Nissan LEAF: How Does it Drive?

The LEAF’s fit and finish surpass standards for a compact car.

"This is a real car." That's the first thing that struck me when I sat down in the all-electric Nissan LEAF, the most hyped harbinger of new vehicle technology-along with the Chevy Volt-since the introduction of hybrids. "A real car" may seem like small praise, but it's a step up from some golf-cart like experiences I've had with other (allegedly highway capable) electric vehicles. This is good news for companies looking to rent them.

The closest vehicle in size and looks in Nissan's lineup would be the Versa, though the LEAF is distinct enough to satisfy those looking to make a green statement.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car wouldn't let us behind the wheel of their promo LEAF model, as it was the only one yet in their fleet.

(I have driven the LEAF. The car handled as well as any compact car. The absence of transmission shifts and instantaneous torque contributed to the thrill of driving an electric vehicle.)

So we slid into the passenger seats and found room for four, comfortably.  And, unlike those other golf carts, the LEAF has a trunk! That's more good news for renters. The doors close with a satisfying "thunk"-no rattle trap is this.

Besides the now-ubiquitous keyless, push-button start, the first thing you notice in the cockpit is the joystick-operated gear selector in the center console, which seemed aimed at the videogame generation. Another nod to gamers is the display on the console that rewards battery conservation by growing a digital tree.

This model LEAF had a back-up camera, satellite radio, factory navigation, a USB port and Bluetooth. For the range anxious, the telematics-enabled touch screen has the ability to locate and even reserve a charging station on the fly.

On the road, the 80-kilowatt electric motor got us off the line smoothly and with immediate pickup. Acceleration at low speeds was accompanied by a slight high-pitched hum, the artificial pedestrian warning added by Nissan.

Our trek was about 15 miles roundtrip, with half of that on the freeway. NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) inside the cabin was minimal-akin to, or better than, a well-made subcompact. We cruised comfortably at freeway speeds.

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