It’s finally here. After a series of prototype and development cars that BusinessCar has been given access to the Leaf has landed. And the first impression of Nissan‘s pioneering electric production vehicle.

.is that it’s impressively unremarkable. That’s far from a criticism. In fact, it’s the biggest compliment because the Leaf suggests the leap to electric power might not be as dramatic as the naysayers fear. Yes, there are range issues, which we’ll come to, but that apart, there are no compromises worthy of note.

And that includes the price. With the £5000 Government subsidy for electric vehicles, which at this stage is guaranteed until the end of March 2012, the Leaf is priced very close to the top-specced Toyota Prius or VW Golf that Nissan has been benchmarking. While it’s not cheap at 23,350, the standard kit on the one trim level includes satnav, Bluetooth and cruise control, and when you add an automatic gearbox to the Golf, there’s not much to choose between the two financially. It is, though, worth factoring in that Nissan recommends installing a specialised charging station costing around £1000 rather than stressing the home or office wiring by slotting straight into the three-pin plug.

We’ve driven development versions and early prototypes of the Leaf, but this is the first time we’ve laid our hands on the final production car. Overall, the cabin has an ambience similar to the Toyota Prius, and an air of sophistication that suitably accompanies a £23,000 lower medium hatchback, with a classy black plastic centre console, although the dashboard binnacle itself is a little cluttered. The front seats are comfy, and there’s an impressive amount of legroom in the rear, while headroom is also more than adequate for large adults. The boot’s a decent 330 litres, but there is a large lip to negotiate when heaving heavier items in and out.

The exterior styling features aerodynamic lines across the front and rear that make for a modern design that’s not pretty, but will stand out.

On the road, the characteristics of a modern EV are instant power delivery and rapid low-speed acceleration, and the Leaf meets these comfortably. It rides Nisswell, not class-leading by any stretch, but nothing disconcerting, and the light steering is pleasant around town, if matching the Leaf’s lack of real appetite for more brisk progress.

But the range issues still loom large over any electric vehicle, and Nissan is anxious to ensure only those firms and individuals that have a suitable useage plan for the car are attracted to it. The carmaker is desperate to avoid any tales of cars being returned or sold on after a few weeks as users find EVs don’t fit into their lives. But it will suit those that can cope with a range of around 100 miles, although in the right circumstances, with items such as the aircon switched off and driven conservatively, getting on for 140 miles is reckoned to be a possibility.

Nissan has proved with the Leaf that electric cars have a significant role to play in the development of road transport. The range issue is still a massive hurdle to most fleets, but many will seek to make EVs work for their business, and in that case there are rewards to be had.

Nissan Leaf
P11D price £23,990 (after Gov. discount)
Fuel consumption n/a
CO2 (tax) 0g (0%)
Service intervals tbc
BIK 20/40% per month £0/£0
EV?range 100 miles
Electric motor 80kW
Boot space (min/max) 330/680 litres
Top speed/0-62mph 90mph/11.7secs (est.)
On sale spring 2011
Score 9/10
Verdict Range apart, there’s very little
compromise in picking the
Leaf over a conventional car