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Nissan Leaf hands-on

Nissan is taking a big step in the electrification of the automobile with the Leaf destined for mass production by the end of 2010. We take a look at the potential future of the car.

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Wayne Cunningham
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1 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

One giant leaf for mankind

Nissan is taking a big step in the electrification of the automobile, with the Leaf destined for mass production by the end of 2010. We take a look at the potential future of the car.

The Leaf won't go on sale in Australia until 2012. The car is designed as a practical five-door hatch with seating for five. Range will be a little over 160km, which is suitable for most people's commutes and then some.

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2 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

It gets better

When Nissan first released pictures of the Leaf, we thought it looked rather oddly proportioned. Seeing it in person, though, the car actually looks good. Though it does have some unconventional design elements...

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3 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Doing the splits

The headlights are the one of the most controversial design features of the Leaf, but there is a good reason for their protruding shape. The headlight casings serve to split the airflow over the side mirrors, improving the aerodynamics and reducing wind noise. Nissan also uses LED headlights on the Leaf, as they draw less energy.

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Plug it in

Underneath a cover adorned with an oversize Nissan logo, in between the bonnet and the bumper, are two plug-in sockets. The one on the right conforms to the SAE J1772 standard and is also used on the Tesla Roadster. The one on the left is a proprietary Nissan design that allows charging of the Leaf's batteries to 80 per cent in 30 minutes.

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Power leaf

The powertrain layout of the Leaf is made up of an electric motor driving the front wheels through a single-gear transmission. The engine's powered by around 220kg of Lithium-ion batteries laid flat in the chassis. The placement and distribution of the batteries helps to keep the weight low in the car to aid its stability.

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No, not the Tiida

Although it looks like a molten Nissan Tiida, the Leaf is built on its own platform, with a wheelbase as long as the Honda Civic's.

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Hatched

The hatchback area is particularly deep, providing a lot of vertical room. The low floor might prove a problem for weekly grocery runs, as the grocery bags would sit inconveniently deep. In the production version, expect some sort of false floor.

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Spacious front

The front-seat area is spacious and very similar to any run-of-the mill Corolla/Golf-size car. The steering wheel holds audio and cruise control buttons in a similar style to current Nissan vehicles.

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Five all up

The rear can seat three people shoulder to shoulder.

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10 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

Drive it

The Leaf's drive selector is a joystick set into the console, designed to be operated with your palm. Pushing it to the left lets you select drive, reverse and neutral. Like the Tesla Roadster, regenerative braking kicks in as soon as you lift off the accelerator, immediately slowing the car.

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Not a Civic

Nissan uses a bi-level instrument cluster that's strikingly similar to the Honda Civic's, with displays showing speed and range, as well as a gauge for showing when the batteries are being drained or charged by the regenerative braking. Graphic symbols of trees multiply in the top display when you drive more economically.

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Tech it up

In the US, satellite navigation will be standard on the Leaf, along with Bluetooth phone integration. This interface uses a touch surface for virtual buttons. The car will also be connected, letting you run some functions remotely, using a PC or smartphone.

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