The Nissan LEAF proves slick in wintry test drives in northern Japan







Published by Gerald Ferreira Date: January 21, 2012
Categories: Nissan, Nissan Leaf

Auto journalists put the all-electric Nissan LEAF through its paces on three powdery test courses in Shibetsu, Hokkaido, this week, in the freezing temperatures of northern Japan.

Some 230 meters above sea level, media gathered to assess the LEAF’s driving performance and handling in extreme weather conditions, icing any concerns that wintry weather could drastically reduce battery performance.

Chief Vehicle Engineer Hidetoshi Kadota said that despite a reading of minus 9 degrees Celsius (15.8 degrees Fahrenheit) outside, the LEAF battery stayed between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius (41 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit).

In the more extreme cold of Canada and Norway, a battery-warming system can keep the LEAF primed to charge at normal capacity, the same as outside temperatures of around 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).

Kadota has shared energy and range-saving tips with Hokkaido’s 350 LEAF owners, advising that pre-warming the EV cabin for a drive makes for good energy management.

But for the over 60 journalists taking part in the cold-weather LEAF tests, it was all about performance.

“I feel that the LEAF has been developed well, and incorporating the merits of the EV have made the car’s characteristics more generous to drivers. For example, when the driver steps on the accelerator pedal or corners, the LEAF is expressing a gentleness unique to the EV,” said Yasuo Kusakabe, chairman of the Automobile Journalists Association of Japan.

Some of the LEAF’s unique advantages in winter conditions, says Kusakabe, include Vehicle Dynamic Control, which monitors driver input and vehicle function.

And the LEAF’s balanced weight distribution — due to a centrally-positioned battery and a light front-forward motor compared with conventional gas-powered cars — also helps, says Nissan Technical Meister Hiroyoshi Kato.

“The footwork of the LEAF is smooth and nimble because the heavy components, such as batteries, are mounted under the floor, and the center of gravity is low and in the middle. Such vehicle motion is emphasized on snow. As you may have seen, a car can easily slip or drift on snow or ice,” said Kato. “As for the LEAF, the changing attitude of the car — the start of slipping, etc. — is very smooth and easy to control compared to conventional FR (front engine/rear drive) or FF (front engine/front drive) vehicles. I believe those may be some of the positive surprises for participants.”

Such features proved key on the slippery slopes of country roads and the quick turns of the pylon slalom.

Journalist and racecar driver Takayuki Kinoshita says LEAF proved it’s the one for the road.

“I think EVs, like the LEAF, will expand in the future. If EVs can only be usable in certain limited conditions, they will not grow. But I was highly impressed by the key message here, that the LEAF can drive normally in hot or cold weather throughout the world.”

Whether it’s the snowy slopes of Shibetsu or the hot highways of Honolulu, more than 22,000 LEAFs are now making tracks on global roads. And while temperatures may be extreme, the LEAF proves that it can keep its cool.