Used Nissan Leaf (Mk1, 2011-2017) review

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

Electric cars are now such a regular sight on UK roads that you’d be forgiven for forgetting the first mainstream EV, the Nissan Leaf, only went on sale a mere 10 years ago. The original Leaf was a groundbreaking car for Nissan, and used examples now make for a low-price entry to EV motoring for those looking to make the switch from petrol or diesel.

The Leaf was the first successful mass-produced car designed from the outset to run purely on electricity, and it therefore blazed a trail. The earliest cars may now seem somewhat outdated in terms of their charging times and range - making the original Leaf seem uncompetitive compared to more modern rivals, like those in the Tesla range - but don’t write it off too readily because it can still make lots of sense.

Models covered

  • Nissan Leaf Mk1 (2011-2017) - It was revolutionary as a new car, and the all-electric Leaf can now be found as a great used buy.

History

The first-generation Nissan Leaf arrived in the UK in March 2011, a few months after making its debut in the US and Japan. All models had an 80kW (107bhp) electric motor and a 24kWh battery pack with just one trim level. These first Leafs were built in Japan and their official range was 109 miles.

In March 2013 a British-built Leaf was introduced and the range grew to three trim levels (Visia, Acenta and Tekna, with a Visia+ model arriving soon after). Software tweaks allowed a fast-charge (6.6kW) option along with an increase in range to 124 miles.

In July 2015 a fifth trim level (the Acenta+) appeared, with a standard fast charger. Two months later a 30kWh battery pack became available to increase the range to 155 miles, although the original 24kWh battery was still offered.

After selling over half a million cars, Nissan ended production of the Leaf MK1 in 2017 to make way for the all-new MK2 model.

Which one should I buy?

Some early Leafs have a leased battery pack; such cars are significantly cheaper to buy because you pay a separate monthly fee for the battery, but these cars are rare, and it’s possible to pay off the lease so you own the batteries. However, you’ll then be liable for any costs in the event of failure.

Initially only one trim was available, which came with sat nav, climate control and 16-inch alloys. 

The range expanded in March 2013 to three trim levels. The base-level Visia was pretty well equipped with all-round electric windows, climate control, power mirrors and Bluetooth, but it didn't offer fast charging (6.6kW) or an infotainment screen. The Visia+ upgrade added alloys, privacy glass and cruise control. 

We’d recommend opting for at least the mid-range Acenta trim as this includes the fast charging facility, a more sophisticated infotainment system, a rear-view camera and automatic lights and wipers. If you want to go all-out, the range-topping Tekna adds leather, 17-inch wheels and a Bose hi-fi, plus heating for the seats and door mirrors.

Alternatives to the Nissan Leaf Mk1

For years the Leaf had the electric car market to itself, which is why there’s not much else available for the same sort of money as an early example. However, the Renault Zoe is another cracking small hatch that’s very practical, although it is smaller than the Leaf. There are loads to choose from and prices start at just £7,000 or so.

The BMW i3 is a much more premium car with an impressive design, and there are a lot more around than you might think, but prices start at around £14,000. Some i3s are actually range-extender models, with a small petrol engine that can add range to the battery, so be sure to double-check which version is being sold.

What to look for

Charging cables

Ensure all charging cables are present and undamaged; new ones are costly, but you could consider a used one.

Charge times

It takes eight hours to fully charge a Leaf using a domestic 13-amp three-pin plug socket; the fast charger roughly halves this.

Phone apps

Buy a Leaf with NissanConnect/Carwings (Acenta trim and above), and you can monitor the battery charge remotely from your phone.

Infotainment

The Leaf’s infotainment system uses a pre-loaded SD card. Ensure this is present and correct, because buying a replacement can be costly.

Interior

With excellent refinement and a cosseting ride, the Leaf is very relaxing to travel in – something that is helped by the electric powertrain being  virtually silent, so there’s no engine noise to put up with.

There’s lots of seat adjustment, but the steering wheel adjusts for rake only, not reach, making it harder to find an ideal driving position. There’s plenty of room for four adults; five can fit if absolutely necessary, but it’ll be a bit cramped. The boot is reasonably spacious for a car of this size, and the Leaf can stow an impressive 370 litres with the back seats in place, or 720 litres with them folded – although they don’t fold entirely flat.

Prices

Check out the latest used prices for the Nissan Leaf on our sister site Buyacar.

Running costs

One of the things that buyers were promised with the arrival of electric cars was rock-bottom servicing costs. After all, with no spark plugs, fuel filters, cambelts and so on, an electric car has very few parts that actually need replacing, aside from the brakes.

Despite this, some scheduled maintenance costs for the Leaf – as with many other EVs – are on par with more conventional cars. Crucially, though, as the car’s mileage builds up, the servicing costs don’t shoot up as they often do with combustion-powered cars. So although the Leaf’s maintenance costs can seem surprisingly steep in the short term, those bills shouldn’t increase as the car ages.

The Leaf’s service interval is set at every 12 months or 12,000 miles, with services alternating between minor and major at a cost of £159 and £209 respectively; the latter includes fresh brake fluid, which is required every two years. A number of Nissan dealers are also including a year’s RAC breakdown cover with all services.

Recalls

The original Leaf has been recalled three times so far, firstly in January 2015 because of faulty steering columns being fitted during the manufacturing process, potentially leading to a loss of steering in the worst-case scenario. The 4,474 Leafs affected by this fault were built between February 2013 and October 2014.

The second recall came in August 2015 and involved 10,248 Leafs made between May 2013 and March 2015. Only cars with keyless go were affected; the switch could remain in the engaged position, leading to the electric motor cutting out entirely. The most recent action was issued in July 2017 and it affected just 65 Leafs made in February and March 2017. These were fitted with a faulty headlamp-levelling system; Nissan’s fix was to update the control unit’s software.

Driver Power owner satisfaction

For such an early EV, a 44th place (out of 100) in our 2019 Driver Power used car survey was a good result. The high spots were the Leaf’s acceleration, refinement, running costs and reliability. But owners disliked the design, interior quality and much of the driving experience, including the handling.

Verdict

For some buyers a Mk1 Leaf will never make sense because of the limited range and slow charging rate, but it’s more usable than you might expect, especially if you do mainly urban journeys. Many people bought a Leaf as a second car only to find that it became their first, such is its usability. What puts off some buyers is the worry of the battery pack failing with a hefty bill resulting. Although older examples will now be out of their original 8-year warranty, Nissan claims that failures are virtually unknown. Even so, cells can be replaced per module (one module contains eight cells; there are 192 cells in total), which helps to cut repair bills. With low running costs, excellent refinement and reliability plus a roomy cabin, there’s plenty to like about the Leaf.

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