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Preview Drive: 2011 Nissan LEAF EV Prototype

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2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

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2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

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2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

Enlarge Photo

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

Enlarge Photo

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

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High Gear Media has at last driven the 2011 Nissan LEAF electric car.

Okay, admittedly it's a stretch to say that we actually drove the LEAF, but we did take a quick spin in a vehicle that demonstrates, according to Nissan, how the LEAF will perform and feel behind the wheel.

In an unusual—and brave—move, Nissan is taking an engineering mule on a national tour, targeting hardcore EV enthusiasts, policymakers, and EV infrastructure people along the way. While creating a buzz for the production form of the LEAF, set to arrive next fall, is the primary goal, Nissan is clearly taking notes on how to tune and package the vehicle in its final form.

Alongside it sits the nearly cosmetically final (but not quite mechanically ready) version of the real thing. The LEAF itself is very attractive in person; the photos that have been sent around just don’t do the proportions justice. The LEAF’s snout has the sci-fi, space-ship character to suit the car’s techy appeal, with drawn back headlights and an aerodynamically optimized yet sharp look, while the swoop of the rear flanks is unexpectedly sporty, almost voluptuous, in person, with a pronounced hot-hatch look from some angles in back. If Infiniti were to sell a vehicle derived from the Versa, this is how it would look.

And so it was that the mule we drove was actually a Versa five-door hatchback in appearance—inside and out—with few differences. If you overlook the "Zero Emission EV-12" logos and "test car" labeling on the vehicle, along with the unusual black-and-white two-tone paint and black-and-white spoked wheels, it was really just a Versa.

Of course that all changes as soon as you turn on the ignition, check the charge indicator, put the little Prius-style shift lever into 'D', and lift the brake. This mule does have a bit of brake creep, and Nissan is likely to keep the creep in the production form of the LEAF. As we eased into the throttle, we instantly noticed that there was very little of the high-pitched whine we've come to expect, to some degree, from inside the cabin of nearly every electric vehicle we've tested before—including the Mini E. Nissan has clearly worked to mute that in this Versa mule, let alone the LEAF.

The weight of this test version is "in the ballpark" of the weight of the final-spec LEAF—roughly the 3,300-3,500-pound range. And we were, literally, in a ballpark—the event parking lot of Seattle's Qwest field.


 
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