Capsule Review: Nissan Leaf Nismo RC

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

A lot of us have never been in a Nissan Leaf. But what about a battery operated Nissan Leaf Nismo race car? Chances are slim: Only eight of them have been (hand) built so far. Yesterday, I was in one of the few.

I was chauffeured around Nissan’s Oppama test track by Tsuigo Matsuda, who also had attempted to scare me in a GT-R. This time, the experience was electro-visceral: The immediate torque of the transmission-less racer slams you into the bucket seats as if a giant fist hits you. There is something else: The lack of roar. The motors emit an infernal high-pitched whine, but it is never loud enough to drown out an intercom-less chat with the driver as he manhandles that car through the turns. You can even hear the gravel being catapulted by the tires into the carbon fiber.

The Leaf Nismo shares the same powertrain and battery as the Leaf. The difference comes from a rigorous diet: The Leaf Nismo has a full carbon fiber monocoque body that reduced the already lithe 1,520 kg of the Leaf down to 925 kg. The weight to power ratio jumps to 11.56 kg / kW. Every Newton meter of torque only needs to propel 3.3 kg. Those specs were severely degraded by my presence in the passenger seat.

The current racer definitely isn’t suited for the 24 hours of Le Mans. Driven racing style, the battery is depleted in about 30 minutes. Even on a quickcharger, the Leaf Nismo needs another 30 minutes to recharge. Any fantasies of Better Place style battery swapping in the pits are quickly dispelled by comments that changing the battery takes an hour, 30 minutes if two guys work real fast. Any way you do it, be prepared for half hour pitstops.

Also, hot laps make the car run hot. Walking behind the shed, I see the Leaf Nismo on a quickcharger, connected by four humongous hoses. “Wow, that’s cabling for serious amps,” says I. “Those are airconditioner hoses,” explain the techs. They are used to cool the midship inverter, positioned right behind the seats.


Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • CJinSD CJinSD on Nov 06, 2011

    Just to make the potential of this car easier to grasp for those of us raised on english units of measure, the Leaf Nismo RC weighs 2,035 lbs and has 110 hp. 18.5 lbs/hp isn't unbearable for a road car, but it isn't a high performance figure either. A Honda Civic EX rates 19.4 lbs/hp, a Civic Si about 14.3 lbs/hp. High performance sports cars are well, and I mean WELL, under 10 lbs/hp these days. The ZR1 Corvette is somewhere around 5.5 lbs/hp.

    • See 2 previous
    • Niky Niky on Nov 08, 2011

      Not to mention the fact that x* torque at zero rpm means absolutely zero work done. *no matter how ridiculously big a number x is...

  • YellowDuck YellowDuck on Nov 07, 2011

    More electric racing car articles, please! Very interesting. Is that the first time the guy drove it on that track or what? I almost felt like I could have done better....

  • 3-On-The-Tree To say your people are total monsters is an unfair statement. You can judge the Japanese government but to say the citizens are culpable or responsible is wrong. That’s like saying every Caucasian person in the U.S is responsible for slavery or the civil rights era of violence and discrimination against African Americans and are benefiting from it. That’s 79 years ago, the average Japanese citizen born during WWII has nothing to do with what happened. Even my Japanese grandmother who was living in Yokohama whose home was firebombed was just trying to survive with 3 kids and a husband fighting in the war. Just like every war the citizens suffer, I saw it in Iraq. You can’t judge the people from the misdeeds of their government, my mom was born after the war, you really think she is responsible for what happened?
  • Irvingklaws Was a must have for my wife's new car. After years of windshield mounts, trying to keep the sun off the phone, wires running across the dash, etc...it's been a welcome upgrade. Don't have it in my current (old) car, just a stock stereo with the aforementioned windshield phone mount and wires...which is fine enough for me. But if I upgrade the radio with an aftermarket unit, the first thing I'm looking for, after separate volume and tuning KNOBS, is Carplay. Note, I've yet to find an aftermarket head unit meeting these basic qualifications. The infotainment in my '17 GTI had both of these and was near perfect, I'd be happy with that unit in any car.
  • Haze3 Near must have... car guy make car, software guy make software THAT I CAN USE EVERYWHERE and not just on some specific brand of truck/car/suv.
  • Wolfwagen If there is no Rust or rot this would be a good buy when MB craftsmanship and engineering meant something. While I prefer the 500 or 560 for the larger engine, this is good
  • Wolfwagen Tim, Now you should ask the B&B who we want to succeed and why. You could limit it to EV or non- North American MFGs.
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