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The Nissan Leaf is arguably the first serious attempt by a major car manufacturer at creating anfor the masses. It's a five-seater, four-door family runabout that's designed to offer comfortable, emissions-free motoring to anyone that can afford the £23,350 asking price. But is it any good?
You look like hell
The Nissan Leaf is a weird-looking car, but not in an eccentric, Christina-Ricci-in-The-Addams-Family kind of way. It's weird-looking in the sense that it resembles a gormless, mutant bullfrog. Obviously, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we've yet to meet a beholder (who doesn't work for Nissan) who thinks the Leaf is anything other than an eyesore. Must. Try. Harder.
It's just as well, then, that beneath the Leaf's oddball exterior is some beautiful engineering. The car is driven by a 90kW (120hp) electric motor, which gains its power from a 345V, 24kWh, air-cooled battery pack, consisting of 48 flat, netbook-sized modules, each containing four lithium-ion cells.
The battery pack, designed jointly by NEC and Nissan, is charged via the mains using the Leaf's 3.3kW on-board battery charger -- located adjacent to the battery pack in the rear -- or via an external 440V quick charger. It can also be trickle-charged by the Leaf's regenerative braking system, which converts the kinetic energy achieved under braking to electrical energy.
The Nissan Leaf's interior is something of a mixed bag. In general, the cabin looks a little low-rent thanks to cheap plastics and fabric seats. While the wing mirrors and all four windows are electric, the seats must be mechanically adjusted, and the air-conditioning system is so underpowered, you'd probably have better luck getting an asthmatic gnat to sneeze on you. That said, the amount of high-tech gadgetry on offer, not to mention the space-age start-up process and cool-as-codfish driving experience more than make up for these flaws.
Silent, not deadly
To get the Leaf rolling, it's a simple case of hitting the power button located to the right of the steering wheel. Unlike cars powered by internal combustion engines, the Leaf's only start-up noise is a musical chime, which indicates it's ready to roll.
The Nissan Leaf is eerily silent on the move. At low speeds, the most you'll hear inside the cabin is the sound of the tyres interacting with the road surface. Those outside hear slightly more, though. Nissan has installed an artificial noise generator, which very discreetly synthesises a slightly louder version of the whirring produced by the car's electric motor. The car is also programmed to make a bell-like sound while reversing, though this feature isn't available on UK models due to bizarre legal reasons.
The Nissan Leaf is quick and responsive off the line. Nissan quotes a rather anaemic 0-60mph time of around 11.9 seconds, but it feels much quicker around town than this figure suggests. Nail the throttle anywhere between 0 and 30mph, and the Leaf leaps into action, benefitting from the electric motor's healthy 280Nm of torque, all of which is available from extremely low in the rev range. It's enough to help you overtake dawdling learner drivers and keep up with pesky mopeds when traffic lights go green.
Predictably, the Leaf's acceleration isn't as impressive at speed. Floor the throttle when travelling on the motorway, and the car reacts with the same lethargy you'd expect from a small supermini. We're not complaining, though. The fact that the Leaf is capable of driving on the motorway at all is remarkable, particularly as it can do so at up to 89mph.
Handle with care
The thing that impressed us most with the Leaf was how pleasant it was to drive. Sure, it doesn't react very well when asked to change direction in a hurry (the heavy 300kg battery pack and soft suspension make it feel a little cumbersome when cornering), but it's arguably the most pleasant, comfortable car we've driven outside of a luxury.
That's no exaggeration. There's a common misconception that electric cars are silent to drive, but most suffer from an annoying whine when travelling at speed. The Leaf, however, is completely different. Its cabin is eerily quiet and peaceful no matter whether you're trundling around town or hurtling along a motorway at 70mph. It's truly remarkable -- there's very little wind or tyre noise, so you'd better brush up on your conversation skills when riding with passengers, or crank up the stereo.
The Nissan Leaf's entertainment and information system comes courtesy of Microsoft. The car uses the Redmond giant's Windows Embedded Auto platform at the heart of its 8-inch touchscreen, located in the centre of the dashboard.