Nissan has taken a decisive step into the motoring world of the future with this, its soon-to-be-released Leaf.
Although on the surface its hardly the most radical looking machine, what lies underneath is astounding, because the Leaf is the worlds first mass-production all-electric family car.
Its powered by a bank of 48 lithium-ion battery modules located under the floor and driving through a 108bhp electric motor that also produces 207lb ft of instantly accessible torque. All of this means the Leaf has, forgive the pun, electric performance but with zero tailpipe emission.
Obviously, that zero emissions figure doesnt take into account the way the electricity the Leaf uses is produced, because a lot of it will come from power stations that chuck out loads of CO2.
Recharging the Leaf is something youll need to do every 100 miles or so (less if you run the air-conditioning flat out, or drive at excessive speed), and it typically takes eight hours from a domestic socket or 30 minutes from a high-powered quick-charge station. Nissan is confident that the success of the Leaf will be guaranteed by a nationwide infrastructure of charging points thats currently under construction.
In the cabin
Inside, the Leaf is pretty basic, with a typical grey-on-grey well-constructed Nissan cabin with plenty of head and shoulder room, and because the floor is flat theres plenty of foot space for all five occupants. Theres even a decent-sized boot.
Thats all very now, all very hum-drum, but then you check out the trick centre console. Through your smart mobile phone you can log into Nissans global website and remotely communicate with your Leaf. You can check on the charge level, programme it to recharge at a time that is both convenient and financially beneficial (electricity charge rates are often lower at night), and even firing up your air-conditioning remotely, so cabin temperature is at a comfortable level when you climb aboard.
Behind the wheel
However, what really marks the Leaf out is just how easy and how good it is to drive.
There are no gears to think about, so you simply need to press a button to select Drive and off you go. Initial take-up is super smooth and instantly responsive and theres none of the heavy braking effect that some battery cars produce when you ease off the accelerator pedal.
Refinement, however, is the biggest bonus. Theres absolutely no mechanical engine clatter or vibration and nothing but the faintest whirr from the electric motor and the sizzle of rubber on asphalt as you set off from the mark.
As speed builds, there is some increase in wind noise but the fact that theres only a relatively compact electric motor sitting in the nose of the car means the designers have been able to give the Leaf a very low and slinky frontal area, so it slices through the air with minimal turbulence. The heavily sculpted headlights also direct air-flow away from the door mirrors and the underside of the car is completely flat, both of which also have a big impact on the Leafs eerily quiet running.
In fact, the Leaf is so quiet at low speeds Nissan has deemed it necessary to fit a synthesiser that emits a whirring noise through a speaker in the front of the car to warn pedestrians of its impending arrival.
Most of the Leafs power production gubbins are located smack in the middle of the car, which means it feels exceptionally well balanced in bends. Also, that completely flat underbelly means the Leaf produces zero lift in a straight line so it feels absolutely stable at speed.
Top speed is around 90mph, and although no acceleration figures have been released, Nissan claims the Leaf produces similar levels of thrust to a 3.5-litre V6 petrol car. We can certainly believe this, even if the absence of noise means you actually get very little sensation of speed.
UK revisions required
Nissan admits some suspension and steering revisions will have to be made to the make the Leaf suit UK tastes, but our brief test around a Japanese test track was enough to confirm that the Leaf is no glorified milk float. We have little doubt it will be agile and engaging enough to keep UK drivers happy.
What Car? says