Hands (and driving gloves) on with the Nissan Leaf

Pocket-lint has been driving the car of the future....now....sort of.

Maybe that should have read, Pocket-lint has been driving the car similar to one Nissan states that one in ten people will be driving in 10 years.

Yes, that's right people - we're talking EVs here, and to be specific, the world's first truly practical mass-produced 100 per cent electric vehicle - the Nissan Leaf.

You've probably heard of the Leaf - it's been a long time coming. But, with 26,000 pre-orders in the States and Japan, and an ambitious roll-out schedule that includes Europe for 2011, the Leaf is very nearly upon us.

So, what's it all about?

Well, let's start with the basics. This is a 5-door mid-sized car that, from the outside at least, doesn't look to dissimilar to the other Japanese cars that are slowly beginning to dominate the UK's roads (save for a distinct lack of an exhaust pipe of course).

What sets the Leaf apart though, is the fact that it is a zero-emission vehicle, running entirely on NEC produced, Lithium-ion batteries (48 of them). So that's good news for Mother Nature, and it's also good for your wallet as well. Even taking into account the UK's heavy reliance, still, on fossil fuels, the Leaf is already 50 per cent cleaner and, on average, will save you around £720 per year compared to a 1.5l diesel car (based on 15,000 miles of driving), or £1110 per year against a 2l petrol one.

Now, we know that our dear readers are gadget lovers at heart, rather than petrol-heads (or should that be no-petrol-heads?) so we're sure that you're going to be just as excited as us about the wealth of gadgetry on board.

The Leaf comes equipped with a full on-board system, based on a Windows kernel (we know, we were kinda disappointed as well - an Android system would have been nice), that is much, much more than just a satnav and audio system (of course, it does offer both of these as well though).

With Nissan's Carwings system on board, you'll have an array of personal-related data at your fingertips, and the system will also connect with your PC or iPhone (via an built-in GSM module) so as you can remotely control your Leaf as well.

No, we don't mean that you can turn it into a giant RC-car, but you will be able to fire up the the air-con or heating, start and schedule charging, pre-load maps and routes, as well as connect with a global Nissan-Leaf community - so if you fancy yourself as a super-efficient driver, now is the time to prove it. You'll also get notifications when your car is fully charged, or if charging is interrupted.

On board, you'll be able to see how eco-friendly your driving is (you'll be awarded trees if you're efficient enough), as well as seeing the full-range of your car on a map, finding charge points if you're running low on juice and checking your historical drive data.

In terms of driving, and range (so often the stumbling block of any alternative-fuel vehicle) - the chaps as Nissan think that they've got the market sussed.

Tom Smith, general manager and CMM of electrical-vehicles said: “One thing I do want to get across is that we have to have the right person that's buying the vehicle”.

“This is not for everybody and we want to be clear and transparent when communicating that message to the public. If you regularly need to drive long distances, or drive on the highway, then this isn't the vehicle for you".

“This is a great vehicle for those people that fit within our range, but we want to be sure we get the right people".

“I certainly don't want to be responsible as the man who killed the electric vehicle”.

The Leaf offers a range of up to 100 miles (dependent on conditions, of course), with a charge system that takes just 30 minutes to restore up to 80 per cent of battery's power. You can also just charge straight from you mains without the system, and that will take around 8-hours for the full power-up. The torque is 280Nm, which is equivalent to a 2.5-l V6 petrol engine, so people worried that a top speed of 87mph means that this is just a chug-along car, really need not be concerned.

The power-system on board is extremely clever as well. It features a regenerative braking system to increase the vehicle's range. What this means is that by applying the brake or lifting off the accelerator, the electric motor acts as a generator and converts otherwise wasted power into battery energy. There's also and eco mode, which can increase driving range by 10 per cent when driving in urban areas.

Nissan has invested over $4 billion into the production of the Leaf, with five battery plants planned, and three car assembly plants (including one in Sunderland). If that doesn't convince you just how serious the Tokyo-based car giant is about the project then nothing well.

The Leaf is definitely not a novelty car. Keep your eyes peeled to Pocket-lint's reviews section for a comprehensive write up of our first impressions.

The Nissan Leaf is due out in the UK in Q1 2011, priced at around £23,990 after government incentives, and there will be a personal contract purchase option. It will be available in five colours in Europe - blue metallic and pearl, white pearl, silver metallic, black solid and red pearl. You'll get a 3-year warranty on all of your standard parts, and a 5-year one on all the electronic gubbins - including the battery.



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