Nissan used to be a byword for reliable but dull. Over the last few years cars like the GT-R, Qashqai, Murano and Juke have largely helped it shed that image. By selling the Leaf Nissan hopes to further move away from that image by becoming the first manufacturer to sell an all-electric family car which was also affordable.
The Leaf cost NZ$39,990 - about the same as a premium brand car in its class. On top of that you'll need to consider the NZ$2-3,000 that your charging point install will set you back.
Once its all done though you can say goodbye to the petrol forecourt forever. The Leaf's electric battery pack offers a 140-150km range when fully charged, more than enough for the average Kiwi commute. A full recharge would cost around $5 - although changes are you aren't going to be using a full charge in most commuter scenarios. Plugging in every night is a good idea though, you never know when you might need the extra range. At a cost of around 3c per kilometre it makes the Leaf substantially cheaper to run than its petrol powered rivals.
Driving the Leaf without too much of an eye on range (my own commute is a round trip of only 20km) makes for an interesting drive. The Leaf's electric power plant is very responsive, there's almost no lag between pressing the loud pedal and the 'go' arriving. Its quiet, but it isn't as quiet as you'd expect an electric car to be though - road and wind noise filling in the gaps that would normally be covered by the engine.
Inside the Leaf is a nice place to be. The dashboard is well laid out and hints at something futuristic. The entertainment system and Satnav are easy to use and the screen is utilized for the standard reversing camera. Automatic climate control can be set to pre-cool (or heat) the Leaf whilst its plugged into the mains, meaning you're using less of your precious range for getting to the right climate after setting off. Legroom is good and the seats are nicely upholstered. The light coloured material may show the dirt after a bit of use though.
The only real downside is the limited boot capacity, as there's a large transverse hump which steals boot space and makes the larger space available when the seats are folded down pretty much useless. We aren't talking Elise or Alfa 4C levels of impracticality here, but certainly something that would give the average family of four some concerns when packing up the boot.
So the Leaf makes good sense financially and its an enjoyable drive too. Its well loaded with features and specced nicely for the price. And as New Zealand electricity is almost all renewable it makes for a very ecologically sound choice too.
Unfortunately there are no charging points outside of the few being provided by Nissan dealers. In a city the size of Auckland that's unforgivable. Although Auckland Transport is suggesting that these may be coming to its City Centre car parks.
So if you are in the market for a small family car, a Golf or Mazda 3 for example, and your commute isn't beyond the range of the Leaf, then I'd definitely suggest taking a drive in one before committing your cash elsewhere.