The irony of talking about an electric car, on a column dubbed petrolheads is not lost on me. However, the reality is that the air polluting fossil-fuelled engine is on its way out. It’s only a matter of time. Which is why I found myself at the wheel of a 2013 model Nissan LEAF imported from the UK, darting in near silence through the back roads of Karen.
The capitalisation of LEAF is not accidental. It’s a gently edited acronym for “Leading Environmentally friendly Affordable Japanese Vehicle.”
Cumulatively it has the aesthetic appeal of a crumpled piece of paper but that doesn’t seem to deter the people who buy them, enough to make the LEAF the best-selling electric vehicle in the world.
Although it was introduced in 2010, Nissan has been meddling with electric power since the Nissan Prairie in 1995 and the LEAF is the culmination of expertise gained since then. At first glance, it doesn’t look as futuristic as one would expect of an electric car.
I feel that all-electric cars should have space-ship inspired design elements and you’d unlock the doors with a swipe of the hand, but, unfortunately, you don’t. It’s the same size as a conventional hatchback with conventional doors. Underneath those fancy LED lights, it still sports a steel monocoque chassis and traditional
MacPherson struts in the wheel wells. It looks a bit cartoonish but the POKEMON-esque silhouette lets it part the air smoothly with the headlights redirecting it away from the drag prone side mirrors.
The seats are comfortable and supportive but no different to whatever you have in your car, albeit you sit slightly higher on account on the batteries underneath which can get tight if you’re over six feet tall. It’s decently equipped with a reverse camera, auto-wipers and a thumping six-speaker stereo.
Save for the batteries, this is in fact, a normal car. To keep costs down and have half a chance of proving the viability of the electric car, Nissan made it as relatable as your neighbour’s TIIDA.
Get on the accelerator from standstill and progress is effortless and sustained. The power just comes and heaves the little hatchback into cruising speed. In 9 seconds you’re nudging the 100 km/h mark.
Couple that to the effective sound deadening that keeps out wind, road, and non-existent engine noise and what you have is an experience good enough to rival what you get in a BMW 5 series.
The steering is confidently weighted and turn-in sharp, with the front tyres giving a reassuring feel of grip under exuberant wheeling. The suspension can best be described as not hard, dampening imperfections effectively and yet giving that settled feel you get in a low car. This is a car that, for all the flak electric cars get, wants to be driven.
All round it may not be as revolutionary or as edgy as a Tesla but in real-world driveability, it’s right up there with the hot hatches because of the instant linear torque that only electricity can put down.
It really was a better car to drive than I had imagined, and significantly more refined of account of not having a thousand hot metal moving parts that need to be lubricated and cooled while exploding petrol. Electric cars make conventional engines look as advanced as donkey carts.
Should we all then get electric cars? Ideally yes. Realistically? Not yet. The charging infrastructure, even in developed countries, is still in its infancy so you’ll always have range anxiety. Battery technology is still developing at an unprecedented rate while mechanics have yet to transition into electricians.
Give electric cars a few more years to mature while enjoying the proven reliability of internal combustion and the reassurance that petrol stations provide. Plus, their main selling point, that they’re better for the environment is a bit of a stretch as explained below.