Second Opinion Test Drive: 2012 Nissan Leaf SL  car test drives nissan electric green news
Steve Ross as the Cowardly Lion and Kyle Blair as the Scarecrow, with the 2012 Nissan Leaf, in front of Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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2012 Nissan Leaf

The resurgence and subsequent viability of the electric car is currently a highly charged topic. I’ve driven a few EVs at press events and even been for a ride in Jay Leno’s 1908 Baker Electric, but until now I’ve never had an honest-to-gawd fully electric conveyance in my driveway.

So here sits a Nissan Leaf, looking as normal as a five-door hatch can, save for the 110-volt charging cord snaking into my garage. The Leaf, Canada’s first mainstream EV, is here to ferry me on several 90 km, 100 per cent emissions-free round trip commutes from Oakville to the Elgin Theatre in downtown Toronto.

Here’s hoping.

Second Opinion Test Drive: 2012 Nissan Leaf SL  car test drives nissan electric green news
2012 Nissan Leaf SL. Click image to enlarge

Fittingly, I’m working on a show called The Wizard of Oz, which as we all know is the story of a strange journey over an unknown road fraught with perils. Hmmm. Substitute Dorothy for your humble scribe and the Wicked Witch of the West for range anxiety and we’ve got life imitating art.

Yes, the Leaf has a claimed range of 160 km, but it’s early winter, it’s chilly and I won’t be able to plug in when I get to the Big Smoke. Plus, I ran a couple of errands in the ‘hood, and without the 240-volt charging station (approx $2,200 installed) that all Leaf owners must purchase, I’m not running on a full charge.

Kinda like the Scarecrow.

I hum out of my driveway with the colourful digital display showing a range of 144 km, suggesting I have a 50 km cushion: piece of cake.

The five-seat Leaf is a surprising pleasant car to drive. Like all compact Nissans, the ride is wonderfully compliant (much better than the Mercedes C 250 Coupe I just stepped out of) and the seats are comfy. Looking around the cabin, it’s bright, airy and modern with quality materials and crisp tolerances. No lack of amenities in the base $38,395 SV model (before $8,500 Ontario rebate) – navigation, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, Bluetooth, XM and USB. My $39,995 SL added back-up camera, fog lights, Homelink, cargo cover, auto headlights and a solar panel on the hatch spoiler that trickle charges the 12-volt accessory battery. Clearly, Nissan isn’t asking early adopters to adopt a Spartan motoring lifestyle.

Second Opinion Test Drive: 2012 Nissan Leaf SL  car test drives nissan electric green news
2012 Nissan Leaf SL. Click image to enlarge

I punch up the Economy Information screen while sweeping past a cluster of gas stations and am struck with a strange revelation. If I owned this car I’d never have to go there again. Acceleration is smooth and linear, and with its low centre of gravity and decent steering, the Leaf feels good in the corners too. It’s dead quiet except for some faint motor whine and a bit of well-suppressed wind noise. Maybe the future ain’t so bad after all.

Merging on the QEW I glanced down at the screen. What the heck? My projected range was dropping faster than my RRSP portfolio. Within a mere five kilometres of home, I’d lost about 30 km worth of range.

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