Independent, Expert EV Reviews & Advice Since 2006


April 20, 2012 By Paul Clarke

The Nissan LEAF NISMO RC is a racing version of the all-electric Nissan LEAF; it may be more exciting to drive than a standard LEAF, but is it fair to view it in comparison to the Nissan GT-R and Nissan JUKE-R?

Whether that was the intention or not, that was the natural outcome when Nissan provided all three cars to test on its high-speed track.

Nissan LEAF NISMO RC is a racing version of the all-electric Nissan LEAF

Racing electric car

There are certain similarities between the road-going LEAF and the Nissan LEAF NISMO RC (Racing Competition) , most notably they share the same all-electric powertrain, which generates 107 hp. However the racing version has its battery, electric motor and invertor all mounted centrally, and is rear-wheel drive rather than front-wheel drive as in the production car.

The NISMO RC also has a carbon-fibre body which is almost seven inches wider and more than a foot lower than the standard LEAF.

The interior doesn’t quite have the same level of comfort and luxury features as the production LEAF, as it includes typical race car seats and harnesses, and a dashboard comprised of lots of seemingly randomly-positioned switches.

Unlike most racing cars, there’s obviously no audible drama as the car is ‘fired up’, and the main noise on the track is of small stones being continually thrown up into the wheel arches.

The Nissan Juke-R

The Nissan Juke-R

The NISMO RC feels very low, and well planted to the track. The suspension is firm and the steering has the quick reactions of a race car , and even the acceleration is impressive, with the electric motor’s 100% torque from standstill helping to provide a 0-62 mph acceleration time of less than 7 seconds. However the car’s top speed is somewhat different from typical racing machinery, being limited to just 93 mph. On Nissan’s track, comprised of two long straights joined by a single corner at each end, the NISMO RC could have benefitted from more top end speed. A track with lots of slower corners and no high-speed straights would be better suited to the car.

The car can maintain racing speeds for 20 minutes before it needs to be recharged; this can be done to 80% of capacity within 20 minutes using a fast charger.

The NISMO RC is intended as a showcase to demonstrate what is possible in the area of
zero-emission racing
. Although it may be designed purely as a racing car, it was on the track alongside one of the most formidable production car opponents in the business, in the form of the
Nissan GT-R
. The non-mass-produced and very crazy Nissan JUKE-R was also on hand as the joker in the pack.

zero-emission racing

The Nissan Juke-R frontal view
The Nissan GT-R probably needs little introduction. We’re talking supercar levels of performance from a car that’s half the price of most equivalent supercars. It looks like a stealth bomber but it’s still understated compared to the appearance of Italian exotica; we like that, and we think it looks great. It has awesome acceleration – 0-60 mph in just 2.8 seconds, and it can go on to 196 mph. However what really sets the GT-R apart is that its performance is useable in most weather and road conditions . With its all-wheel drive system and huge arsenal of electronic aids, it can easily handle wet and greasy corners thanks to the onboard computers constantly providing assistance.

Around the dry track the GT-R felt extremely fast yet extremely stable.

The GT-R is simply an awesome car, however there a couple of issues with it. Firstly, it feels quite heavy for a performance car. It doesn’t have the precision handling of cars such as a Porsche Cayman, and it can feel as though the car’s computers are in charge of the driving rather than you. Secondly, last year we spent a day driving the GT-R through the Peak District. Our normal test cars often last a week without the fuel gauge needle dropping below half-full. With the GT-R we managed to pretty much empty the entire fuel tank in four hours. It may be one of our most desirable supercars but with average fuel consumption of 23.5 mpg, and significantly less than this with the typical driving style likely in a GT-R, it will be difficult to envisage such a car surviving for many more years into the future (even though 23.5 mpg is actually relatively efficient for this level of performance).

Nissan LEAF NISMO RC tested in the UK

The GT-R’s powertrain also appears in the JUKE-R , which is the result of a cross-breeding experiment between a Nissan Juke and a GT-R; it’s a GT-R in a compact crossover body. Although the overall experience from the 485 bhp powertrain is similar to that from a GT-R, the JUKE-R doesn’t feel as planted; or another way of describing it is that it’s even more fun. A reason for this is the higher centre of gravity of the JUKE-R, and having a bodyshell that’s designed for taking the kids to the shops rather than for optimum aerodynamics in the wind tunnel also means that the performance isn’t quite up to the same levels . However a 0-62mph time of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 161 mph isn’t bad for a 4×4 crossover weighing 1.8 tonnes.

We like the all-weather performance of the GT-R and we like the compact crossover concept, looks and handling of the standard Juke, so we definitely like the JUKE-R, and it’s hats off to Nissan for being creative and brave enough to produce it. However the same issue that affects the GT-R also applies to the JUKE-R – it doesn’t really fit in with the plans for a low carbon world

Nissan LEAF NISMO RC interior

That’s where the LEAF NISMO RC comes in. The GT-R and JUKE-R are brilliant cars, but Nissan needs a back-up plan for when oil runs out or when cars such as the GT-R are just no longer politically-acceptable, and the LEAF NISMO RC may not be the final answer, but at least it represents first thoughts. However as much as we’re in favour of zero-emission cars , it’s just a simple fact of life that the LEAF NISMO RC isn’t as exciting to drive as the GT-R or the JUKE-R. But there may be a compromise solution…

We’ve had a cross between the GT-R and the Juke, so why not a ‘hybrid’ of all three cars, to take elements from the efficiency of the LEAF, the performance of the GT-R, and the fun of the JUKE-R? Such a vehicle could utilise the hybrid powertrain from the Infiniti M35h (part of the Nissan family) in the GT-R, build it out of carbon-fibre to save weight, raise the ride height, and you’ve got a hybrid GT-R crossover. You saw the idea here first

Paul Clarke


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