Test Driving the Nissan Leaf Electric Car

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Feeling a sharp pain as you pump the contents of your wallet into your fuel tank? Gasoline prices are headed to $4 a gallon, and some experts are predicting $5 a gallon before the end of this year.

Getting better mileage can help cut costs, but the answer to our economic and global security questions can only be found when we abandon our reliance on costly foreign oil.

Imagine never having to look at the price of gasoline, or set foot in a gas station -- unless of course you have a craving for a 48-ounce grape Slurpee or an overcooked hot dog.

I have always wanted to own an electric car, and so took notice when Nissan announced the release of the first mass-produced battery-powered car. In April of last year, 20,000 Nissan Leaf electric cars were made available through on-line registration. For a refundable deposit of $99, I could reserve my place in alternative fuel history.

I typed my credit card number, expiration date and even the three-digit security code, happily clicking "SEND." While my order winds its way through the manufacturing process, Nissan provided me with a shiny new silver 2011 model so that I could share my driving experience with you, our ABCNews.com readers.

Futuristically styled, the Leaf is unlike some hybrids that seem "geeky." It's a compact automobile, but the passenger compartment is spacious, with seating for five.

Simply press a button and the dashboard comes to life with bells, lights, and a colorful, informative display. The driving range is clearly shown on the dashboard or the LCD screen.

The Leaf comes standard with many features normally found on higher priced cars: Satellite radio, navigation, Bluetooth and keyless "ignition" are not options -- they're included in the base price.

At $32,780 it isn't exactly cheap, but subtract the $7,500 federal alternative energy tax credit, as well as other local incentives such as California's $5,000 cash rebate, and price drops to around $20,000.

Unlike hybrids, electric cars are eligible for HOV lane stickers. Some drivers consider the carpool lane perk priceless.

The Leaf is a fun drive. Its low center of gravity is enhanced by the placement of the battery pack, with weight distributed evenly across the car.

It handles well, and the acceleration is quick and powerful. Because there is no gasoline engine to kick in or shut off, as there is in hybrid cars, there is no delay or shudder.

As you press the accelerator the car emits a very cool "spaceship sound" designed to be heard by pedestrians, warning them of your approach. It isn't exactly magnetic levitation, but George Jetson would certainly approve.

The sound cuts out at 20 MPH, the assumption being that pedestrians can't accelerate beyond that range.

According to current research, the average American commutes 23 minutes to work. Using these figures, it's easy to see that most of us do not drive long distances performing our daily tasks. Even driving to work, shopping at the market, or going out to dinner, we're not likely to drive more than 50 miles a day.

When asked about buying an electric car, some drivers express "range anxiety" -- the fear of rolling to the shoulder of the highway with the dashboard flashing, "Driving range = 0 miles."

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