Nissan Leaf review

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

The electric Nissan Leaf offers low running costs and a spacious interior, but a short range

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

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The Nissan Leaf is a big name when it comes to electric cars - it was the first exclusively battery powered car to sell in the UK in significant numbers. It features plenty of equipment and a comfortable ride, as well as ultra-low running costs and an upfront price that's not as big as you might think.

When the car was launched it was only available as a single model, but now the range includes Visia, Acenta and Tekna specifications. The entry-level Visia version is an affordable way into electric car ownership, and it allows the Leaf to compete with some newer rivals like the Renault ZOE and BMW i3.

Rather than buying the batteries, you can choose to lease them for the duration of your Leaf ownership, which can save some money and keeps the purchase price, which is subject to a £5,000 government grant, as low as possible. The Leaf comes with sat-nav, a reversing camera, Bluetooth and keyless go as standard. It can even compete with family hatchbacks like the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf for practicality.

One thing electric cars suffer from at the moment is range, and 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. You could go for a range-extending model like the Vauxhall Ampera or Chevrolet Volt, but these cars are a lot more expensive to buy.

Our choice: Leaf Acenta

Styling

3.4

The Nissan Leaf is certainly distinctive and that's partly thanks to the aerodynamic design. The bodywork is sculpted to improve efficiency and boost the range of the car as much as possible. The unusual high tail is partly a result of aerodynamic necessity but the large battery pack in the rear of the car also contributes to the Leaf's ungainly rear end. Of course, there's no exhaust pipe at the back but you do get a charging point under the Nissan badge at the front.

Go for the entry-level Visia model and you'll only get steel wheels and black plastic mirrors, but all models are well equipped and feature a high-tech read-out of how much power the car has left and how efficient your driving is.

Driving

4.2

With just 108bhp, an 89mph top speed and an 11.5-second 0-60mph time, the Nissan Leaf's performance doesn't look that impressive. However, because all 284Nm of torque is delivered instantly, it feels nippy in town and it's pretty fun to drive around in.

The handling is dull and it's definitely not set up to be a brilliant driver's car - but if you just relax and enjoy the smooth ride then the Leaf is a great car to commute and nip about in.

Reliability

4

We still don't truly know how reliable electric cars are in the long term but because they have so few moving parts it seems likely that they will be just as, if not more, reliable as modern petrol or diesel engined models. batteries are the biggest concern, as they can become less efficient over time. If you lease the batteries, however, then if battery performance drops below 75 per cent, Nissan will replace them free of charge.

A standard three-year, 60,000-mile warranty applies to the Nissan Leaf, but for the battery and electric motor this lasts a further two years. Plus, with the maximum five stars from the Euro NCAP crash tests, the Nissan Leaf is just as safe as any other small family car.

Practicality

3

The large battery pack hindered the interior space of the early Leaf models, but this newer version is as accommodating as most family hatchbacks, and three adults can sit in the back in comfort. Plus, the 370-litre boot means it can carry plenty of luggage too.

The driving position in the 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 miles of battery charge is gone it takes eight hours to get to full capacity again. However, more and more fast-charge points are 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. Thankfully the read-outs on the dash can help you see where you are going wrong.

Running Costs

4.8

There aren't many cars that can boast such low running costs. With no fuel and no tailpipe emissions, it's free to tax and costs very little to keep charged. Nissan claims that only £257 will be added to the electricity bill at the end of the year from keeping it charged.

Thanks to rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, keyless entry and sat-nav as standard it's pretty good value for an electric car. Compare the Leaf to a small petrol or diesel car, however, and it looks more 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: 3 Jan, 2014

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