We Drive The Leaf Nismo

The time has really come to start thinking electric.

Don’t dismiss it, we are passed that point; the evolution, or revolution, is on its way despite what you think of it. Good or bad, EVs will continue to become an ever bigger part of our motoring environment, growing exponentially as more and more manufacturers jump on board.

Nismo is already tuning electric cars – think about that. It’s a pretty wild thing we are witnessing, and we certainly can’t ignore and put it to one side and pretend it’s not happening.


Here is a brand that we all associate with some of the most performance-oriented cars that Nissan has ever created, and its logo has just been slapped on a mass-production electric vehicle. Trust me, it’s just as hard for me to digest as it probably is for you; I have massive respect for what Nissan’s motorsport and tuning division has achieved in the past. But there is no time to linger for what once was, the future is now and Nissan isn’t joking around.

It’s for this very reason that I looked forward to spending a day with the Nismo version of the new-gen Leaf at Nissan’s Grandrive proving grounds, south of Yokohama.


I’m no stranger to EVs; over the years I’ve sampled a few, with all but the Tesla Model S having been pretty regular city commuters. They are a bit more fun to drive, peppy, ready to reward with instant torque, which alone makes them more exciting than their gasoline-powered counterparts. The Leaf does things even better as it’s been designed as an EV from the ground up, not as an afterthought to boost a manufacturer’s eco image. That means it’s packaged brilliantly with the battery laid out low along the floor keeping the driving dynamics in check despite the substantial mass. Range, however, has always been the issue, and it still very much is. But we’ll get to all of that soon; how this Nismo car drives is what I’d like to focus on first.


Considering the fact that there isn’t much that can be done to an EV to boost its performance, Nismo have done the expected with this first dive into EV tuning. The’ve tightened up the handling thanks to revised dampers, added 18-inch wheels with stickier rubber, and reprogrammed the speed controller to offer snappier throttle response, making it slightly brisker when you first step on it. These are very basic touches, and the battery remains the same as in the regular car. I’m in no way going to knock it; this is a step into the unknown for Nismo, but one that will help boost its image.


To really find out what this Leaf Nismo was all about I had to pretty much take everything that Nissan’s staff had told me before hitting the track, and throw it out the window. There was talk about speed limits and sticking to your lane, but seeing that no Japanese journalist there seemed to be following the guidelines, I lent on the car as heavily as I could. And you know what, this thing really comes alive when you push it. It’s beautifully progressive and linear in all its movement; you can throw it left and right by using the massive momentum its weight provides, and it slides just where you want it to slide.


The Nismo DNA is there for sure, albeit in simple touches. It just goes to show that a well-engineered car can feel special even if it is just a mass produced EV. My 20 or so minutes with the Leaf Nismo were were enough for me to come away with a smile; this isn’t just badge tuning.


Then of course there is the aesthetic look. As is the case with all of the big Japanese manufacturers these days, the styling is best as described as an exercise in conservatism. What the Leaf Nismo gets are redesigned bumpers to make it look a little tougher, and apparently they even eliminate lift so it’s not just a visual addition.


There’s the usual red highlight line that circles the lower section of the body as in any modern day Nismo car, as well as the aforementioned wheels. I’m not a fan of these personally; they’re just your standard over-designed, weak offset OEM rims, and no doubt the first thing that an owner would change when getting their hands on this spiced up EV.


Nissan’s current trend of breaking up the top and lower sections with different colors on some of their models confuses me, but I think it’s there to make cars like the Leaf not seem as tall as they actually are.


The Nismo treatment continues inside with a sportier steering wheel featuring suede inserts for the two outer portions and a little red rally-style band to indicate its straight position.


There’s more red highlighting around the air vents as well as the stitching on the seats, all to remind you that you aren’t in a regular Leaf.


Nismo mats are a nice touch too.


The best touch is a little Nismo badge on the speedometer, although when driving it I remember thinking they could have played with the LCD portion of the instrumentation and created a Nismo page with red highlights and numbers giving some performance stats or projected torque readouts. It’s little things like these that would make an owner feel like they had picked up something a little more special. But like I said, Japan has really become good at being overly conservative of late.


I came away from the afternoon drive with more questions than answers. If this is a taste of the future, I have to say I’m happy that the potential performance side of things is at least being explored. At the same time I can’t help but wonder how it will be done for the more important Nissan cars, like a future EV GT-R or Fairlady. What will have to be done to keep the enthusiasts passionate? What will the equivalent of a Nismo RB26 F-spec engine be? Will motors be swapped out? Will higher spec batteries be offered? It makes you wonder and that unknown fills me with excitement.

