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If you received an invite from Nissan asking if you’d like to learn how to drift one of its cars around a skid pan, which weapon of choice do you think they’d choose to help hone your skills? As one of the firm’s head honchos Gareth Dunsmore was keen to tell us as we arrived at the special event in Italy’s fashion capital, Milan, six of the last ten US Formula D champions were piloting machines from the company, so it clearly has a close relationship with the sideways sport.
You can understand why thoughts of slammed S13 Silvias and cambered-up 350Zs were buzzing through our brains as we stepped out into the complex’s paddock, then. But we’ll bet you our last Rolo that what greeted us would probably be the last car model on your list: a herd of specially-prepared Leafs, complete with ‘low friction’ (aka ‘plastic’) rear tyres; ready to be taken out with pro instructors onto the sprinkler-strewn race track. Unexpected, but the more we thought about it, the more we realised we were actually in for a proper treat indeed.
You see, as Dunsmore explained to us in the pre-skid briefing, EVs don’t have to be dull. He reminded us about the Leaf’s instantaneous torque curve allowing the car to be incredibly manageable during low-grip drifting situations. We were also drawn to the fact that the current 30kWh car isn’t actually THAT slow (especially between 0-30mph – arguably a crucial speed range for drifting), and that the Leaf’s yaw moment of inertia is as small as the 370Z’s… Enough to get our inner-fizziness levels up, for sure.
First up, a couple of hot laps with 2015 GT Academy winner, Romain Sarazin. Stepping straight out of his GT-R GT3 daily driver and into one of these specially modified EVs, Romain decided he didn’t need any surface water to get the back end out, taking us over to the dry circuit and proceeding to show off some incredibly well-managed drifts, many culminating in cross-overs through to the following corners. Git.
Our turn arrived, and with another of Nissan’s instructors taking the passenger seat, we were off. Would the slightly top-heavy family EV topple over at the first hurdle? In fact, we were rather surprised with how composed the Leaf turned out to be on the limit. A cut-away of the car shows why this is the case; with the batteries wedged evenly under the seats providing a much lower centre-of-gravity than most combustion brutes can ever manage.
Onto the skidding, then. Drifting a Nissan Leaf with plastic rear tyres is basically the opposite of drifting a high-powered rear-wheel-drive car. When the back started going on the Leaf (which it did, whenever you turned the steering wheel), it demanded a punch of the throttle and an instant dose opposite lock for the front wheels to pull it out of spinning. Counter-intuitive much? Still, the more you un-learnt ‘regular’ drifting, the more you realised just how much fun trying to tame the mighty Leaf could be.
What sounded like a slightly naff idea beforehand turned out to be a truly hilarious and enlightening day. Mad props to Nissan for trying to bring the fun side out of its successful EV range. Because let’s face it: most current Leaf owners aren’t in the market to have fun, so the firm is addressing something of an unknown audience here. But take it from us – electric cars can be seriously entertaining on the limit. Which is great news for the future…
Also on hand was the newly-unveiled Leaf Black Edition: a limited-run model of the current 30kWh car with some new neat trim and entertainment features (but not another hike in power, unfortunately…), along with London-based design shop Studio Hardie’s oh-so-cool office-converted e-NV200 van. Oh, and Nissan’s custom employee-built 48kWh one-off Leaf for good measure . Can’t knock ‘em for trying new ideas, can you?!