Nissan Leaf review

Our Rating: 
4
4.0/5.0
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Nissan Leaf was an electric car standard bearer in the UK but how does it compare with more traditional small car choices?

For: 
Smooth power delivery, spacious interior, low running costs
Against: 
Limited range, expensive to buy, questionable looks

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It wasn’t the first car to go all-electric, but the game-changing Nissan Leaf was the model that brought battery power into the mainstream. With its practical, well equipped cabin and realistic 100-mile range, it’s a genuine replacement for many petrol-powered runarounds.The big selling points of the Nissan Leaf, though, are its zero emissions potential and ability to slash your car running costs at a stroke. In fact, Nissan claims that it'll only add around £260 to your annual electricity bill when it's charged at home.

When it was first launched in the UK, only one Nissan Leaf model was available. However, Nissan has since expanded the range so there’s now an entry-level Visia, a Visia Plus and an Acenta before you get to the range-topping Tekna.

The Nissan Leaf is a good way into electric vehicle ownership due to the two pricing plans - firstly, there is the 'Leaf Flex' plan, which allows buyers to own the car, but lease the battery. The second option is the 'Leaf' plan, which, in non-Nissan speak, is buying the car outright.

Nissan fits every leaf with Bluetooth and keyless go as standard. The range-topping Tekna version of the Leaf also offer premium car kit such as a BOSE stereo system, a heated steering wheel and heated seats. This means it can compete on paper with more expensive EVs such as the excellent BMW i3.

What's more, given its ample interior dimensions, the Nissan Leaf can compete with more 'conventional' family hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus in terms of practicality.

The downside, though, is that the Leaf (like other fully-electric cars) suffers from a limited range. Nissan claims that the Leaf can manage 124 miles on a single charge - so it's a great commuter in the city but not so great for long motorway journeys.

Our choice: Leaf Acenta

Styling

3.4

When it made its debut in 2010, the boldly designed Leaf looked like it had been beamed on to the road from the future. However, it’s now become a familiar sight on UK roads, and when parked alongside the quirky i3 the Nissan looks a little more down-to-earth.

Still, the fared-in nose, sculpted headlamps and distinctive blue badging help the Leaf stand out from traditional family hatchbacks.

The Tekna model benefits from standard 17-inch alloys and privacy glass for the rear windows, plus ultra-bright LED headlamps. Like the exterior, the Nissan’s cabin is starting to look and feel slightly dated. For instance, the blocky LCD display for the speedo and battery charge indicator look a little old hat, as do the graphics for the centrally mounted infotainment touchscreen – although it’s packed with useful information.

Plus, there are some neat details, including the distinctive domed gearlever, and the metallic blue trim that is used to pick out the badges and climate controls. It can’t match the rival BMW i3 for premium appeal, but the Nissan’s cabin is solidly built from decent quality materials. And while the layout feels a little drab and uninspiring after a stint in the futuristic i3, the use of gloss black trim for the centre console and dashboard helps give the Leaf’s interior a much-needed lift.

Driving

3.5

Apart from the eerily quiet whine from the electric motor, and the seamless surge of acceleration, the Nissan feels just like a normal family hatchback from behind the wheel. Courtesy of its 108bhp battery-powered motor, the Nissan Leaf will reach 60mph in 11.5 seconds and has a maximum speed of 89mph.

On paper, that doesn't look too impressive but the instant torque delivery common to all electric cars sees all 284Nm of the Leaf’s muscle arrive at once. The car feels nippy in town as a result.

Nissan Leaf interior

It won't come as a surprise to discover that the Nissan Leaf isn't a serious driver's car and the handling is pretty inert. However, if you just relax and enjoy the smooth ride, it's a great commuter car and decent for nipping about town in. 

Refinement is good, too. The electric motor is virtually silent and Nissan has worked hard to reduce wind noise, and as a result the Leaf slices quietly through the air, even on the motorway.

Reliability

4.1

The Leaf has been a fixture on UK roads for around four years, so any teething troubles should have been ironed out. And while an electric car appears hi-tech on the surface, mechanically it’s far simpler than a traditional internal combustion powered machine – so there’s less potential for things to go wrong.

The batteries in the Nissan Leaf are the biggest concern as their efficiency can drop over an extended period. If you lease the batteries, however, and the battery performance drops below 75 per cent, Nissan will replace them free of charge.

The Nissan Leaf features a standard, 60,000-mile warranty but for the battery and electric motor this cover lasts a further two years. 

The Leaf was handed a five-star Euro NCAP rating. It comes with six airbags and stability control as standard, while an audible warning system stops people crossing the road in front of the near-silent Nissan.

Practicality

3.6

Early versions of the Nissan Leaf trailed more traditional family hatchbacks in the practicality stakes, due to the battery pack hindering interior space.

However, Nissan has solved this issue and the Leaf is now as practical as any Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus hatch. Three adults can sit in the back in comfort, and the spacious 370-litre boot means it can carry plenty of luggage too.

Nissan Leaf rear action

The driving position in the Nissan Leaf is comfortable with an adjustable seat and steering wheel meaning it should suit anyone. The range is the most concerning part of Leaf ownership as once the 120-mile maximum range of battery charge is gone it takes eight hours to get to full capacity again from a normal power outlet. At least, there are more and more fast-charge points appearing in the UK, which can give you an 80 per cent charge in just 30 minutes.

