Nissan Leaf review

Our Rating: 
2013 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Nissan’s Leaf is still one of the best electric cars on sale – but it’s not without its drawbacks

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

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The Nissan Leaf wasn’t the first all-electric small car, but importantly, it was a big step in changing the image of zero emissions, battery-powered vehicles for the better. The first generation Leaf meant that unless you were doing big miles, the car catered for the majority of short trips with ease. This second generation model further improved the original Leaf’s qualities – the main one being an increased driving range. 

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There’s a good-sized boot and plenty of room inside, so with its practical cabin the Leaf is potentially a genuine replacement for petrol- and diesel-powered superminis and family runarounds. On top of this, zero emissions mean very low running costs – you won’t have to pay road tax or congestion charge if you’re heading into London, and BiK rates are low for company car drivers. 

Plugging it into the mains is how you ‘fuel’ the Nissan Leaf, by recharging the batteries with electricity. Nissan claims that this should only add around £260 to your yearly electricity bill – charging overnight is popular, too, as this is often when electricity tariffs are at their cheapest. 

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When the car launched there was only one model available, but now there are four different trim levels to choose from in the Leaf range. These include the entry-level Visia model, Visia+, Acenta and the top-spec Tekna variant. 

As you’d expect from a forward-thinking electric car, there’s lots of tech on offer in the Leaf. All cars get Bluetooth and USB connectivity, as well as keyless go. Walking up to Visia+ adds a reversing camera and sat-nav, alloy wheels and tinted glass, while the Acenta variant benefits from Nissan’s Carwings system, an extra driving mode to increase regenerative braking and cruise control. 

Top-of-the-range Tekna versions also get a seven-speaker Bose stereo, a 360-degree around-view camera system, heated front and rear seats, larger 17-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights.

Our choice: Leaf Acenta

Engines, performance and drive


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 accelerate from 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds and has a maximum speed of 89mph (87mph on the smaller wheels). 

It’s enough given how and where most owners will drive their cars, however, it’s easy to see how on paper these figures don’t look too impressive. But the instant torque delivery common to all electric cars sees all 254Nm of the Leaf’s muscle arrive at once. The car feels fairly fast in town as a result, scampering away from traffic lights. There’s enough instant performance that going for gaps in the cut and thrust of busy city streets isn’t an issue, either. 

However, 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 and lack of engine noise, it's a great commuter car and a decent runaround for short journeys. 

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

The extra regenerative B mode for the brakes on the Leaf mean that around town you can select this to pump more energy back into the battery when you’re slowing down, helping to increase the range that little bit more by recouping some energy that’d otherwise be wasted.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


The Nissan Leaf should be very economical to run as it doesn't need liquid fuel and exhaust emissions are zero, so you won’t pay any road tax. The Leaf can even be a genuinely zero-emissions car if you charge it from a green power source. 

A full charge should cost as little as £2, and from April 2015 company car drivers have had to pay tax on zero emissions electric cars like the Leaf. They used to be be levy-free, but now any 0g/km CO2 car attracts a five per cent Benefit in Kind rate. 

Nissan claims that only £257 will be added to your electricity bill at the end of the year (depending on your tariff and at what times you charge your car) 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 conventionally powered rivals and it does start to look expensive.

Interior, design and technology


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

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

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. 

The Carwings system is a clever innovation from Nissan that allows you to download an app to your smartphone and control certain functions of the car, including checking its battery charge level, start or stop charging when plugged in, and schedule when the heater or air conditioning comes on to warm the car up in winter and cool it down in summer before you start your journey. 

There are some neat details inside, 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 or quality, but the Nissan’s cabin is solidly built and feels robust.

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.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


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 – although this drops to 355 litres if you go for cars fitted with the Bose stereo. 

The driving position is comfortable with an adjustable seat and steering wheel, meaning it should suit most people. 

There is one major drawback to the Leaf’s practicality, however. Although it’s been improved with a mid-life facelift, the car’s range is the most concerning part of ownership. Once the 124-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 – but you’ll need to opt for the onboard 6.6kW fast charger to take advantage of this. If you do, it also means you’ll be able to fully charge the car from flat in as little as four hours at home. 

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 the maximum distance, especially if you’re using items like the heated seats and air conditioning. Thankfully the read-outs on the dash can help coach you on how to be more energy efficient behind the wheel.

Reliability and Safety


The Leaf has been a fixture on UK roads for around five 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 – as there are fewer moving parts 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. When you’re purchasing the car, you can either choose to buy the battery pack out-right, or lease it. If you lease the battery, and the performance drops below 75 per cent, Nissan will replace them free of charge. 

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

When it comes to safety, the Leaf is just as good as a conventional car and was handed a five-star Euro NCAP rating. It comes with six airbags and stability control as standard, while an audible warning system warns pedestrians you’re coming to try and stop people crossing the road in front of the near-silent Nissan.

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: 6 Jul, 2015