Johannesburg - It’s the future, and as a non-apologist confirmed petrolhead who likes nothing more than the smell of racing fuel, screaming of tyres and thunder of engines, I’m also aware that there will be a time when cars will be silent.
There’s a lot of research under way and billions of dollars being spent to ensure we remain mobile in the years ahead.
And as part of this research Nissan has given the world the Leaf. I’m sure the motoring editor must have intended the irony when we went down to collect the keys and the people of Nissan gave a rundown of the battery-operated car.
First thing to know is that it has a range of 195km when the 24kWh battery is fully charged to power the 80kW/254Nm electric motor and, like other hybrids, it uses the energy created by braking to charge the battery pack.
Also, before we get any further, be prepared to fork out close to R450 000 – and that’s without the extra R30 000 for the home charger which has to be installed because, as yet, your wall socket won’t be able to do the job. As I write this, Eskom has declared an emergency and half the country is sitting without electricity, so that won’t help you either.
Alternatively, there are a number of dealers around the country that have the equipment to do the job. This is a 30-minute quick charge that provides 80 percent power, which means keeping a close eye on the power and distance gauges.
This being futuristic technology, all the gauges are digital, with a bar showing the amount of power being drawn from the batteries compared with what is being put back through braking.
Now, from a young age I’ve always been one to keep a close eye on the fuel gauge and, on holiday with my parents, would constantly see if we had enough petrol to make it to the next town. You can imagine my state of mind with the limited distance I could cover in the Leaf, with the added stress of knowing it’s not just a case of pulling into the closest petrol station.
Be that as it may, as I said it’s the future, and I boldly went where most petrolheads fear to tread.
First impression was that it’s better looking than most hybrids, although not a swan. It is easily recognisable, with a smooth design and a roof spoiler that has an integrated solar panel. The panel charges a 12-volt battery that powers things like the radio and internal lights.
Eerie is probably the best way to describe the feeling behind the wheel when there’s not so much as a sound coming from anywhere. Once you’ve got your head around that and your eyes off the dials it’s pleasant to drive.
Because the battery pack is low down in the car, the Leaf handles surprisingly well around the corners and with 80kW and 254Nm on tap the moment you put your foot down, it has a good turn of speed from standstill.
The driving position is easy and inside it’s roomy enough to carry four adults. You get keyless entry, Bluetooth audio streaming, a reverse camera, and cruise control – although how often you’d need this on a car that is strictly for city commuting is a moot point.
And that’s the Leaf’s biggest drawback locally. The idea is noble, but South Africans just aren’t ready yet and at almost R500 000 it’s a lot of money for a car to drive around the city.
It can’t work as a regular family car either because of the limited distance, so essentially it will have to be a second car and for that amount of money you could get a lot more bang for your buck.
No doubt it’s coming, but I reckon it’s fair to say I have many happy years left to savour the sound of the internal combustion engine. -Saturday Star
Engine: AC synchronous electric
Battery: 360 volt Laminated Lithium-ion
Gearbox: Single Speed Gear Reduction
Power: 80kW @ 3008 - 10 000rpm
Torque: 254Nm @ 0 - 3008rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 11.5 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 144km/h
Range (claimed): 195km
Power consumption (claimed): 150 wh/km
Price: R446 000 (+ R30 000 charger)
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan: 3-year/90 000km