With the ever increasing concern about preserving the environment, car makers have responded by making a huge effort to reduce the emission coming out of their vehicles. Now consumers are offered with the choice of downsized petrol engines with force induction, cleaner diesel engines, and hybrid powerplants; but full electric vehicles are still few and far between.
Nissan is one of the car makers that is striving to get electric cars available for the masses. Admittedly it’s no small effort, but it has to start somewhere. Introduced in 2010, the Leaf was developed totally new from the ground up. Even though it is not their first electric car, it is indeed the first mass-market electric car to go on sale in recent years.
|Transmission||Single speed gear reduction|
|Max Power||80 kW (107 hp)|
|Max Torque||254 Nm|
Even though Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) officially launched the Leaf in Malaysia a couple of years back at the 2013 Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show (KLIMS13), the Leaf has been here since 2012. Back then, ETCM did a pilot program for public awareness, where a few groups of people were selected as the “Leaf ambassadors” and they get to experience the Leaf for six weeks.
While the Leaf has been regarded as one of the world’s best selling electric vehicles of all time, in Malaysia it’s still quite elusive. The uncertainty with the electric powertrain might be one of the factors that deter Malaysians from purchasing, and not to mention the asking price for this fully-imported C-segment hatchback is comparable to a full-specced Asian D-segment sedan.
To find out what it’s like to turn over a new leaf (ahem) for a cleaner motoring, we get behind the wheel of the Nissan Leaf to experience the new age of electric mobility, and whether it is any different from the cars with internal combustion engine that we’re so used to in our daily lives.
Before we begin, we need to explain the name “Leaf”. It’s really not the green thing that sticks out from a tree. It stands for “Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable Family car”.
To get people to warm to the idea of electric cars as a viable option against the usual petrol or diesel powered cars, Nissan has opted for a fairly conservative five-door hatchback format for the Leaf. The outcome turned out to be nicely executed if not awkwardly proportioned, striking that fine balance between familiarity and obscurity. Although personally I was hoping for a bit more pizzazz to make it stand out even more but the Leaf did catch the attention of many due to its peculiar silhouette.
At the front end of the Leaf, the shape of the finned headlamps bulge out quite literally from the body. According to Nissan, it was designed to slice the air towards the side mirrors thus reducing drag and wind noise from entering the cabin. LED is used only for the main beam, and weirdly Nissan has chosen the foglamps to function as the DRLs instead of incorporating a stylised LED in the headlamp cluster.
In place of a normal grille on the nose is a covered panel marked with a blue-tinted Nissan logo. The panel also opens to reveal a couple of charging ports for the battery. There’s no radiator here, but the air intake in the front bumper is still needed for ventilation purposes and to cool the electrical equipment.
The side is quite bare save for the wavy shoulder line and chromed door handles, while a set of 16-inch wheels reside under the wheel arches. The kinked tail leads to a voluptuous protruding rear bumper, while the slinky taillamps curve up to the D-pillars on to the integrated roof spoiler with a solar panel.
Despite the aerodynamic touches like the finned bonnet edges, flat floor, rear diffuser, and even the design of the funky antennae; the Leaf only achieved the drag coefficient of 0.29 which is not that great, taking into account the efforts given to make the design as slippery as possible.
From the driver’s seat your eyes will be drawn to the two-tiered digital instrument display and a floating piece of glossy black slab on the dashboard that houses a 7-inch touchscreen display. Information such as the battery capacity, estimated driving range, and how much power you’re using are grouped in the main display behind the multi-function steering wheel; while another display above it shows the speed and there’s an eco driving indicator that will grow digital trees based on your driving style.
The touchscreen display on the center panel gives you even more information. You can review your driving history, the battery information, and also set the timer for the battery charge, among others.
On the center tunnel is the “drive selector” that replaces the normal gear selector. It might look radical at first sight but it’s actually fairly uncomplicated to use. Parking brake has been moved down to the foot well, so you get a small recess behind the selector for your coins and whatnots. Bigger knick-knacks can be stored under the center armrest or inside the glovebox, and there’s a total of six cupholders to be found in the cabin.
