Nissan Leaf review
The electric Nissan Leaf offers low running costs and a spacious interior, but a range of only 100 miles
The Nissan Leaf was the first pure-electric car to be sold by a major manufacturer, offering very low running costs as well as decent comfort and equipment levels. After launching as a single model, the Nissan Leaf range now includes Visia, Acenta and Tekna specifications – with the entry-level version ensuring the Leaf stays competitive with newer and cheaper electric cars. The Nissan Leaf price includes a £5,000 government electric-vehicle grant, and you can save even more money if you choose to rent the batteries for a monthly fee instead of buying them outright. Equipment includes sat-nav, a reversing camera, Bluetooth and keyless go, and the Leaf offers similar space and practicality to more mainstream rivals such as the Ford Focus or VW Golf. Nissan claims the Leaf can travel up to 124 miles between charges, making it an ideal commuter car. And although you don't get the the flexibility of range-extender electric car such as the Chevrolet Volt or Vauxhall Ampera, the Leaf is a good deal cheaper than those models.
Our choice: Leaf Acenta
The Nissan Leaf has been designed for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, which explains its unusual but quite distinctive front-end styling. The long tail at the rear serves a similar function, and the somewhat high-sided look is due to the large battery packs stored in the floor of the car. Pop open the Nissan badge on the front, and you'll find the connection point for the car's charging cable, while around the back you'll immediately notice the lack of an exhaust pipe. The entry-level Visia model only has steel wheels and black plastic mirrors, however all Leafs boast a hi-tech and bright-feeling interior, with detailed readouts informing you of how efficiently you're driving and how much battery charge is left.
On paper, the Leaf's 108bhp power output, 89mph top speed and 11.5-second 0-60mph time don't look very impressive. But as this is an electric car, the 284Nm of torque is delivered the instant you press the accelerator, so it ends up being pretty good fun to drive, especially in town centres. Handling isn't very sharp, with more emphasis being placed on comfort than responsiveness, so it makes more sense to just enjoy the Nissan's relaxed, near-silent driving experience at a sedate pace.
The long-term reliability of electric cars is still unproven, but as they have much fewer moving parts than petrol or diesel cars, there's little to go wrong. Reduced battery performance over time is a bigger concern, however. Customers worried about this can choose to lease their battery monthly instead of paying for it outright, then if the battery performance drops below 75 per cent, Nissan will replace it free of charge. The majority of the Leaf's components are covered by a standard three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, but this extends to five years for the battery and electric motor. In the terms of safety, the Leaf protects its occupants just as well as more conventional cars, scoring the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests.
Early electric cars often sacrificed practicality to accommodate bulky battery packs, but the Leaf is very well packaged and feels as roomy inside as any other family hatchback. Three adults can sit in the back in comfort, while the boot can hold 370 litres of luggage. The driving position is excellent, too, with a widely adjustable seat and steering wheel ensuring almost everyone will be able to get comfortable. Of course, the ultimate test of the Leaf's practicality is its range. It needs to be charged up for eight hours once the battery's approximately 100-mile range has been exhausted, however more and more fast-charge points are appearing in the UK – these can give you an 80 per cent charge in just 30 minutes. Careful driving is needed to maximise the Leaf's range, but the dash readouts help you make the most of the clever brake energy regeneration systems to keep the battery going for longer.
No tailpipe emissions means no road tax, and no petrol engine means no fuel bills, so the Leaf is exceedingly cheap to run. Charging it from the mains or a public point does cost money, of course, although Nissan estimates the average Leaf owner will add only £257 to their electricity bill over the course of a year. The Leaf also offers lots of equipment for your money, with rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, keyless entry and sat-nav all featuring. You can also use a smartphone app to remotely monitor you charging process. Acenta and Tekna models are fitted with an air-source heating system, which is less of a drain on the battery than the conventional car heater found in the entry-level Visia.