The internal combustion engine will never be replaced for us gear heads, but this EV stuff is hard to ignore.

Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: speedhunters_dino



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I for one am excited that Nismo is building a factory tuned version of an electric vehicle. It's one step closer to enthusiast acceptance of this type of drivetrain, and all the potential they have. It's also reflective on how the enthusiast culture in Japan seems to be more accepting of stepping outside the norm than other places around the world, with Nismo doing this Leaf, and GR willing to work on things like the Noah and Prius. I remember being amazed every time I go to Japan and see all the modified hybrids on the street. I love my BRZ tS a whole lot, but I'm excited to see what will be coming on the market when it will finally need replacing.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Yeah the modified hybrid scene is pretty huge actually. Probably car guys that have had to move into that type of cars due to family and can't fight the tuning bug. It's exciting to see how the EV side of things develops, it's all really about to start now as more manufacturers get ready to unveil the cars they've been developing for years now. Biggest question is what will happen to Tesla when there will be more choice in EVs out there...


Im a huge fan of the ev's. My dad and i run a collision repair center and are Tesla certified. I test drive all the repaired Teslas to verify all functions are working as they should and man, they are fun to drive. NOTHING beats the instant tq EV has. its hilarious how badly you can leave performance cars in the dust with them.

I can definately see manufactures offering various battery back sizes, similar to Tesla as upgrades, as well as software upgrades to unlock more power. There will even be an aftermarket for it. Instead of tunes changing times, boost, fuel etc they will be changing voltage, amperage and their ramp rates etc. Exciting times.


I agree Cody. I got to ride in a Tesla, and it blew me away how fast it was. The instant power without RPM's is odd to experience. It's pretty mind blowing actually. I've been a car guy for a long time and riding in that Tesla had me torn. I missed the sound of the engine, the smell of burnt gas, and I guess the peaky part of an internal combustion engine. But then I also realized EV is the way of the future. It was a sad moment that was cool if that makes sense.
It definitely had me blown away how you had the same amount of tq no matter what speed you were driving at. I learned to just rest my head against the head rest so I wouldn't hurt my neck.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

A great deal of tuning will be done with a laptop, which pretty much is exactly what's happening on the forced induced gasoline engine side of things these days. It's all bringing me back to my days as a kid spent building and tuning up electric RC cars lol

Alfonso Verdugo

I think the future also will be the Aero, Suspension and Construction of the car because you don't need make space for a big engine so this mean you can make a really really low car like we haven't seen in the past. This engines will be so fast and efficient race and circuit will evolve into new kinds of competition. In fact you can make a "Speed Racer" series with pilots driving in a simulator so cars can go at full speeds with almost no regulation like the Red Bull F1 Concept.


I'm really interested to see if 'hacking' becomes the new version of garage tuning. EV's kinda lend themselves to all the cosmetic/lifestyle mods that are so popular today. As long as people can tinker with them I can't see how they're a bad thing.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Tinkering will be unavoidable for sure... Just wish designs for these type of cars improves. A lot of manufacturers out there make them look weird just because they are EV when they totally don't need to do. Treat them as regular cars, make them cool as you would any car and people will flock...once battery ranges start making sense


Was the Leaf Nismo the best thing on the track?

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Well it was on the day, as there were only Leaf Nismos there haha


Definitely buying a Leaf NISMO over a Prius lol

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Oh 100%. In Japan you can so get away with it especially if you live in the city. Charging stations are everywhere and they keep expanding. There are even free ones at some shopping malls.


My issue with electric cars are 2 things: No noise, and no manual transmission because it isn't necessary. The no manual trans doesn't bother me as much as no noise. I grew up around good sounding engines, and suddenly going to a car that just whirs as it accelerates makes the whole experience for me well....dull. I wouldn't really mind some fake noise, i just can't stand the quiet whir that electric motors come with.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

I personally don't mind it much, there is noise, it just makes you feel like you are in an episode of the Jetsons lol




The future is 100% electric but the power source will be not a battery pack. Will be hydrogen.
About battery they are too expensive and too many raw materials for built them.


Actually, range is not a real problem with electric car, but the time it's take to recharge is.
200kms is ok if it take just 2 to 3 minutes to get the full range available again.


The missing exhaust note is a big issue for me. Manufacturers can add exhausts from different cars e.g: GT-R’s e.t.c which work in sink with the car. That would solve my issue.


