Could the Nissan Leaf be the iPad of cars?

TOKYO -- Could the Nissan Leaf become the iPad of cars?

This question occurred to me during a recent test drive of the pre-production version.

The battery-powered Leaf could be a big hit with so-called early adapters, customers who crave the latest in everything from high-tech electronics to environmentally friendly cars.

Here's why: Like the Toyota Prius hybrid did years ago, the Leaf will push the envelope in what is considered a clean car. For the greener-than-thou crowd, it's harder to be greener than zero emissions.

But the Leaf takes it a step farther. Its all-electric drivetrain also delivers a completely different driving experience. Its impressive low-end torque, linear acceleration and silent running offer a refreshing contrast to both traditional gasoline engines and hybrid alternatives.

So the Leaf might score on two fronts.

It will appeal to those who want to own a clean, green automobile. But it might capture another crowd that simply likes the way the Leaf drives. The Leaf is cutting-edge on both counts.

Of course, don't expect the Leaf to sell anywhere near the volumes of the iPad. But for people like those early Prius buyers, the Leaf could be a new status symbol in the quest to stay fresh.