We just got back from Edaran Tan Chong Motor’s Petaling Jaya showroom, where the Nissan Leaf pilot program was launched yesterday by Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of International Trade and Industry. The Leaf show is ongoing, and will be open to the public for test drives around the block this weekend

I stepped in and was immediately impressed with the Leaf’s cabin. It feels light and airy inside and the seats are comfortable, something one can also observe in the Sylphy and Latio. It feels special enough, too, so there’s no mistaking the Leaf for a normal car from behind the wheel.

There’s a Civic-style upper tier speedo, and the main binnacle is a multi-coloured blend of various displays. There’s a power bar made of dots, almost like an F1 style rev meter, flanked by battery charge level and battery temp. Planted between the seats is the special looking gear knob. Push up to reverse, down to drive, press to park – simple.

The piano black centre stack looks like a tablet stuck on the dash, and the central colour LCD shows a wealth of information such as real-time power consumption, with a break down to see how much juice the climate control and accessories are actually sucking. You can also check consumption history here.

Off we went from Jalan Kemajuan heading towards the Sprint Highway. I’ve driven a few EVs now, so the Leaf doesn’t shock, but I’m impressed with the lack of rolling noise/tyre roar compared to some other EVs. If you haven’t driven one before, the lack of noise and vibration will be the most jarring difference from a regular vehicle. It’s very serene and peaceful in the Leaf.

The Leaf’s controls are lightweight and effortless to operate, as one would have guessed. I wasn’t expecting so, but ride comfort is rather good – the suspension damped away the harsh effects of rumble strips and manholes served up by Jalan Dato Abu Bakar.

We got to stretch the EV a bit once on the Sprint, and acceleration is very strong off the mark thanks to 280 Nm of torque from standstill. The pick-up rate slows down once up to highway speeds, but I can already see the surprised faces of unsuspecting hot hatch drivers!

The wave of acceleration is accompanied by a faint “woooooo” sound – no drama involved. There’s also a distinct “lack of resistance” from the drivetrain, which contributes to the feeling of effortlessness. Top speed is “over 140 km/h” but we didn’t have the chance to try.

Back at base, I hopped into the rear quarters to find my 175 cm frame fit nicely, which means that taller folks are likely to face headroom issues. No such issue up front, since the rear seats are slightly elevated “stadium style”.

I also noticed that while there’s good knee room, there’s no gap for my feet to slip under the front seats. By the way, the 24 kWh laminated lithium-ion battery pack, consisting of 192 cells, is spread out beneath the cabin. In the US LA4 mode, which Nissan says is realistic, a full charge of eight hours delivers a 160 km range. A full charge will add about RM7.90 to your TNB bill, so it’s cheap to run.

No commercial sales yet though, and public awareness is the main goal for ETCM now. Full EVs are a different kettle of fish from hybrids, which requires no compromise on the buyer’s part. But I’m sure you and me can buy a Leaf some day – you don’t register 10 costly EVs and start a pilot program without the intention to sell, right?

Speaking of which, ETCM is on the lookout for ambassadors to drive the Leaf for up to six weeks – no celebs, real people, real routines. This will go on for the rest of this year. Register your interest at this weekend’s event or online.

I’m sure the chosen ones will have real fun experiencing zero emissions motoring. For them, motoring life might never be the same again!