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17 April 2012

Driving the future - Nissan Leaf

After being extremely sceptical about how much I would like driving an electric car, I was fortunate enough to have an elongated test drive of the new Nissan Leaf at the weekend.

First impresssions were that it looked pretty good externally and had a really impressive interior specification. From iPod connection and sat nav to rear cameras that feed to a display within the centre console (with turning trajectory overlaid), all as standard, it really is a surprisingly nice place to spend your driving time. It is modern, cool and fun. The interior is really stylish and futuristic. It feels a bit like the Jetsons (almost retro futuristic)

I was expecting sluggish. I was wrong. Off the mark the electric power supplies a decent amount of torque up to about 40 miles an hour, after which you get more steady acceleration up to its top speed of about 90 mph.

The car has a range of about 70 miles and can be charged to 80% power in only 30 minutes which is amazing. Obviously the big weakness is the lack of range for long journeys combined with the lack of places to charge your car. Beyond your home power point, you have to visit Nissan garages if you are on the move and power gets low. This could make for some hairy moments when reaching the limits of the battery when out and about.

The car itself really challenged a great deal my misconceptions about electric cars and made me quite excited about what the future might hold for thoose of us getting more and more fed up with being fleeced by the government and oil companies for fuel. Yes Mr Cameron, we actually do realise how much of what we are charged goes to you and Mr Osbourne!

The strangest thing for those of us used to a traditional car is the automatic gearbox combined with a lack of engine noise. It feels like the car is permanently stalled! However this is something that took no time to get used to. You can even turn on external engine noise if you wish to ensure pedestrians hear you coming.

I enjoyed my test drive immensely. Doing so many business miles it is not yet a practical option for our staff to have electric cars.  However as soon as there is a 300 mile range car that looks as good (actually, it must look better - come on Audi, you know where my heart is..) as the Leaf with a touch more power, my name may well be down. This is the future. There is no doubt in my mind that the days of the petrol / diesel powered car are numbered. They will always have a place for fun, excitement and leisure but for the day to day requirements many of us have, electric cars may well be the answer.  It is just a question of the technology evolving to a point where the practical issues such as range (and therefore battery quality/size) can be dealt with.

The Leaf can also have an optional photo-voltaic spoiler which can be used to provide power for instruments, music and other equipment within the car. The car also uses a huge range of recycled materials from domestic appliances to bottles to create components. Although, you would never know this being in the car yourself. Design has certainly not been compromised as with the many eco-friendly solutions out there that are at best, visually disheartening.

Its only a concept but check out the Audi E-Tron electric car... Much more my type!


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