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