Getting the drift about how to make all-electric Nissan Leaf go sideways

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, i

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, it went sideways nearly all of the time. - Credit: PA

The all-electric Leaf isn't known for its ability to go sideways so Nissan challenged us to disprove this.

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, i

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, it went sideways nearly all of the time. - Credit: PA

The Nissan Leaf has been one of the most popular all-electric vehicles to date. The company recently celebrated 75,000 electric vehicle sales across Europe, made up of a combination of the Leaf and e-NV200 van.

Powered by a 30kWh battery, Leaf drivers can take advantage of around 4,000 quick chargers across Europe, which allows them to top up the car's 155-mile range. To date, Nissan customers have driven more than 2.5 billion electric miles.

However, how many have those have been done while going sideways?

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, i

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, it went sideways nearly all of the time. - Credit: PA

This is a question Nissan wanted answered when it took us to learn how to drift a Leaf, at a special driving centre on the outskirts of Milan, Italy.

The Leaf, being a front-wheel-drive car, isn't adept at the art of going sideways. However, it was revealed that with a little mechanical help it would quite happily drift like the best of them.

This help came in the form of plastic covers for the rear tyres, which, according to one of the technicians on site, had to be rubbed with sandpaper first because they made the car 'nearly undriveable.'

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, i

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, it went sideways nearly all of the time. - Credit: PA

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After being given a thorough safety talk, we were directed towards the cars. Inside the cabin, nothing had been changed – the cars were pretty much standard, save for those plastic rear tyres.

Up and running though, the changes are immediately noticeable. Even on dry tarmac, the rear wants to step out almost all the time, and you have to be quick with the steering to prevent the car from spinning out.

The first challenge was a banked circle of low-friction Tarmac, which was being kept wet by multiple water jets. With directions by the instructor to be gentle with the controls, we undertook the banking – and immediately spun out.

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, i

The Nissan Leaf isn’t known for its drifting abilities but with plastic covers for the rear tyres, it went sideways nearly all of the time. - Credit: PA

With a gentler approach, the car would readily get sideways and could be held there by gentle inputs through the throttle. Whereas in a rear-wheel-drive car the slide is more progressive, the Leaf would quickly snap around and if there wasn't enough lock applied quickly enough it would spin like a top.

After the banking section we were challenged to a slalom course – with a difference. Rather than weaving the car through a series of cones, we'd be avoiding large walls of water sent up from the ground by jets.

With four water walls, it meant the car was under extreme changes in dynamics. The knack to getting it round – we were told – was to take it much easier than you thought you should, and allow the car's weight to travel from side to side evenly. That said, it was still immensely difficult, with the final turn proving to be quite the challenge. This was because the car was in its final pendulum swing, and was quite tricky to gather back in to a straight line.

We were then tasked with joining the two sections together – without spinning.

The first section was the trickiest, as the water walls were large and difficult to avoid. Through those, it was straight on to the banked circuit which is where we'd got our eyes in. Once at the right angle, the Leaf was surprisingly easy to control – and we managed two full laps of the oval sideways.

The Nissan Leaf isn't known for its sporting credentials, offering drivers a low-cost motoring option rather than a high-speed experience. However, seeing one go around corners sideways showed us that it isn't all doom and gloom for fans of performance driving, and that electric cars – though not the most powerful – can be fun to drive too.

Do you drive an electric Nissan Leaf? Tell us how you are getting on with it. Email motoring@archant.co.uk

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