barely any boot and a pricetag of £88k, its appeal is limited.
We were impressed by Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV, too – until we found out the price. It costs exactly the same as the Leaf, yet is smaller, slower and has an inferior range.
Nissan Leaf review