There’s plenty of headroom for all occupants but the legroom for rear passengers is rather limited as they can’t slide their feet under the front seats due to the battery pack below that causes the floor to be slightly raised. Leather upholstery comes as standard for the seats and steering, and since it’s an electric vehicle I was expecting them to have full electric adjustments as well, but unfortunately they don’t. However, being an imported CBU model from Japan, they are fitted with heater function, which is pretty much pointless in the sweltering Malaysian weather.
The deep boot offers 370 litres of cargo capacity, and you won’t find a spare tyre inside the boot floor because it’s mounted outside of the car, under the boot. Meanwhile you can always drop the rear seats backrests down to create more space, but you will end up with a stepped cargo area. Again, this is due to the positioning of the battery pack underneath.
A synchronous electric motor is mounted up front, driving the front wheels. It generates 80 kW (which is equivalent to 107 hp) and 254 Nm of torque from idle, and 0 to 100 km/h is achieved in 11.5 seconds while the top speed is said to be more than 140 km/h.
Powering the electric motor is the 24 kWh lithium ion battery that occupies the floor. With an estimated range of 195 km it will take around four hours to get it fully charged using the 6.6 kW charger. You can’t charge the Leaf using the standard three-pin plug from your house, but thankfully a charging station is included with every purchase of the Leaf in Malaysia.
Apart from that, the battery gets its charge from the regenerative braking feature which recovers the kinetic energy from braking, and there’s also an additional B-mode that intensifies the feature even more. What it means is you’re delaying the battery’s energy depletion because the battery gets its charge back during braking or coasting.
If you notice from the picture of the engine bay, the Leaf still uses a standard 12 volt battery to power the lights and entertainment system, but the tiny solar panel on the rear spoiler also helps to provide power to the auxiliaries.
It’s hard not to think the Leaf as an appliance. To begin with, you don’t press a starter button to crank the engine up into life but instead you thumb the power button to turn it on. You’ll be greeted with a default jingle (you can choose from three preset tunes) that sounds like a startup screen from a game console, and after that you’ll wonder whether the Leaf is switched on or not.
Give a few prods on the accelerator pedal and all you hear is dead silence. Daniel mooted on the idea of an artificial engine sound for the driver, and we were curious about why Nissan didn’t include this in the Leaf when they already have the R-Sound Effect in the Renault Clio RS.
However, Nissan did develop a synthesised sound akin to a wheezing robot for the pedestrians and cyclists alike to sense your presence. I find it too soft for people to notice it and Nissan could have produced a better sound than this. Take a listen to the Fisker Karma on YouTube and you’ll see (or hear) what I mean.
Novelty gear selector aside, the Leaf operates like any other car. The steering does feel a bit numb and it doesn’t appreciate being hustled into corners because the suspension has been tuned for none other than to provide a cosseting ride, and in return it does deliver Teana-levels of ride comfort. Couple that with the silence and you get a serene yet comfortable compact waftmobile.
Being an electric car, torque is available instantly from standstill. In normal mode the acceleration is err, electrifying, and it feels much quicker than the suggested on-paper figures, making it a boon for overtaking maneuvers or to quickly zip in and out of traffic. This thing is capable to leave most people (especially motorcyclists) in shock by the wake of silence it has left upon its trail.
Needless to say if you do that constantly you’ll drain the battery much sooner than you think, but thoughtfully Nissan provided the Leaf with an Eco Mode. You’ll immediately feel a slight resistance to the throttle pedal to discourage you from provoking the Golf GTI next to you for an impromptu traffic lights drag race.
Like the Teana, highway driving is a very relaxed affair, especially when cruise control is included in this hatch. There’s barely any noise inside the cabin, but that in return can be a source of annoyance because your hearing attention will be drawn to the petty things such as the sound of the rattling paraphernalia you’ve stored in the glovebox or even the sound of the passenger breathing next to you. Anyhow, you can always cure the vexation by listening to some tunes from the audio system.
