If variety is the spice of life, it’s also the spice of the car industry, where the weirdest and most extreme models in any given segment often attract the most attention.
However, there’s always a benchmark vehicle to compare them to.
In the case of electric cars, the Nissan Leaf is that de facto standard.
2014 Nissan Leaf, Bear Mountain, May 2014Enlarge Photo
The Leaf is the highest-volume battery-electric car in the world. As of last month, Nissan had sold more than 110,000 units globally since late 2010--and counting.
What’s its secret?
This reporter--a novice who hadn't driven a Leaf in its three and a half years on the market--got a chance to sample what so many electric-car drivers experience during a short test drive at New York’s Bear Mountain State Park.
And the high-end Leaf SL test car pointed out that driving a car powered entirely by electricity is quite a different experience in some ways, but unexpectedly normal in many others.
2014 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
Hop into the Leaf and it feels exactly like any other car, unless you’re in the driver’s seat.
Unlike many of the volume and compliance cars in its price range, the Leaf was built specifically as an electric car, and that’s most apparent in the layout of its instrument cluster.
The two-tier setup emphasizes a central screen that displays range and other information, with the speed readout on top.
Despite presenting a lot of information to the driver, the display is relatively easy to read on the move.
Although the driver only has one forward speed to engage, the mouse-like plastic shifter seemed a bit gimmicky, and didn’t appear very durable.
These were really the only areas of the Leaf where Nissan seemed to draw attention to its electric powertrain. But then again, the car's entire design is tied closely to that powertrain.