Used Nissan Leaf review

A full used buyer’s guide on the Nissan Leaf covering the Leaf Mk1 (2011-2017)

Electric cars aren’t for everyone. You need somewhere to charge and longer journeys require planning. But low purchase prices, keen finance offers and cheap servicing could mean that some drivers can buy a Leaf and the repayments would be covered by the fuel and road tax savings. Early concerns about battery life and reliability have proven unfounded, with 170,000-mile Leafs used as taxis needing minimal maintenance and still retaining most of their battery capacity. Early cars in good condition cost around £5,000 and even a nearly-new model from a dealer is great value compared with the new price. Buy carefully and you could have a hatch that’s inexpensive to buy, incredibly cheap to run and pretty good to drive, too.

Investing massively in electric cars was a big gamble for Nissan, but buying a Leaf was also a huge leap of faith for customers. When it went on sale in 2011 the battery technology was unproven, there was little in the way of charging infrastructure and no one was sure if the car would be worthless after a few years.

Now we are seven years on and the world has changed. Emissions scandals have pushed EVs into the limelight, chargers are popping up in increasing numbers and the Leaf has proved to be vice-free and reliable.

With a new car around the corner, used models are now plentiful and temptingly cheap, but interest is increasing as more people realise a Leaf could suit them and save them some serious money. Therefore, they might not be a bargain for long.

Models covered

  • •  Nissan Leaf Mk1 (2011-2017) - Reliable Leaf is a great introduction to electric vehicles. 

Nissan Leaf Mk1

History

The Leaf was launched in the UK in March 2011. This first generation was built in Japan, only came in one trim level, and cars are easily identifiable by a cream-coloured interior. All have connected sat-nav, climate control and 16-inch alloy wheels. Other than metallic paint, the only option was a solar panel fitted to the rear spoiler.

The British-built Leaf, introduced in March 2013, brought improvements and widened the range to three trim levels. All got a slight increase in battery capacity and a host of other upgrades. While the exterior looked almost identical to the old car, the interior was now a practical dark colour. 

Nissan Leaf Mk1 reviews

Nissan Leaf in-depth reviewNissan Leaf Visia reviewNissan Leaf Tekna reviewNissan Leaf reviewNissan Leaf long-term test review

Which one should I buy?

If a model looks cheap, it is probably a FLEX car, which means you have to pay a monthly fee to lease the battery. Factor this into any price you pay, or ask the vendor to buy out the battery as part of the deal. Battery-owned cars will be much easier to sell on.

The entry-level Visia was designed for the fleet market, and is the least popular. The main visual differences are steel wheels and a lack of an infotainment screen, which makes it tricky to access some of the Leaf’s features such as programmable heating and charging timers. More crucially, the Visia won’t have fast charging or a more efficient heater, limiting its practicality.

The mid-range Acenta gains five-spoke alloys, navigation and a few other niceties – including the electricity-saving heater and the ‘Chademo’ rapid charge port. Tekna tops the line-up, with leather upholstery, LED headlights, heated seats, a Bose sound system, 17-inch alloys and LED headlamps. Try to get the optional 7kW charger upgrade. It lets you charge at home or at public charging posts much faster and cost £1,000 new – yet adds little to the used value.

Alternatives to the Nissan Leaf Mk1

Pure electric alternatives to the Leaf are relatively rare – and of varying quality. The BMW i3 is a brilliant car and there’s the option of having a range-extender version with a tiny petrol motor to top up the battery power. But they’re pricey next to the Leaf, with the cheapest used ones still costing more than £14,000 from car supermarkets.

The Renault ZOE is a fine EV and there is a reasonable number reaching the used market. The drawback is that the battery is leased, rather than owned. This guarantees the powerpack for life, but means buyers are saddled with a monthly cost for as long as they have the car. It puts many buyers off and will continue to do so when it’s time to sell the car. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn are identical except for badging, and seem old-fashioned and cramped next to a Leaf. Other pure EVs from Kia and VW are still rare on the used market. 

What to look for: 

Battery

Instruments give clear information about how you are driving and the range; smaller blocks show the battery condition – any less than 12 and the capacity is reduced. 

Drive

Gearbox is easy to use, with Drive and Reverse plus a mode to let braking energy charge the battery. Early cars had an electronic handbrake; later ones used a foot pedal. 

Charging

Most Leafs have two sockets in the nose. The small one is for slow and fast chargers; the bigger is for rapid charging at service stations, IKEA stores and Nissan dealers. 

Boot space

Early cars had less load space because part of the running gear was housed across the back seats. Tekna models have the Bose audio amp mounted in the boot. 

Interior

Japanese-built cars have a cream interior which doesn’t age well and shows dirt. Later cars are far more practical with dark trim. The infotainment system relies on an SD card to store information and each is tailored to the individual car. They cost hundreds of pounds to replace and synchronise, so don’t accept a car without one.

Running costs

Leafs should be serviced at 12-month or 18,000-mile intervals. There are few garages outside of the Nissan network which have the training or equipment to take care of a Leaf. A minor service is usually just £99, while a major check-up is £149 due to a brake fluid change and pollen filter replacement. Keeping the Nissan stamps mean the car is covered by RAC breakdown cover.

The car is light on brake pads, with 50,000 miles between changes normal. The motor’s instant torque can be hard on tyres, so ensure they’re special eco-branded rubber with less rolling resistance, or range will suffer.

Insurance costs are settling down, but shop around because some firms are more EV-friendly than others. Cover is cheaper for FLEX cars, with a leased battery. 

Recalls

The first recall, in 2015, was to replace a steering column clip for cars built in 2013 and 2014. Later the same year, a campaign checked the ‘engine’ start button on cars built between September 2013 and January 2014. The last recall was in July this year to check the automatic headlamp aim on cars built in February and March 2017. 

Driver Power owner satisfaction

Most owners seem to love their Leafs and it has always performed well in our Driver Power survey. In the 2017 poll it was named ‘Best Green Car’, as well as ‘Best Engine and Gearbox’ and ‘Best MPG and Running Costs’. Owners said they love the low cost of ‘fuel’, insurance and road tax, while the smoothness and refinement of the running gear was also praised. 

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