Nissan branches out: Leaf in SA

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 TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF: If you're a low-mileage driver, live and work in a city or near a quick-charger equipped Nissan dealer, the Leaf could pay dividends…eventually. Image: Nissan
The Nissan Leaf, billed by Nissan as the world's first mass-produced battery car at its debut in 2010, generated much fanfare in the auto industry.  It appealed to techno-hippies and drivers wanting to reduce their environmental impact in the form of a “cute” electric hatchback.

Despite grumbles regarding its practicality (read: Range), Nissan reports 87 000 units sold globally.

Gallery: 2013 Nissan Leaf


So the Leaf has arrived in South Africa (November 2013) to become the first EV available locally.

But, how useful is a car that takes eight hours to recharge and has a theoretical range of 195km? Wheels24 attended the SA launch of the Leaf in Sandton, Gauteng, to find out. We also interviewed the first local owner of Nissan’s EV, reader Greg Ball, who shares his thoughts on the Leaf.

First, let’s rip the metaphorical bandage off and reveal the price – R446 000. Before the (admittedly) justified seething begins consider what the Leaf is and why you might want one. Or not...


The Leaf is powered by a 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack wired to an 80kW/245Nm AC motor which sends power to the front wheels through a single-speed gearbox. Its electric motor enables it to accelerate from 0-100km/h in 11.5 seconds to a top speed of 145 km/h.

According to Nissan, the Leaf has a range of 195km (comparable to two litres/100km) with zero CO2 emissions. It's 4.4m long, 1.7m wide, 1.5m high and has a 2.7m wheelbase. Ground clearance is 160mm.


In short, the Leaf is a vanilla hatchback and that's high praise for Nissan, since its EV isn't meant to confuse drivers with gadgetry and tech. For all the billions of bucks Nissan poured into technology powering the Leaf, it operates like a conventional car; push-button start, radial gear selector (Park, Drive, Neutral, Reverse) and a foot-operated parking brake.

Its power rating of 80kW might not be much considering its 1.8-tons but the instantaneous, seamless torque more than makes up for it. The Leaf accelerates swiftly but lacks the grunt needed for highway overtaking. The ride is supple and there's adequate feedback from steering. The major difference between the Leaf and a fossil fuel-powered car is during acceleration, as the EV doesn't make a sound.

Whether you’re zipping, silently, away at traffic lights or speeding along a highway, the readily available torque makes for a compelling drive. The suspension is comfortable, the handling firm and overall it’s a passable city hatchback. Its low centre of gravity, courtesy of the placement of its battery, makes it very stable through bends.

Nissan claims a range of 195km though in practice I found this dropped rapidly to 160km when driving normally. Using the aircon and seat-heating will diminish it even further and spirited driving will see your range drop alarmingly.

Is it worth nearly half a million rand for an average hatchback? The 87 000 owners around the world believe so…

An LCD screen displays information such as range and energy consumption. It tells drivers of their current energy consumption – using the aircon, seat-heating and flat-footing it will reduce vehicle range. A gauge in the form of a “growing tree” on the instrumentation cluster, displays how economical your driving style is – a fully grown tree is ideal, just a trunk means you’re rapidly depleting energy.

It’s a rather clever way of ensuring more economical driving at the cost of making you paranoid as you’re constantly monitoring gauges.


Owners can keep the battery pack topped up via a home-charge unit supplied with the vehicle. It allows the EV to be charged in eight hours drawing power from the normal domestic supply. As part of Phase 1 of the SA Leaf programme, Nissan has installed quick-charge units at nine dealers in Gauteng. The quick charge station enables “an 80% charge from zero in 30 minutes and is free."

Nissan will roll out quick-charge stations at dealers in Cape Town and Durban in 2014.


The Leaf's cabin isn't as revolutionary as its power train. The steering-wheel, facia and aircon are largely unchanged from previous Nissans. It does however benefit from a slick LCD and blue digital displays. The only uncommon features include the Leaf's digital gauge cluster and radial drive shifter.

Interior space is ample and its luggage capacity, 450 litres, can be expanded to 720 with seats folded. Its roof spoiler has a solar panel which feeds the conventional 12-volt battery to minimise the effect of ancillary systems such as the audio.


And then there’s the German elephant in the room, BMW’s electric i3. The Leaf can enjoy its time in the spotlight until 2014 when BMW’s first electric vehicle, under its new “i” sub-brand, will reach SA. According to the automaker it might retail at less than R500 000 - just like the Leaf.

If you’re not prepared to make the jump to a 100% battery-powered ride you could opt for Toyota’s Prius or Honda’s CR-Z hybrid offerings.


Automakers are making leaps and bounds in battery vehicle technology as is evidenced by Nissan’s Leaf, Delta wing and the electric Formula 1 series set to be held in 2014. The future of zero-emissions driving looks bright, the trouble is we’re not there yet…

The Leaf is an experiment in changing South African mindsets and Nissan is under no illusion that sales might initially be low.

It doesn't matter how much you like the idea of the electric Nissan Leaf – if it doesn't suit your lifestyle, it won't work for you. An outdoor enthusiast might buy an SUV or bakkie to suit his/her lifestyle, whereas with Nissan’s EV lifestyle would have to revolve around vehicle.

Range would be a constant hurdle, more so than driving an internal combustion car as it’s not always possible to top-up if you’re running low on charge, at least until recharging infrastructure is improved. Perhaps the government or third parties could roll out recharging stations that could encourage more EVs.

The Leaf is a solid vehicle not just for an EV but it’s capable of holding its own against comparable hatchbacks, with the exception of distance. I think Nissan could’ve had much more success with a fossil-fueled version. In fact, if it borrows commercial partner Renault’s 1.6 diesel (used in the Scenic) or its 2014 Micra’s engine, slash R200 000 off the price tag, it could have a popular C-segment model.

The Leaf suffers from inducing range anxiety in its drivers, patchy infrastructure, and a lingering image problem that afflicts all EVs, such as Tesla’s burning vehicles turned PR nightmare.

If you’re patient enough to work around its flaws, the Leaf could provide a satisfying, stress-free eco-friendly hatchback. The caveat, of course, is that in most cases, you’ll want an old-fashioned internal combustion vehicle on standby. If you're a low-mileage driver, live and work in a city, or better yet near a quick-charge Nissan dealer, the Leaf could pay dividends… eventually.

Nissan Leaf – R446 000
The Leaf is sold with a three year or 100 000km warranty and three year or 90 000km service plan with intervals at 15 000km. A three-year or 100 000km roadside assistance plan is standard along with a three-year or unlimited distance anti-corrosion warranty.

Services are interesting in that technicians do not have moving parts to repair/replace. Instead, at 15 000km intervals, technicians will run diagnostics on the batteries and tech.