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Used Nissan Leaf (Mk1, 2011-2018) review - What's it like to drive?

Zippy acceleration, excellent refinement and a comfortable ride make the Leaf a relaxing partner. It’s not much fun though

The Leaf’s electric motor delivers swift and near-silent acceleration, while with light controls and a single-speed auto it’s a doddle to drive. Supple suspension provides a supple ride, but while the handling is composed there’s little to get a keen driver excited.

Engines and performance

There’s only one powertrain fitted in the Leaf. All of them have a synchronous electric motor rated at 90kW which is equivalent to 108bhp. It drives the front wheels via a single speed transmission, so you only ever need to put the car into ‘D’ for Drive, or ‘R’ for Reverse.

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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. Courtesy of its battery-powered motor, it will accelerate from 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds and has a maximum speed of 89mph.

It’s enough given how and where most owners will drive their cars, but it’s fair to say that on paper these figures don’t look too impressive. The reality is that the instant torque delivery common to all electric cars sees all 254Nm of the Leaf’s muscle arrive at once. The car feels fairly fast in town as a result, scampering away from traffic lights. There’s enough performance that going for gaps in the cut and thrust of busy city streets isn’t an issue, either.

On the road

However, it won't come as a surprise to discover that the Nissan Leaf isn't a car for enthusiastic drivers, and the handling is pretty inert. However, if you just relax and enjoy the smooth ride, it's a good commuter car and a decent runaround for short journeys.

Refinement is good, too. The electric motor is virtually silent and Nissan has worked hard to reduce wind noise. As a result, the Leaf slices quietly through the air, even on the motorway.

The extra regenerative B mode for the brakes on the Leaf mean that around town you can select this to pump more energy back into the battery when you’re slowing down, helping to increase the range that little bit more by recouping some energy that’d otherwise be wasted.

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