To get the most out of the batteries you'll need to change your driving style a bit - it takes great care to wring the most out of the Leaf's range and even then you’ll be lucky to achieve 120 miles. Thankfully the read-outs on the dash can help you see where you are going wrong.

Running Costs

4.2

The Nissan Leaf should be very economical to run as it doesn't need fuel and exhaust emissions are zero. The Leaf can even be a genuinely zero-emissions car if you charge it from a green power source.

Both private buyers and company car users are exempt from any tax, while a full charge should cost as little as £1. 

This also makes the Leaf free to tax and it costs very little to keep charged. Nissan claims that only £257 will be added to your electricity bill at the end of the year from keeping it charged for average usage patterns.

Plenty of standard kit makes the Leaf seem pretty good value for an electric car, but compare it to any of its standard fuel rivals, then it does start to look expensive. 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.

Disqus - noscript

Did you try in cold weather when battery performance is dramatically reduced.

I don't think the performance is reduced, just the ability to accept a full charge. The range drops off a bit. But the new version in the spring/summer 2013 will have a much more efficient heater, better insulation and tweaks for less weight.
Seriously go take one for a spin, you will absolutely love it, it really made me smile, the instant power delivery is just such a thrill, it has to be experienced even if you would never buy an electric car, it's certainly changed my opinion of them anyway that's for sure. Just coan'f afford one at the moment despite having to pay 3200 Euro's a year on petrol. (not really savings as I've to pay a loan, but rather put it into car than tax and petrol and maintenance) The savings over ICE car I'd make would be huge and I've an 85 mile commute that can be done with just a top up of 5-10 mins on a fast charger, work are considering installing them but since I'm a temp worker I can't commit to buy, wouldn't get a loan anyway. But i would sure love one.
Go take a spin in one!

It's a far better resolved option than the i3, with a decent sized boot, and its a fair bit cheaper, but its not a BMW so is bound to lose any comparison tests based purely on the badge..It has also scored better in crash tests than the i3

The i3 looks a bazillion times better than the Leaf and you just need to accept the fact that a BMW is more desirable than a Datsun.

The i3 may in your eyes look better, and I admit, a BMW to some is very desirable, but looks and desirability are not everything, and in every other way the Leaf is a better vehicle, its has far less compromises than the i3, and the fact it has a decent sized boot is a big factor for the user who doesnt have the use of a second vehicle. The i3 could not be used by a family as its only form of transport, the Leaf could, you try getting a pram and few bags of shopping on an i3..

Your spot on. People who know nothing about cars will buy the BMW (just like they have always done) and those who want one of the best cars in the sector will pick this.

And that says it all....desirability over usability and practicality.

This may be one of the better electric cars and better in every single way than i3 (sorry no RWD but thats soooo important in a city car eh!) but it still doesn't change the fact that electric cars are pointless. They still don't go far enough, they still cost too much to buy and the fact in few years time they will be usurped by hydrogen.

You are in the minority

Those of you who think Hydrogen will eventually power cars, just remember that hydrogen cars (are) electric. The hydrogen gets converted to electricity to top off the batteries. The fuel cell can not directly power the electrics that powers the motor.

Hydrogen has some serious flaws in the fact it takes much much greater amount of energy to separate the hydrogen from water than it does to charge batteries.

By the time hydrogen is affordable or they can make it reasonably efficiently then batteries will have greatly improved and so they won't be a need for hydrogen, perhaps for certain heavy goods vehicles but I think batteries will be the main power source in electric vehicles.

Hydrogen takes serious power to make and that power mainly comes from fossil fuel, if it can be made cleanly then I could probably justify the huge amount of energy required but for now batteries are more than good enough for most people.

If I can do 25,000 miles a year in a nissan leaf with a 5-10 min free fast charge over lunch when I'm doing nothing on a fast charger that's 5 mins away then I'd be saving over 3,500 Euro's a year in fuel and maintenance

For the days the leaf might not work for me, the once or twice a year then I could get a loan of a car or rent one and I'd still save a fortune because 99% of my driving is well within the capabilities of the Leaf, for me that's about 85 miles a day and a fast charge can do 120-160 miles a day easily, with just one single fast charge. .

I agree, I am in a minority. The one that knows that BMW's are over priced, under spec'ed and nothing special.

So, if I have one of these, according to Nissan, my electricity bill will increase by £257 pa, not £256 or £258, no, exactly £257. How do they know that so precisely when they do not know how much I will use the car or what I pay for electricity? Without knowing what the basis is for their claim, it is meaningless. Shame on AE for meekly regurgitating such garbage without comment.
What should we understand by running costs? To me it is the total cost of running the vehicle, not just what I have to pay for fuel. If you take into account depreciation which, due to high initial purchase price and rapid decline is likely to be very high, plus interest on any loan used to buy the car (or loss of interest on your savings if you pay cash), this becomes a very expensive car to run.

Worrying that there are so many people driving around with defective vision. (hehe) More seriously the indifferent Euro NCAP result compared with the Nissan is not good.

Last updated: 29 Jul, 2014
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