Before riding in the Leaf, I didn’t really care for electric cars. Didn’t care to own one and really didn’t want the future to devolve into what all car guys fear: The loss of the beautiful noises made my internal combustion engines. However, I was interested in riding in the Leaf because it was my first time riding in an electric car. Curious to see if the Leaf could change my opinion or rather make me more open to electric cars, I decided to see what this car could offer during RMAP’s annual RMDE event.
In the end, it succeeded. Here’s how.
The Handling Is “Fun”.
Yeah, I don’t really like ambiguous statements either. Allow me to elaborate, when undergoing some… ahem, spirited driving, the Leaf actually feels a bit like a hot hatch. Contrary to the “environmentalist’s car” front the car puts on, the Leaf has a bit of a rebellious streak going on. You wouldn’t think it, but the Leaf is a surprisingly fun vehicle when you start driving it like a Fiesta ST. It has enough grip to corner with some speed and the body rolls when you corner hard, which is fun in its own way. It might be a stretch to say it’s an enthusiast’s car, but it’s definitely not boring once you pick up the pace.
It’s No Shrinking Violet.
We’ve all heard how electric cars have full torque at zero RPM. While impressive, you really don’t understand how rapid this can make a car until you feel it. The Leaf only has 147 HP. However, it also has 236 lb-ft of torque. That is getting with the program.
As a result, the Leaf has a very potent surge from 0 to about 80 MPH. More than enough for most driver’s needs. Merging isn’t even a problem. Just step on the gas and speedily accelerate to the speed necessary to merge safely. Nothing more to it.
It’s Not Without Its Quirks…
I actually hitched a ride with two other journalists in the Leaf, so I had the pleasure of sitting in the back. It wasn’t cramped (for me) back there. I had sufficient legroom and some headroom. I say “some” because Nissan decided to mount the rear seats oddly high. As if the person sitting behind you is a discount, apartment dwelling pope. While perhaps not a big negative, I would certainly advise you to warn your friends that they may or may not have much headroom.
Supposedly, another area where the Leaf could be improved is in the brakes. Specifically in a system called the “E-Pedal”. Before I continue on with the story, I should explain what the E-Pedal is. At its core, it’s regenerative braking with a catch. The catch? You don’t use the brake pedal. When the E-Pedal is engaged, you use the gas pedal to accelerate and decelerate. To put this into context, imagine coasting in a Leaf with this system off. Due to the system being off you’d coast normally. Try this with the system on and the car will brake, taillights on, as if you were slowing down the traditional way, with the brake pedal.
Getting back to the story, Csaba Csere, a former writer for Car&Driver and the guy driving, spoke about the E-Pedal system in the Leaf. He said that a similar system in Teslas work better, as in the Teslas it’s more of a gradual slowdown, whereas the Leaf braked with reasonable force as soon as you got off the gas. Something Nissan will want to look into when they get around to make the next-gen Leaf.
The Ride Was Good.
Nothing special here. The Leaf did a good job handling bumps and turns without shattering spines or jittering weirdly.
The Verdict: Overall I was very impressed with the Leaf. There were a few things I didn’t like but what won me over was how it’s almost a closet hot-hatch. The 0-85 sprint is satisfying, the tires have enough grip to have fun and the body roll adds comedy to it all. Think of it this way: America doesn’t have a Fiat Panda, but the Leaf might be as close as well get for a long time.
Thanks for reading! See you soon.