Electric cars might be the next big thing, but ordinary Kiwis won't bite unless they're effective once the novelty's worn off.

So we put Nissan's electric Leaf to the 24-hour test, with an extended commute from city to beach over hilly rural roads, with around-town errands thrown in.

Leaf is an attractive Corolla-sized car with a 330-litre boot and the full complement of seats, airbags, and electronic safety aids. It can be driven like a normal auto - switch on, engage drive, and go. You could ignore the energy readouts, although checking your range and growing digital trees to reward your eco-driving might become addictive.

I popped down to the mall, then to a business meeting with two passengers - stop-start city driving regenerating more energy so my initial 150km range soon extended to 161. A motorway stretch at 100km/h ate battery power but it improved through the suburbs, where electric motor's phenomenal off-the-line torque delivery supplied 280Nm from zero revs.


But hills suck that battery dry - the 130km range on the flat fell to 73km after a long climb, yet I couldn't afford to worry, as the bendy Piha road lay ahead. The under-floor battery packs make for a low centre of gravity and that, combined with compliant suspension and the strong pull out of corners, made Leaf a surprisingly enjoyable drive despite rather numb steering.

Manoeuvring proved the reversing camera's worth as silent motoring can endanger pedestrians, and we parked after a 52.5km day, well over New Zealand's 39km average.

We sampled eco-mode on the return trip - which cuts maximum power to save electricity - and used "normal" as a gear change-down when we needed a brisk getaway. Then ran a few more errands, tackled the Bullock Track hill and returned the car after 99.2km, with 26km in reserve.

A 1.5-hour top-up charge would deliver 39km, but most people would plug in and charge Leaf overnight using either a dedicated in-house socket or an elektromotive waterproof charging point supplied by JuicePoint. It says the $1495 unit may be owned by the electricity companies, which could control charge times to avoid peak flow periods.

Leaf won't be cheap, at least for now. Batteries are expensive, and the Government doesn't provide a subsidy.

The Centre for Advanced Engineering predicts that by 2039, 8 per cent of New Zealand's electricity will go into electric or plug-in hybrid cars. It assumes there will be 390,000 electric cars by 2025, with only 180MW of additional generation capacity required for off-peak charging.

Once 80 per cent of our cars are fuelled by electricity, our carbon emissions from energy generation and tailpipes will drop, as will our reliance on imported carbon fuel.

Leaf should make a very viable commuter car, and one our infrastructure is already geared to manage.