Vellum Venom: 2013 Nissan Leaf

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom 2013 nissan leaf

History repeats itself. I repeat, History repeats…well, you see my point. Which was probably one of the reasons why my creations in Car Design College were universally panned as being “too retro”, among other things. It was a similar fate given to Lenny Kravitz, except he was very talented in his form of artistic expression. And while you can’t “sell” most design studios on the power of history, I present to you the latest Nash/AMC Rambler.

I mean Nissan Leaf. You’ll have to forgive me for seeing the similarity between the two, in spirit, historical context and on the Vellum.

The Leaf embodies many of the (un)loved traits of modern cars, but adds the element of a compact Euro-Asian people mover in terms of its proportioning. Which unloved trait do we see here? Gigantic chromey lights! The look is, well, positively electric. (snort)

While hard to tell in a brutally hot lunchtime photo shoot, this emblem is a bizarre blue-tinted chrome affair. If this car wasn’t 100% electric-powered, I’d hate it. But since the Leaf is all electro-juice, the symbolism is quite delicious. In a very, very subtle manner.

As you probably already know, this is a “fuel door” of sorts, to plug-in the Leaf and recharge its batteries. The presentation is worthy of a gourmet meal at an overpriced restaurant. Nice job, Leaf Brand Management Team!

Design elements on this curious little vehicle are actually quite well-integrated. The honeycomb grille doesn’t look cheap, the subtle folds in the plastic bumper harmonize with the design elements presented here and the chrome trim isn’t an afterthought. If I told you this was a Lexus, would you believe me?

Once again, I really enjoy how the bends/folds in this design integrate into the package, reducing “visual” bulk from this obviously tall and tipsy looking vehicle.

While nearly impossible to photograph in this setting, the hard crease here is especially interesting, at least on a black paint job.

Born from jets? While not the 1950s space age tailfins, this (admittedly oversized and Chevy Avalanche-like) plastic casting definitely makes you realize there’s no conventional powertrain underneath. We don’t need no stinkin’ cowl vents for engine cooling!

I wish the Leaf’s headlights looked this slim, modern and sexy from every angle. This is a car from the not-too-distant future!

WTF is this, son? An absolute waste of real estate, and not in the cool chrome tailfin trim kinda way. To emulate a cool tailfin, the headlights must taper down quicker as they reach the front doors. Or maybe this hunk of plasti-chrome need not exist: round the end of the headlight like a MINI/500/911/Beetle and put the turn signal in a less gaudy assembly.

You know that any people mover with these proportions and chassis hard points will need a hunk of glass to avoid the Black Plastic Triangle syndrome, but you don’t expect this: a round theme on the sideview mirror base emulated in the glass tinting. Very cool! Also note the side window defogger’s feng shui like location perfection.

Alternative fuel vehicles normally have super-sleek wheels to minimize drag, so I am a little surprised to see such large holes on the Leaf’s hoops. Then again, the flat face probably helps more than you’d imagine…but I’d prefer the 1970s modernist perfection of the rims found on the last-gen Honda Civic Hybrid.

Small, stylish and voluptuous. I like the Leaf’s “hips” as the belt line fluidly moves upward, skyward. It reminds me of the similarly goofy profile of the 1974 Ford Gran Torino sedan, but with less real estate and almost no overhang. Which is why the Rambler analogy makes far more sense. This is a small car that looks distinctly familiar…yet not so much!

Mitt Romney would be proud. If those roof pillars aren’t an homage to the work of his father, I donno what is! While not classically beautiful, the Leaf is a Lenny-Kravitz-retro alternative fuel Rock Star!

Too bad about the black plastic triangle. I really wish the door glass and extended all the way back, like the Rambler from whence it came. Sure that’d be stupid retro like the glasses on Stephanie Courtney’s character in the TV show Mad Men, but why the hell not? This ain’t no Nissan Altima!

But when pairing the side with the rear, you see something un-retro: very cool and collected taillights. So cool in fact, that I wish the headlights emulated their slender and sleek profile. This rig must be unmistakable at night, in a very good way.

We may never see a vehicle this comfortable with itself ever again. While the Leaf is unabashedly tall, the taillights keep the CUV references at bay. They make you proud to have a tall vehicle, because it might be just as hip as owning a MINI Cooper. And the rear bumper? Sure it’s a massive beast like every other car out there, but the strong downward plunge of the lights almost makes it look like a toned and fit plastic form!

Pictures don’t do it justice, there’s more surface tension back here than you can imagine. And unlike the front, it’s not so much because of creases and harsh bends.

Although here’s one harsh bend that is hard to hate: the taillights absolutely make the Nissan Leaf. When’s the last time you could say that about a new car?

More blue-chrome goodness. Even better, the grab handle has a rather excellent casting that allows for an integral backup camera. Eat your heart out, Lincoln MKZ.

I mentioned the surface tension present in the rear, and perhaps this strong fold at the corner of the bumper is one reason why. Such is the beauty of a black body in harsh sunlight.

Wait…no plastic inserts or gaudy tailpipes? Obviously no on the latter, but the former is a pleasant surprise: sometimes lighting elements should slip into a body and never draw attention to themselves. Reflectors are one such light. Too bad the front’s side markers didn’t learn from the same master.

The clear CHMSL (i.e. high mounted stop light) is obviously needed to complement the taillights, but whatever lies above it is a wonderful conversation piece. The not-uniform diamond pattern is very, very eye-catching but difficult to spot from afar.

What is it? I don’t know, but they did a fantastic job designing it. Perhaps I should grab the press packet that came with this vehic…LULZ, OH WAIT I DON’T GET PRESS CARS, SON!!!

Thanks for reading, have a wonderful weekend.

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3 of 20 comments
  • 300zx_guy 300zx_guy on Jun 10, 2012

    @slab: I feel the opposite. The front is a bit froggish, but the rear looks pretty slick. Sajeev is right, the Leaf has the best designed roof-to-bumper taillights yet. @daveainchina: Sajeev does say "Too bad about the black plastic triangle", though does not use his trademark "DLO fail" to describe it. Speaking of DLO fail, why don't they at least try to match the color/texture of the triangle with the door frame? Still wouldn't look good, but would be better.

    • Daveainchina Daveainchina on Jun 12, 2012

      That's sorta my point. He's got a trademark comment here. I know he describes it but by not using DLO fail it seems to me that he's letting the designers off light because of how he likes the rest of the car. From previous articles I was under the impression that there was no excuse for it. Hence my question.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Jun 14, 2012

    Mr Fug Lee called. He wants his car back!

  • Dusterdude @SCE to AUX , agree CEO pay would equate to a nominal amount if split amongst all UAW members . My point was optics are bad , both total compensation and % increases . IE for example if Mary Barra was paid $10 million including merit bonuses , is that really underpaid ?
  • ToolGuy "At risk of oversimplification, a heat pump takes ambient air, compresses it, and then uses the condenser’s heat to warm up the air it just grabbed from outside."• This description seems fairly dramatically wrong to me.
  • SCE to AUX The UAW may win the battle, but it will lose the war.The mfrs will never agree to job protections, and production outsourcing will match any pay increases won by the union.With most US market cars not produced by Detroit, how many people really care about this strike?
  • El scotto My iPhone gets too hot while using the wireless charging in my BMW. One more line on why someone is a dumbazz list?
  • Buickman yeah, get Ron Fellows each time I get a Vette. screw Caddy.