Winner of prestigious awards like the 2010 Green Car Vision Award, 2011 European Car of the Year, 2011-12 Car of the Year Japan and most importantly that of the 2011 Car of the Year, Nissan’s all-electric car, the Leaf indeed proves that the future of clean and environment friendly cars is very bright. Put into commercial product in 2010, the Leaf has gone on to set records in terms of its monthly sales and is fast becoming accessible in various world markets. We got a chance to experience and drive one recently in Greater Noida and surely came back mighty impressed!
Till date, for most of us, the Reva has been the sole example of an all-electric car in India. However, that car also put forward a lot of negatives and limitations in front of millions of India – driving range, performance, space et al. The Nissan Leaf on the other hand promises to shatter all these pointers and how! Before even stepping into the car, its design language surely impresses you no ends. It surely is a real world car with distinctive and future styling. For example, the frontal styling is characterized by a sharp, upright V-shaped design featuring long, up-slanting light-emitting diode (LED) headlights that employ a blue internal reflective design that seems to announce - "This car is special." This design is functional too - intended to cleverly split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, thus reducing wind noise and drag.
While the rear part of the car might look bulbous, the fact is that space had to be made to store the batteries! Nonetheless, the verticle tail-lamps and the spoiler do the job of sprucing the looks easily. Large door, specially made alloy wheels, aerodynamic external rear view mirror etc are some of the other interesting features.
The moment you step inside the LEAF, you realize the real modern and ‘futuristic’ deal lies inside! The steering looks funky but move your eyes to the speedometer console and then to the central console and you are in for surprises of the good variety! The large touch screen (7-inch size) in the center does scream “high tech” and houses everything an owner would need in day to day usage – GPS navigation including telling the driver about the nearest charging station, menu read-outs, audio system etc. Nissan has also incorporated what it calls as CARWINGS – a clever system that monitors and shows battery state, charging status etc and also includes a very clever way of automatically starting the air-con to cool the car at a pre-described time! The speedometer console on the other hand has display for motor temperature, current usage, charge status, distance to go and the usual stuff like odometer. The LEAF can also show the difference in range when you put on any feature that puts load on the battery – air-conditioning for example!
If you are used to automatic cars, getting used to the LEAF is pretty ease save for the fact that being an electric vehicle, 100% torque is available from a standstill. The LEAF’s EM61 unit puts out the equivalent of 109PS of power and 280Nm of torque – impressive figures for a car that weighs at just 1.5 tons. We drove the car when it had four passengers on board and yet, the car responded very well. Throttle response is terrific and the car goes about doing its duties in, well, a silent way! Another thing that impresses you is the ease of driving this car – the steering is perfectly weighed, the suspension set-up perfect and good for Indian kind of roads and the seats very comfortable. Infact, space wise, the LEAF can easily seat five adults without an issue. On the handling front, because most of the heavy batteries are placed low, the car has a very low center of gravity – push it hard around curves and corners and you instantly feel the low C.G which translates into road hugging grip!
The heart of the LEAF is its batteries. The power is stored in as many as 192 laminated Lithium ion cells which have a capacity of 24 kWh and power of 360 volts. Power is sent to the front wheels via a single speed automatic transmission. The batteries can be charged to 80% their capacity in just half an hour through 480 volt quick charging stations while on the other hand the conventional 220 volt stations take 7 hours for a full charge which also gives the LEAF a range of 150-170km depending on usage and traffic conditions.
With the LEAF, Nissan has shown that the world indeed is ready for all-electric cars. At the same time, countries like India, which has one of the highest numbers of cars on the road, desperately need a solution like this. Typical savings over a conventional petrol and diesel sedan over a period of year could run into Rs 1 lac and Rs 50,000 respectively for a 20,000km annual usage pattern! The benefit on the environment is the other huge plus point. At the same, it is a fact that such a scenario of being able to use e-cars on a daily basis in a practical manner is still years away – charging station infrastructure, subsidies from the government and general user perception, everything needs to be developed and changed. However, Nissan is pretty serious about giving Indians a chance to own the LEAF and experience the future first-hand. If everything does go as planned, we could see the LEAF in a Nissan showroom by 2013 but, ofcourse, being a CBU product, expect pricing to be around the Rs 25-30 mark