It’s possibly the bravest introduction in South African automotive history and I honestly believe a reward is in order, but the most important question remains: will electric mobility work in sunny SA?
The biggest problem this car faces - apart from the limited range - is infrastructure. Simply put, we don’t have the necessary paraphernalia to make the Leaf work. It’s like handing an intricate 1 000-piece puzzle to an infant.
So what’s the Leaf like? Well, it’s actually not that different from any car I’ve driven before, which is a massive achievement in itself. The Leaf is as usable and easy to understand as a Golf. It has space for four adults and a boot big enough for their luggage. It even has a five-star Euro NCAP rating.
Standard features include normal everyday things like air conditioning, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and a parking camera. The more techy features include regenerative braking and an app that will allow you to heat or cool the interior of the car via your smartphone. This, to me, is its biggest drawing card. Nissan has taken the latest in automotive technology and packaged it in something we’re all used to and that we can all understand.
On the outside though, it’s a bit sci-fi. The styling may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’ll definitely get you noticed, which is what you want in a car like this. It’s something you want people to see, because by driving a Leaf the owner is making a statement.
The layout of the interior is less futuristic. The buttons for the standard features are exactly where you’d expect them to be, while the gear lever (if you can still call it that) and pedals are in the same spot you’d find them in a Micra.
The front wheels are driven by a compact electric motor and inverter developing 80kW and 280Nm of torque. This motor is powered by a laminated lithium-ion battery developed in a joint venture by Nissan and electronics giant NEC Corp. It’s powerful enough to power the Leaf to a top speed of 145km/h, which doesn’t sound like much, but remember that we’re only allowed to drive 120km/h in South Africa anyway.
I suppose the most important figure is the Co2 emissions, of which there are none. The Leaf emits nothing hazardous into the atmosphere, but in our country it’s a moot point, but more on that later.
The suspension coped nicely with our less-than-perfect roads in Johannesburg and it responded well to steering input. It’s set up to be a nippy city runabout that’s as comfortable and quiet as sitting in a bath. For the record, Nissan claims the Leaf is quieter than the average ceiling fan.
This reveals a lot about how the Leaf will inevitably be used in South Africa. As a long-distance cruiser it’s absolutely hopeless, even though its claimed range of 195km is more than most EVs currently out there.
Just think of a quick trip down to the coast. In a fully fuelled Sentra, the trip will take around six to seven hours, but to do the same in a Leaf and will take six or seven days. You’ll have to drive 195km, stop, stay the night to recharge (it takes seven hours) and repeat the next day. Nissan is working on a car-swop idea to get past the above problem, but it’s still in the planning phase.
I suspect most Leafs (or is it Leaves?) will be sold to people who can afford a second or third car that’ll only ever be used to commute within 50km from their homes. Or it’ll be bought by people who want to make a strong environmental statement, which really doesn’t make sense as South Africa runs on coal, making the Leaf in essence a coal-powered hatch. There are ways around this, but that’s another topic we’ll look into shortly.
It’s also not a cheap statement, with the Leaf retailing at R446 000, but one has to bring the total cost of ownership into consideration. It should cost around R300 a month in electricity and services will cost almost nothing compared to a car powered by fossil fuels. Is that enough to compensate for the obvious drawbacks? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
The price includes a 3-year/90 000km service plan and 3-year/100 000km warranty.