You wouldn't feel like a total loser if you pulled up next to a straight piped Lamborghini V12 that started revving next to your girlfriend?

"Here baby, turn up my exhaust noises."

You're going to look like a weapons grade tool bag son.


To be honest, I don’t care for the push of fwd vehicles,I own a i3,it’s alittle twitchy,but it keeps me engaged. I wish other manufacturers would build neutral handling cars,other than bmw and Tesla.


P.s. I do think the nismo is sharp.!


I'm really trying hard not to hate EVs, and I'm getting more open to them. However I just can't get excited about them until we get some more home garage friendly tuning options, hopefully some day we'll see aftermarket motor options and tweakable ECUs, though that's not the way the car industry is heading...


2 things to touch on here.

1. Why can't the big manufacturers (Nissan, Toyota, Etc.) make an EV car that doesn't look awkward. Yes I will admit the Nismo version is nice, but the base car until the red bits and edgier bumpers is still an awkward, tall, stumpy, lumpy car. The Prius is no different. It's like the manufacturers have decided that people who will want electric cars, have no style. Look further back to the Honda Insight...also an awkward looking car. I have to hand it to Tesla for showing the world that electric cars can actually be cool. I fully understand that they are not at all affordable for us mere mortals but if one man can start up a company and sell stylish, high end EV's, why can't our big manufacturers actually put out an EV that is cool and doesn't need it's tuning house to make it "cooler."

2. We all seem to be missing something here with EV's or at least I haven't heard what the solution is. Everyone praises the zero emissions and oh yay it's helping the environment and stuff. We all have electronic, battery-powered devices and we all know that batteries don't last forever. We also know that batteries aren't cheap. Even running to the store to pick up batteries for your TV remote are costly. So what happens when your planet-saving EV finally needs to have the batteries replaced? How much will that cost? What impact does this have on the environment to attempt to recycle these batteries? There are all sorts of chemicals in batteries. Is battery-powered really our saving grace or a band-aid until we find some new energy source that will actually be sustainable? I'm not knocking alternative fuel sources, but I also don't think that battery packs are the way to go either.


Exactly what will they do with all these lithium ion battery packs when they start to degrade? It's funny how everyone is totting this as the future when experienced people in the science community know this is just creating a massive future problem when you have to deal with all these battery packs decaying into the earth.

EVs are just another speed bump we think is slowing down the inevitability of time. Great to see Nismo getting in on all the action.


Reminds me of plastic bags. Oh no we're destroying trees with our paper bags (even though paper tends to be made from trees farmed specifically for the purpose), we need to use plastic. Fast forward a few decades... oh no we're destroying the oceans with our plastic bags, now we need to go back to paper. Or these stupid reusable shopping bags that harbor dangerous bacteria. Would have been better for everyone if they'd just left us all alone in the first place, and this could end up being the same way.


I was just thinking about Stirling engines, maybe 2 battery 4 small Stirling engine to solve charging and battery problem! I think it's good idea. Stirling engine will charge the battery, battery will power up electric motor, electric motors will move vehicle and generate heat! Stirling engine will use that heat to continue working!
simple, I'm GENIUS! :D


Great point shotgun. M89 i think you missed my point, but lol I will look up sitrling engines and learn something. good lookin out *thumbs up*


EVs are utter and complete garbage and anyone who truly believes it’s the answer for the future is a seriously ignorant individual. Where are the batteries gonna get dumped several years down the road when they die, where is all the electricity coming from to power MILLIONS of cars on top of all the shit we need power for now. EVs are for smug idiots


I predict that, 10 years from now, electric propulsion will be the weapon-of-choice for sports cars. Innovations like dry-cell batteries, high-efficiency capacitors, custom-wound electric motors will be the tuning scene, who can squeeze every watt out of their volts (or visa-versa, I don't know). When people can refill a home charging station with solar panels by day, and charge their cars by night, there will be a sea change of attitudes.


The only nice thing I can say about electric cars is that they don't drive themselves. The whole BEV thing has got to die.


I doubt I'll ever own an EV myself. I'm a petrol head and there's no space in my mind for ownership of one. But there are several other reasons against the idea. Valid ones, even:

(1). Notice Toyota, who was the first manufacturer to offer a mass produced Hybrid (1st generation Prius - 1997) hasn't jumped the bandwagon and started offering EV's to date.... Their stance is to offer a large range of Hybrids instead, including the latest plug-ins.
Why? - Presumably because they recognise that motorists demand range without wasted time in any given situation. For example, in harsh winter conditions - battery range can be expected to halve. And what will happen when there's a disproportionate amount of EV's on the roads and not enough charging stations? What about people who live in apartments and cannot plug their EV's in at night?
The experienced & global answer that Toyota has come up with is the plug-in Hybrid, which addresses the possible scenarios above. Not least, some of Toyota's Hybrids (& Honda's) are actually pretty cool. Lexus LC500h or NSX anybody?

