Nissan has officially launched its first fully electric vehicle – the Nissan Leaf – in Australia.
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With almost 30,000 units already sold in the US, Japan and Europe since late 2010, the Nissan Leaf arrives on our shores highly acclaimed, having been named the European and World Car of the Year in 2011.

The single Nissan Leaf variant available in Australia is priced from $51,500 before on-road costs – around double the price of a similarly equipped five-door, five-seat hatchback.

Despite the high premium for its EV powertrain technology, the Mazda3-sized Leaf promises to be competitive with its first-generation, eco-friendly plug-in rivals. The micro-sized Mitsubishi i-MiEV is only $2700 cheaper, the upcoming Renault Fluence Z.E. will be priced in the high-$30,000s but comes tied with an annual battery membership, and the circa-$60,000 Holden Volt relies on a petrol engine to extend its range, meaning it does not offer entirely zero emissions motoring.

The Nissan Leaf is powered by a lithium-ion battery that spins an 80kW/280Nm electric motor. A single-speed transmission sends power to the front wheels, delivering peak torque from 0-2730rpm and peak power between 2730-9800rpm, helping launch the Leaf from 0-100km/h in around 10 seconds.

The Leaf has a potential range of 170km when the battery is fully charged, although its real-world range is dependant on a number of factors including external temperature, air conditioning/heating usage, battery age and driving behaviour.

There are three ways to charge the Nissan Leaf. The most common is a ‘Level 2’ 15-amp charger, which comprises a wall-mounted charging dock that Nissan recommends all Leaf owners install in their homes. Charger installation will cost $2750 on top of the price of the car – potentially more if your house has an old or complex wiring set-up. An 80 per cent charge using a home charger takes six to eight hours. These chargers will be available to customers at Nissan’s 13 Leaf dealerships for quick top-ups.

The Leaf also comes with a ‘Level 1’ portable cable in the boot for charging when away from home. It can’t be plugged into a standard household socket, however, as it requires a 15-amp plug – the type a welder would have in their garage – which has a thicker earth pin than standard power points. An 80 per cent charge from a ‘trickle charger’ takes 12 to 14 hours.

The third option is a ‘Level 3’ fast charger, which takes 25 to 30 minutes to charge the battery to 80 per cent. There are only a handful of public fast-chargers across the country so far, although more are planned over the next 12 months as the technology becomes more widespread.

Australia’s version of the Nissan Leaf comes with 16-inch alloy wheels and a space-saver spare wheel (a feature unique to Australia and New Zealand), automatic LED headlights, fog lights, and a rear spoiler with built-in solar panel, which helps assist powering the car’s on-board accessories.

The cabin is equipped with cream-coloured cloth upholstery, 60:40 split-fold rear seats, a basic urethane steering wheel, climate control, cruise control, and a six-speaker audio system with AUX/USB inputs and Bluetooth phone connectivity. The standard seven-inch touchscreen displays images from the rear-view camera and incorporates the ‘CarWings’-enabled satellite navigation system, which provides intelligent, real-time information about your remaining range and nearest charge points.

Front and rear parking sensors, ‘Zero emission’ side decals and a secure charging-port cover are available as options, among others.

Purchasing a Nissan Leaf is not as simple as walking into a dealership, picking the colour you want and driving home. There are five steps in the process.

You start with the reservation stage, which involves completing a pre-qualification questionnaire on Nissan Australia’s website. The next step is a home assessment, where an electrician checks your home’s suitability for the Leaf and works out the best place to install your home charging dock.

The third step is ordering the vehicle, which is completed at a dealership with a salesman like a standard vehicle purchase. After you have placed your order the electrician returns to install your charging dock, after which you can head back to the dealership, finalise the purchase and collect your car.

Nissan expects the first Leaf customers to be typical ‘early adopters’ - those who need to have the latest and greatest technology and are not put off by the high starting price. After around 12 months, Nissan Australia executive general manager marketing Peter Clissold says the early adopters will be followed by “pragmatists”, such as young families in urban and suburban areas who see the benefits of reduced fuel prices and have a high level of concern for the environment.

Clissold would not reveal Nissan Australia’s first-year sales targets for the Leaf, but admitted annual sales would need to top four figures in the future if it was to remain viable.

“Ultimately the market will decide the volume,” he said. “We’re importing these and we’ll import as many as we need at good capacity.

“It may [exceed 1000] in the first year. Going forward, I think if it’s to be a viable vehicle for this market it’s going to need to exceed 1000 each year.”

Clissold and Nissan are confident the Leaf will become a success in our market, however, believing it will quickly establish itself as the most popular plug-in vehicle in the country and maintain that position when fresh challengers enter the electric game.

Read CarAdvice’s review of the Nissan Leaf.