GRR

First Drive: Nissan BladeGlider

05th July 2017
erin_baker_headshot.jpg Erin Baker

“We wanted to demonstrate to enthusiasts that electric vehicles are the answer to driving enjoyment”, says the man from Nissan at Goodwood’s circuit on the Sunday of Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard.

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Before us, glinting in the pit-lane early-morning sun, sits one of two BladeGliders in the world; the other is wanging up the Hillclimb. Although formerly a working prototype, the BladeGlider is ready for production, and the will-they-won’t-they to-ing and fro-ing has kept journalists frothing at the mouth since the car’s 2013 reveal at the Tokyo Motor Show.

On Sunday morning at Goodwood, that hope is finally, decisively, dashed. “We have ruled out building the BladeGlider”, says a man I now dislike. “Maybe in 10 or 15 years… we just want you to see and feel the potential.” Nissan has decided the public – and charging infrastructure – is not ready yet for a full-on, “anti-establishment” electric sports car, was Andy Palmer described it during his time at Nissan, for £30,000.

So, rather glum, I don my balaclava and helmet and head out to the pit lane.

The BladeGldier is a fantastic looking piece of kit. Echoing Nissan’s bonkers DeltaWing Le Mans race car, it is similarly arrow-shaped, with a futuristic nose framed by an LED strip and a wider track at the rear, where boomerang LEDs form the tail lights. 

Because there’s no engine or transmission, or any need for cooling, the designers have clearly had a field day, fitting huge dihedral doors that are hinged right at the back of the car, and a cockpit-style wraparound windscreen that stops at about head height to leave you open to the elements.

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The interior is suitably futuristic, with two seats in the cramped rear and one driver’s seat in front, positioned in the middle of the cabin for a single-seater race car vibe. Instead of wing mirrors there is a screen either side relaying a camera view of what’s behind you (I asked why one was showing a mono image and the other full colour, expecting a scientific reply, but was told “one’s not working properly”).

All the major controls are on the steering wheel – not that there’s a lot to play with other than indicators. Two manettino-style switches let you dabble with traction control and regenerative braking settings, while the brake and throttle pedals are close enough together for some track action while not requiring a ballerina to press them. The screen behind the steering wheel shows speed, battery charge, which regeneration mode you’re in and torque mapping. 

Settle into the suitably futuristic bucket seat, trimmed in a hard black textured fabric and epoxy resin coating for more grip, and strap on the four-point harness. There are two colour trims – green and orange – the single block of colour covers the seat cushions and some piping and gives a sporty character to a car already dripping with presence.

Off we go. Trickle out onto the circuit and it feels, and sounds, like any other electric car – the quiet whirr of the motors, lots of wind noise and some tyre noise. Each motor produces 130kW of power, which gives it the feel of 264bhp in a car weighing 1.3kg. Williams Advanced Engineering has provided the know-how for the powertrain. Build up the speed and turn into Madgwick, however, and things start to feel different. The chassis is lively, the wheelbase feels ultra-short – it turns in sharply and tucks in, aided by a positive torque-vectoring system to control understeer, with three settings: off, age and drift mode, controlled from the steering wheel button, which control just how much torque the rear motors provide.

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In the front seat, the feedback from the chassis is fantastic – a supple ride, neat, linear movement – but the lack of a manual transmission and characteristics of a petrol engine takes some getting used to on a circuit, as you hustle the car through the corners. Thankfully, the regenerative braking, even in its harshest setting, is nowhere near as intrusive as Tesla’s system, so you do still use the brake pedal to slow.

But in the rear seat, where I sat for a hot lap, it’s a very, very strange experience. Because of the wider wheelbase at the rear, you sit outside the front wheels, and as you power through a corner, you feel like the car is constantly oversteering, but the driver’s hands on the steering wheel tell you otherwise.

From a design point of view, it’s a crying shame Nissan isn't going to build this car – it’s the perfect antidote to Tesla’s boring shapes. But is the world ready for the first anti-establishment electric sportscar, for accepting that excitement comes from a silent powertrain? Possibly not quite yet.

The Numbers:

Engine: 220kW battery, 2 x 130kW motors on rear wheels

Bhp/lb ft: 264/521

0-62mph: under 5 seconds

Top speed: 115mph

Price:N/A

  • Nissan

  • BladeGlider

  • FOS

  • FOS 2017

  • first drive

  • 2017

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