(2). It's farcial to believe that purely EV cars are environmentally friendly. The carbon emissions that result in extracting, refining, transporting enough lithium to make a battery pack for an EV has been quoted as the equivalent of doing 200,000km in a modern Turbo Diesel car. Not least, in terms of physics, there are energy losses each time energy is converted from one form into another. Most energy from power stations is still produced from burning coal, fossil fuels, or from nuclear power. I know I'd rather run a car that burns oil derived fuels than running off electricity derived from nuclear power... The effects of nuclear disasters (Which are likely to happen the more we employ nuclear power using stations that have already surpassed their design life expectancies) can be grave.
Also, what will be done with the scrap batteries at the end of an EV's life? Presently there's no infrastruture to recycle EV battery materials...

(3). It would seem that not many EV fans are considering what will happen if / when all cars become electric. Imagine the electrical load on the power grid when a whole country coming home from work on a baking hot summer's day and plugs in their EV's. Would the system be prone to being overloaded?
And if a scenario of inadequacy developed - being mostly privately owned around the world, what would power suppliers do? Keep prices of electricity low, or raise prices to cover the vast costs of expansion ? Would there still be free EV charging? I'd suspect it would soon become a thing of the past one the masses take to it ...

(5). Battery life. Will batteries be easily changeable in future? For example, would it be possible to pull into a "gas station", press a button and have a robotic mehanism switch a battery in minutes, so the motorist could continue his journey within minutes, on a full charge? And how would this affect resale values of current EV models without such abilities?
Still might not quite address the problem of battery degradation though. All batteries store less and less as time goes on, till they're eventually not able to store much at all...

(4). Right now, many governments are subsidising EV development with tax concessions. Will this continue or will they begin to tax EV's because of the real pollution problems that will still exist from energy production elsewhere? No prizes for guessing they'll be keen to tax the motorist when the opportunity is ripe.

(5). Finally, what about electro magnetic fields & eddy currents around people's bodies when travelling in these electric boxes for significant periods on a regular basis. Will there be health issues in a similar way to how health is affected by living beneath electrical power supply lines? I don't know the answer to this one, but I wouldn't be willing to make my family guinea pigs by default.

Personally, I'm not convinced the novelty of an EV wouldn't wear off, leaving me yearning for a car (or bike) that gives aural stimulation. I tried a 1st generation ZE1 Insight because of its interesting engineering, but despite the possibility of getting 70 mpg the novelty did wear off, so I sold it and built a restomod CR-X, which makes me smile a lot more than the Insight ever could.
As for a daily workhorse capable of high mileages - living in Japan, where infrastructure works from delivery by Diesel powered vehicles, where it's the cheapest form of vehicle fuel at a gas station, I'll stick to our trusty & indestructible Benz Turbo Diesel for the foreseeable future, I think - and on occasion make use of 1990's performance petrol cars & bikes for madness & thrills.
In terms of carbon footprint, they'll still be realistically much less polluting than a newly manufactured EV and leave a larger smile on my face.

I'm sure some will disagree, but the world will indeed become a much more boring place if we all agree EV's are the greatest thing. There are better ways to reduce arbon emissions and it's to do with agriculture, whih isn't a topic apt for discussion here, so I won't go into that. Each to their own, end of the day. For those whose main love is conversion to EV's - enjoy!


When there are more EVs there will be more people with solar, wind etc. If someone said you could get free petrol by installing a pump that cost 2-3 years gas would you do it? The grid will become decentralised which is good!


i'm guessing one day some tuning company might find a way to modify the software of the digital display with their own enabling more performance stats, (like how people managed to hack a R/C transmitter for more features) or the speed controller itself like present day ECU tuning. Curious to see the future of EV tuning


Couldn't resist:

"Nismo is already tuning the Juke – think about that. It’s a horrendous thing we are witnessing, and we certainly can’t ignore and put it to one side and pretend it’s not happening.

Here is a brand that we all associate with some of the most performance-oriented cars that Nissan has ever created, and its logo has just been slapped on a fugly mass-production soft-roader. Trust me, it’s just as hard for me to digest as it probably is for you; I have massive respect for what Nissan’s motorsport and tuning division has achieved in the past."