Nissan Leaf review
The electric Nissan Leaf offers low running costs and a spacious interior, but a range of only 100 miles
Other electric vehicles are available, but none makes quite as much sense as the battery-powered Nissan Leaf. Very few cars can offer such low running costs and all versions come well equipped, with sat-nav, a reversing camera, Bluetooth and keyless-go fitted as standard. The big talking point, though, is its range of 124 miles between charges, which when viewed purely as a commuting tool or a town car, should be plenty for most people’s needs. With an entry-level price of £20,990 after the Government's £5,000 grant, or £15,990 if you opt to pay a monthly fee to rent the batteries instead, the Leaf is expensive compared to rivals like the Ford Focus and Honda Civic (and due to its relative exclusivity you won't find many for sale on the used market, either). It's also more expensive than the slightly smaller Renault ZOE, too. But while it doesn't offer the flexibility of range-extenders like the Vauxhall Ampera and Chevrolet Volt, it is considerably cheaper than both.
Our choice: Leaf Acenta
The Nissan Leaf’s shape has been dictated by its quest for maximum efficiency. The slippery front end and long tail improve aerodynamics, while its tall bodywork is designed to accommodate the large battery pack under the floor. The Nissan badge on the nose hides the plug-in point, and you’ll notice there are no tailpipes at the rear. Love it or hate it, the Leaf looks unlike anything else on the road. If you go for the entry-level Visia model be aware that you'll only get steel wheels and black plastic door mirrors. Inside, the array of digital dials, the central screen and sci-fi sound effects when you start the car make it feel like a futuristic vehicle from the outset.
What’s surprising about the Leaf is just how fun it is to drive. The electric car produces 108bhp, but it's the 284Nm of instantly-available torque that makes the difference, so the Leaf is quick off the line. Top speed is just 89mph, and 0-62mph takes 11.5 seconds, but in the real world it feels much faster. The emphasis is on comfort, and the soft suspension, light steering and single ratio gearbox mean it’s relaxing and easy to drive. The virtually silent motor and excellent insulation mean it’s eerily quiet on the move, too.
The Leaf scored a full five star rating in its Euro NCAP crash test, faring marginally better in adult occupancy protection than child. In terms of long-term reliability the Leaf (and electric cars as a whole) are a bit of an unknown quantity. Fewer moving parts suggest that there’s less to go wrong, and Nissan has a good track record for dependable cars, but questions about battery degradation over time and resale values remain unanswered. Because of this, Nissan's warranty is three years (or 60,000 miles) for standard parts, but five years for major components like the lithium-ion battery and electric motor. Buyers more worried about battery performance should consider leasing the battery instead - this incurs a monthly charge, but does mean that should your battery performance fall below 75 per cent capacity, you get a new one free of charge.
Considering the battery pack is stuffed under the floor, the Leaf’s interior is brilliantly packaged. The high roofline and generous glass area gives it an airy feel, while there’s plenty of space for three adults in the back and a useful 370-litre boot. Lots of adjustment means it’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, and the soft seats are a relaxing place to spend time. The most impractical thing about the Leaf is having to charge it for eight hours every 100 miles. However, high-voltage points do exist that are capable of topping-up the batteries by 80 per cent in just half an hour. In the real world you’ll only achieve the full 100-mile range with a very light right foot – and an eco mode, that reduces the motor’s output and increases brake energy regeneration, helps with that.
With zero direct tailpipe emissions, the Leaf is pollution-free. As a result there’s no road tax to pay, mpg isn't a concern and charging it fully from a standard socket will cost only a couple of pounds. Nissan estimates that over the course of a year the Leaf would set you back just £257 in electricity bills - with a single charge time of roughly eight hours. There are a growing number of public charging points you can use to top up the batteries, too, although many of these now require a subscription fee. Standard kit is generous and includes automatic headlights, rain sensing windscreen wipers, keyless entry, satellite navigation and you can use a mobile phone to monitor the level of charge remotely. However, you only get the air-source heating system, which is 70 per cent more efficient than a regular system on the mid-spec Acenta and top-spec Tekna models, while the excellent, lightweight Bose stereo is only available on the range topper. Going for an entry-level Visia model, you'll experience a real-world range about 20 per cent lower than in the Acenta and Tekna because you do without the special heater.