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Car reviews - Nissan - Leaf - 5-dr hatch

Launch Story

Nissan logo18 Jun 2012

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

NISSAN admits it is entering uncharted territory with Australia’s first five-seat electric vehicle, which has been priced from $51,500 plus on-road costs.

Even without any meaningful government EV incentives, Nissan is confident of selling at least 300 Leafs in its first year on sale, with fleet business accounting for between 60 and 70 per cent of volume.

Currently there are 37 firm orders, but Nissan Australia expects the publicity surrounding the car in the wake of its Australian media launch in Sydney last week to prompt people into visiting the 13 dealerships handling the car.

To help stimulate interest, a $599 monthly lease package with a guaranteed buyback feature is being introduced, as well as a three-year free subscription to Nissan’s ‘Carwings’ in-car communications and telematics service.

Token government gestures to help people into EVs include no stamp duty in the ACT and $100 off Victorian annual registration – though these pale against the significant tax, toll road and parking discounts or exclusions (among other incentives) offered abroad.

Created from the ground up as an EV, on an all-new platform that will underpin a bevy of future electrified Nissans, the Leaf is slightly larger than a conventional C-segment hatchback.

Leaf rides on a 2700mm wheelbase and is 4445mm long, 1770mm wide and 1550mm tall.

Nissan’s global product chief, Francois Bancon, said the standard small-car size and shape are essential in easing the public into the idea of an EV, while the slightly homogenous styling is meant to reassure those who are resistant to change with something familiar.

Powering the Leaf is a 24kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack consisting of 48 separate modules and weighing about 300kg, located below the floor in the back seat area and arranged in such a way as to maximise interior space as well as keep the centre of gravity as low as possible.

The car tips the scales at 1521kg.

Using the European NEDC figures, maximum range is 170km, although many factors including temperature, topography, driving style, use of in-car accessories and vehicle load can affect that figure significantly.

At 4kWh of remaining battery charge (or about 15km of range on the display), visual and aural warnings will sound while the screen will show where to find charging stations within range.

Charging time from empty depends on whether the operator uses a standard ‘Level One’ 240-volt 10-amp household outlet (between eight and 12 hours) or a specially fitted ‘Level Two’ 15-amp device (around 6.5 hours).

Each Leaf dealership has a ‘Level Three’ 400V fast charger that provides up to 80 per cent battery capacity in around 30 minutes.

As with other EV-makers, Nissan does not recommend regular fast charging, or repeated recharging at 80 per cent capacity, as both can reduce battery life significantly.

For the same reason, the battery never fully depletes or charges.

Owners can expect the battery to service the car for at least eight years, when it can be on-sold for other industrial applications that will give the unit up to 12 more years of usefulness.

Driving the front wheels is an electric motor delivering 80kW of power from 2730rpm to 9800rpm, and 280Nm of instantaneous torque (from zero to 2730rpm) – about the same maximum torque as a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine.

Though not strictly silent since there is a distinctive whirr from the motor and single-speed direct-drive reducer gearbox, Nissan nevertheless has installed a pedestrian sound ‘beacon’ to warn of an approaching Leaf at up to 40km/h.

Beyond the drivetrain, the Leaf’s underpinnings are purely conventional – from the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension designs to the vehicle speed-sensitive electric rack-and-pinion steering, electronic stability control and four-wheel disc brake (ventilated front/solid rear) system with ABS, EBD and brake-assist.

With regenerative braking, decelerating with or without pressing on the brakes turns the electric motor into an electric generator, siphoning otherwise wasted energy to the battery.

The electronic transmission shifter features an ‘eco’ mode that shaves motor power and air-conditioning outputs to maximise range.

The Carwings information telematics not only informs the driver via the standard satellite-navigation system of the nearest charging locations, but also interacts with a smartphone or computer to monitor the state of charge, remotely commence a charging phase, activate or deactivate the climate-control system, and remind the owner to plug the car into a power source.

The GPS system will also display how far your current charge will take you using a highlighted radius on a map.

Nissan uses recycled materials in parts of the dashboard, console, door, seating, floor and roof areas, while the light-coloured trim and upholstery is designed to maximise air-conditioning efficiency by reflecting heat.

Standard equipment includes satellite-navigation, climate-control air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, remote central locking, power windows, proximity key with keyless entry and push-button start, cruise control, a 60/40 split/fold rear seat, automatic headlights, front fog-lights, a rear roof spoiler with a solar panel that helps recharge the battery, and alloy wheels (shod with low-resistance 205/55R16 tyres) but a steel space-saver spare.

Items such as the audio, headlights, wiper and computer systems are controlled by a regular 12V lead-acid battery.

A five-star ENCAP crash-test performer, the Leaf is fitted with dual front airbags, side airbags and a curtain airbag, and is covered by Nissan’s three-year/100,000km warranty with 24-hour roadside assistance and capped-price servicing.

Nissan has sold more than 20,000 units in the 18 months since the Leaf’s release in Japan, the United States, Canada and Europe.

Australian-bound Leafs are built in Japan, though US and UK production will commence shortly for other markets.

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