When in Drive, slotting the toggle to D again gives you the B-Mode which turns up the regenerative braking effect even more. It should give you an extended range as it recoups back the wasted energy from braking, but it may require you to re-adjust your driving style a bit. This is because the Leaf will slow itself down as soon as you ease off the accelerator pedal. Once you’re accustomed to it, it is possible to drive around in the Leaf using just the throttle pedal alone while you only step on the brake pedal whenever you want to come to a complete halt.
Finding a parking spot shouldn’t be a problem in a very few shopping malls such as Suria KLCC and Bangsar Shopping Center as they provide one (yes, one) dedicated parking bay with a charging station. No fee is charged for the electrical charge, but you still need to pay for the parking fee of course. While the odds of bumping into another electric car maybe pretty low at this time of writing, you may still need to pray that the parking bay is not occupied by another Nissan Leaf, or any other electric car for that matter.
Parking the Leaf is another story, with the long front overhang and the absence of parking sensors it can be quite a hassle initially; although it has a reverse camera to assist you with reverse parking. Once parked and plugged, be prepared to get curious glances from the public and queries about the car’s electrical thingamajig.
Some might view this as the Achilles’ heel for the Leaf. When fully charged, the indicator shows a travel range of around 135 km but you have to bear in mind that’s just a suggestive number from the computer. Depending on your driving style and how frequent you turn on the aircond, realistically you’re looking at a 90 km range, just to be on the safe side.
And yet, personally I reckon 90 km should be enough for the typical daily urban commuters, even if you’re the type who always head out for the post-work mamak sessions with your kakis. At the end of the day you just need to plug in the car overnight and the battery will be fully charged for the next day.
IS IT FOR YOU?
If you’re committed to reduce your carbon footprint then the Leaf is definitely for you. With virtually no tailpipe to release harmful gasses to the environment, you can finally embrace the guilt-free driving that you’ve always wanted, unlike your neighbour that drives the Prius. It might take awhile to deal with range anxiety, but if you have your routes properly planned this car makes a pretty good case to express your green credentials to the public.
For the rest of us, the Leaf makes a good secondary car, the one that’s used for short trips to work or to the shops because obviously you still need another non-electric car for the longer outstation journeys.
Nissan Leaf is not the only electric car you can find on Malaysian roads. Renault Twizy can be rented for tours in Putrajaya while the Renault Zoe is available for anyone to drive under the Comos EV car sharing program.
At the time of writing, you won’t be able to buy the either of the french vehicles from the Renault showrooms because they’re not for sale to the public, but Mitsubishi should be able to source you the i-MiEV if you want a more compact electric car than the Leaf. Even though the i-MiEV is less powerful, it is smaller and lighter than the Leaf so you shouldn’t be concerned about the car’s performance. The maximum range of 150 km is not so shabby either, but we think the best part of the i-MiEV is that it looks super kawaii inside and outside.
|Nissan Leaf||Mitsubishi i-MiEV|
|Type||AC synchronous motor||AC synchronous motor|
|Type||Electrical power-assisted||Electrical power-assisted|
|Transmission||Single speed gear reduction||Fixed gear ratio Automatic|
|Type (Front / Rear)||MacPherson struts / Torsion beam||MacPherson struts / 3-link de Dion|
|Front||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc|
|TYRE & WHEELS|
|Tyres||205/55 R16||145/65 R15 (Front) 175/55 R15 (Rear)|
|DIMENSIONS & WEIGHTS|
|Max Kerb weight||kg||1,493||1,085|
|Luggage Capacity (VDA)||L||370||N/A|
|Battery||24 kWh lithium ion||16 kWh lithium ion|
|Maximum Range||195 km||150 km|
|Max Speed||km/h||Above 140||130|
|0 – 100km/h||sec||11.5||N/A|
WILL I BUY IT?
Being an early adopter comes at a price. Currently it’s still an expensive buy, but technology is ever improving and eventually the batteries will be smaller and more powerful to allow for long distance travel. Driving the Leaf is like eating a bowl of salad, it’s refreshingly good and guilt-free, but it will still leaf you craving for something more filling.
Taking the Leaf as a preview to more electric cars to come, I think it’s heading to the right path, and it’s a matter of time for those apparent deficiencies to be ironed out. In the mean time, I’ll just stick to cars with internal combustion engine.