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2010 Nissan Leaf Review

So, here it is. The first ‘proper’ electric car that you can actually go into your local showroom and buy. There’s no hybrid system, no small petrol engine, no half-measures and it’s not one of those comedy ‘quadricycles.’ The Nissan LEAF is a full-size, fully functional family car, and it will be appearing in Irish traffic very soon.


And while you’ll spot it easily enough, Nissan has thankfully steered clear of the ‘point-and-stare’ looks of some other electric cars on the market. The majority of photos and footage of the LEAF that have appeared so far have shown it in the light blue colour worn by our test car, but it would be interesting to see how it wears a more sophisticated colour like black or metallic silver. From the outside, the LEAF’s most distinctive feature has to be its oversize headlights. They have been designed to be both low-energy and aerodynamic, and look almost like two small transparent models of the car itself. At the back, there’s a hint of the previous-generation Renault Mégane, or possibly the quirky Renault Avantime luxury coupé, while from the side, the upswept line of the windows makes for quite a handsome profile.


Inside, the LEAF is a bright, airy and pleasant place to be. The test model featured light, tan-coloured upholstery and a black-trimmed centre console. To start the car, you press the on-off switch next to the steering wheel and the digital dash comes to life with a short musical note. The whole process feels more like turning on a computer than starting a car, and the mouse-like ‘drive-by-wire’ controller used to select the driving mode further adds to this impression. Unlike the gearstick in a more conventional car, this controller is not connected mechanically to the transmission – it’s merely a selection device used to move between drive, reverse, power and eco modes (more on those last two later). Moving away, the LEAF drives like a regular automatic – you simply release the brake and it begins to creep forward.


Putting my foot down for the first time, I realised that this car was going to be a totally different prospect to a certain Indian-manufactured, plastic-bodied electric vehicle I have driven previously. That ‘car’ (it hardly deserves the name) required you to drive around with your foot welded to the floor like a maniac just to keep up with urban traffic. But in the LEAF, even gently leaning on the accelerator produces a wave of ample, perfectly smooth and perfectly controllable power. There’s no delay, no peakiness and no rev range to be ‘worked’. It’s actually quite addictive, and makes the LEAF perhaps better suited to city driving than any other car on the road. The silky and ample torque on offer also makes for swift and safe overtaking and refined motorway cruising.


That said, the LEAF does prioritise comfort over handling prowess, which is not surprising given that it is aimed at family buyers. Sitting in the serene calm of the LEAF’s cabin, it’s not hard to start dreaming about the highly entertaining sports car that could be created by combining the electric motor’s on-demand power with a well-sorted chassis. But, despite how accomplished the LEAF’s electric technology is, it’s still hard to imagine electric cars appealing to the heart as strongly as they do to the head. The LEAF will be a brilliant everyday family car, but Dad may still want to hold on to his mid-life-crisis convertible for a bit of fun at the weekend.


Like any new technology, the LEAF takes a bit of getting used to. With an extensive on-board computer system and the ability to communicate with your mobile phone, this is not a cheerfully simple car, but rather a feature-rich piece of technology. Gadget lovers, and those who enjoy figuring things out for themselves, will adore it, but the less computer-savvy may have to spend some time with the instruction book before they’re fully up to speed with everything.


Another possible hiccup is that the LEAF would probably not achieve its maximum stated range of 160 kilometres if you were to drive it the way I like to drive it – using its fantastic power delivery to despatch with dawdlers, dart out into gaps in traffic and generally make swift progress in the often-maddening environment of urban and suburban traffic. Just as with a petrol or diesel car, a heavy right foot will impact on your efficiency, and those with longer journeys to make will probably have to grudgingly restrain themselves and flick the car into economy mode. The LEAF does do a lot to alleviate the dreaded ‘range anxiety’, however. A kilometres-remaining figure is displayed prominently on the dash, but, more helpfully, the sat-nav map in the centre console is overlaid with a ‘range circle’ that gives a visual representation of how far you can make it on your current charge. Charging points, several of which are already up and running around the country, are also displayed prominently.


And so we come to the cost. The LEAF’s €29,995 (after Government incentives) price tag puts it amongst some fairly prestigious competition, and it may be slightly out of reach for the average small family car buyer. Yes, it’s cheap to run, but so are modern, small-capacity petrol and diesel-engined cars. The LEAF certainly makes a very strong case for itself, though, and while the all-out electric-car revolution may be some years off yet, the LEAF is a compelling opening salvo from the electric camp.



Nissan LEAF



AC synchronous electric motor

Output @ rpm

108hp @ 2,730–9,800rpm; 280Nm @ 0–2,730rpm




0–100km/h in 11.9s

Top speed




CO2 emissions


CO2 tax band

A (€104 p.a.)



Boot capacity


Base price


Price as tested



Great performance, clever technology, super interior


Expensive, range limitation, looks not for everyone



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