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201207 Mar

nissan leaf

 

You take your car for granted. It’s one of those modern conveniences we all use and abuse, without the slightest thought of what goes into making the motorcar such a ubiquitous part of our modern existence. Simply jump in, fasten your seatbelt and drive off.

 

However, the motorcar today is a victim of its own success. Some view it as a symbol of capitalist excess, for others the motorcar is an easy target for the environmental challenges facing the world today, while in some parts its very USP, personal mobility, is rendered redundant.

 

Car makers are attuned to these sentiments, and it is to their advantage to think ahead of the curve, to answer these criticisms and remain relevant in the face of all the contextual arguments mentioned above.

 

Recently, I was invited by Japanese car-maker Nissan to sample some of its latest technological marvels, already on sale in many parts of the world, and very much on the horizon for an Indian market launch. Among them were the Nissan Leaf electric car, and the Nissan GT-R, the giant-killing supercar.

 

The Leaf is a car I’ve always wanted to drive. Its green intentions are made clear by its name, no less, but more than anything, it establishes the base on which future electric car technologies will evolve. In principle, it’s a simple battery-powered electric car, styled as a large hatchback, and with enough interior room for five adult occupants. An 80kW electric motor sits under the bonnet, powering the front wheels, while the lithium-ion battery pack is placed on the floor, to maintain a low centre of gravity.

 

To drive, the Leaf feels as normal as any car you’re used to, with conventional controls. There’s a simple drive selector lever where the gear lever would be in a normal car, a steering wheel and two pedals. The cabin is well-appointed, with a touch-screen multimedia system which includes GPS navigation via Google maps, and also plays your music. Two SD cards are supported – one for your maps and the other for your music.

All the modern conveniences one expects, like air-conditioning, power windows, power steering, power mirrors are standard. There’s even a reverse camera!

 

nissan leaf interior details

 

Simply press the pedal, and the Leaf surges forward effortlessly. The interiors are hushed, with no mechanical noise whatsoever. To encourage you to drive sensibly, the Leaf will even engage you in a little game, allowing you to ‘grow’ virtual trees as you drive along!

 

Since the Leaf is battery powered, it does face certain limitations, especially in range. Designed to travel for 160 kilometres before running out of charge, the range could drop to half that if you use the air-conditioning constantly, or drive aggressively. Nissan has developed a special DC fast charger, which can charge the batteries to 80 % within just 30 minutes. Plug it in to your 220V home supply, and a full charge takes 8 hours. It’s this simplicity and everyday usability that Nissan wants to highlight with the Leaf. For urban users, the Leaf is a regular family car which you simply charge overnight, like your mobile phone for example.

 

After my brief spin in the Leaf, I next went for a passenger ride in the iconic GT-R. This car uses a turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 engine to produce a mountain of power: ‘at least’ 485 PS! Since each engine is hand built, exact specifications are subject to speculation. But there’s no denying what it translates to on the road. With the launch control system engaged, the GT-R’s computer sends power to all four wheels, launching this car to 100 km/h in less than 3 seconds! That’s about how long it took you to read the previous sentence. Before your brain can catch up to the speed of the car, you’re turning in for the corner, with astonishing levels of grip. So sharp, so vivid is this car, that your brain cannot process go-turn-stop at the same rate at which the GT-R can execute these commands. But Nissan understands that the GT-R’s performance capacity is well beyond the driving capabilities of most, which is precisely why it has been engineered to be comfortable everyday, with self-levelling suspension, air conditioning and four seats, plus a big boot to boot.

 

nissan gt-r

 

If anything, the GT-R and its cousin Leaf highlight the sheer capability of the modern motor car, its usability and flexibility and point in the direction to give us an indication where automotive technology is headed. One needn’t understand everything that’s gone under the bonnet, but what it means for you and me is that there are cars that will continue to engage and excite us, take us to work or on family outings, and still put a smile on our faces when we’re in the mood to ‘drive fast’.

 

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