OPPAMA, Japan -- When your car starts up and you don't hear anything, that's the sound of the future. And the sound of silence from Nissan's new Leaf electric vehicle is almost deafening.
During the first journalist test drive of the production version (only four exist right now), the Leaf zoomed off with only the whoosh of wind and tires betraying its speed.
In fact, I found it deceptively easy to clip along at 60 mph without even trying -- solely because there was no engine growling under the hood and no telltale transmission shifts.
The uninitiated electric-car driver -- meaning all of us -- is likely to keep pushing the pedal instinctively, waiting for that engine rumble. Instead, the Leaf glided noiselessly and effortlessly around Nissan's proving ground outside the Oppama plant, where production will begin in October.
Engineers say it goes from 0 to 62 mph in a little under 10 seconds.
The car is so quiet that Nissan feels obliged to equip it with some new bells and whistles -- literally.
In electric cars, pushing the ignition button normally would elicit no sound because there's no gasoline to ignite. But Nissan solves what would have been a slightly unnerving phenomenon by adding a startup chime.
And to warn pedestrians that a stealth car is coming, Nissan composed another synthesized tune reminiscent of a jet engine hum that kicks in at low speeds, when tire noise isn't a factor.
But here's the good part: You can't hear it in the cabin.
Unfortunately, Nissan also has given the Leaf the forklift-inspired "beep-beep-beep" alert when the car is put in reverse.