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Gareth Butterfield tests the latest version of the fully-electric Nissan Leaf

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Nissan_Leaf

THE Nissan Leaf was the first car to come to the market to prove that electric cars could not only function effectively, but that they could look like any other car.
Back when it was launched in 2011 we were drowning in a sea of wild and wonderful concept electric cars with wild and wonderful styling that actually made the EV future seem further away. But Nissan changed things.
The original Leaf could only muster 100 miles of range on a good day, but it was the first fully-electric car to make it to the mainstream – and it was a big hit.
Even now the Leaf is in the top-five selling EVs in the UK, despite it having one of the shortest ranges among the top-of-the-table cars, in standard trim.
But what the Leaf and several other well-established EVs are doing is proving that a long-range isn’t the be-all and end-all. As the national charging infrastructure improves, and more of us cough up to have charging stations installed at our homes, the Leaf’s claimed 168-mile range doesn’t seem so crippling any more.
The current Leaf, which I’ve been living with for a week, is available with a larger capacity 62kWh battery that serves up a claimed range of 240 miles or so, which is not too shabby.

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It’s important to point out that these are the manufacturer’s ideal-world ranges I’m quoting here. So they’re achievable, if only in theory. In the real world, you should expect less.
That said, I put the Leaf through its paces in a variety of environments during my seven days, and I know I clocked up nearly 200 miles. It had 26% left when I came to charge it up ahead of handing it back. So unlike many EVs, it’s possible to at least knock on the door of what Nissan claims.
The Leaf’s exterior styling is futuristic but in a calm and understated way. The plunging line around what would be its grille dips away from the front-mounted charging-socket cover, and the wheels are aerodynamic rather than pretty, but besides this, there’s little to hint at its method of propulsion.
Inside, the big hint is the odd little gear selector, which looks like it’s melted in the sun. But it works fine, and everything else in the cabin is pretty standard. There are plenty of physical buttons, which is nice, and the seats are among the most comfortable in the business.
The range-topping e+ version I was testing does pack in that bigger battery, but there’s still plenty of space inside. There’s an old-style transmission tunnel on the rear floor, but everything else is packaged well. The boot space isn’t compromised.

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Incidentally, the bigger battery also serves up more power. While the standard Leaf is good for a healthy 150hp, the top-spec Leaf offers 217hp. And that, in a car with no gears and a linear torque curve, makes acceleration extremely vivid when you bury the right-hand pedal.
Charging from empty to full at home using a 7kWh charger will take six-and-a-half hours, and if you plug in to a 50kW rapid charger you’ll get from 20% to 80% in 60 minutes on the standard model and 90 minutes on the e+ version.
That e+ version, incidentally, is only available as you move up the spec range, which does leave you facing a price premium for the longer range.
Putting it into perspective, the cheapest Leaf you can currently buy, in Acenta spec, with the 39kwh battery, is £26,995 off the shelf. Whereas the e+ in N-Connecta spec with a bigger battery will cost from £33,445.
Jump up the spec to the plush e+ Tekna and you’re a whisker away from £35,000. So it’s a lot of money for a family hatchback. But many people can make electric-car price premiums pay for themselves, and the huge boost in range might well be enough to warrant the investment for some.
Overall, the Leaf may have arrived early to the EV party, and it might not be the life and soul any more, but it’s still holding its own and drawing a crowd.
Not everyone wants an SUV, believe it or not. The hatchback is still a very valid and useful body style, and the Leaf does everything it sets out to do very well.
It was the first car that made living with a fully-electric vehicle easy, and it still makes living with a fully-electric vehicle a pleasure.

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