120323-NissanLeaf

Electric cars have long been seen as the future of motoring, and most car makers are now hard at work on electric cars of their own. One of the few you can already buy is this, Nissan's Leaf.

From the outside it looks much like any other smallish family car, and inside there's a comfortable and spacious interior with little to give away the very different motive power. But switch on - using the red start switch on the dash - and you instantly notice the difference. The instrument panel lights up, but there's no noise to confirm the car is now alive. But select 'drive' mode using the stubby lever on the centre console and the Leaf will pull away when you squeeze the accelerator pedal, just like an automatic car.

Acceleration from standstill is brisk, and there are no gear changes to interrupt progress. There's hardly any noise, thanks to the electric drive system and the attention that Nissan have put into eradicating the rattles and squeaks that would be masked by engine noise in a more conventional car. The handling defaults to safe understeer, which makes sense in a family car, and the ride is quiet and composed. Nissan claims a top speed of 90mph, which is less than most modern cars but more than enough for most people.

The Leaf is said to be good for about 110 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion batteries, less than half the range of a petrol car on a tank of fuel – but much further than most people drive in a day. A quick charger can give an 80 per cent charge from flat in just half an hour, and a full charge costs just £2. The Leaf also recaptures energy that would otherwise be wasted during braking to recharge its batteries.

Should you buy one? The answer depends what you want from a car. If you do lot of long journeys the Leaf would be impractical, but if your motoring consists of mainly short journeys like taking the kids to school, shopping in a nearby town, commuting within the local area - which is how many people use their cars much of the time - then an electric car like the Leaf might make a great deal of sense.