£21,180 - £33,030 Price range
The Nissan Leaf is Britain’s bestselling electric vehicle (EV), with more than 12,000 finding new homes to date. In 2015 the original 24kWh model was joined by a 30kWh version that, with a potential range of 155 miles, can travel further on a single charge than any of its rivals, including the Kia Soul EV, VW Golf GTE and pure-electric BMW i3.
While the BMW i3 gets a space age interior design that’s very much a window to the future, the Nissan Leaf is more conservatively styled. In fact, not many people would know that it isn’t a conventional car, with only a few digital readouts on the dashboard to give the game away that it is an EV.
Because its heavy batteries are placed beneath the floor, the Leaf feels more planted to the road than many of its rivals, although it only takes a few corners to discover body lean that is more pronounced than in a Ford Focus.
All Leafs are well equipped – the cheapest Visia model gets a reversing camera, sat-nav, keyless entry and an infotainment system that was updated for 2016.
It’s all pretty normal in here. Nissan’s intention was to avoid scaring off regular car buyers with anything too weird and wonderful, so there’s little to tell the Leaf apart from a normal model and all the controls are where you expect them to be.
Interior quality is starting to fall behind the best in class, though. Hard plastics make up much of the construction and there’s none of the feel-good factor you get in the BMW i3 courtesy of its expensive trims and airy feeling passenger compartment.
Nissan Leaf boot space
Boot space was increased back in 2013, when Nissan’s revisions to the car’s charger liberated an extra 40 litres for 370 litres of total boot space. That is a little less than in a VW Golf and more than in a Ford Focus. The only drawback is the strange shape of the boot floor but that is a small niggle in an otherwise practical car.
Nissan Leaf passenger space
The Leaf is neither hugely spacious nor cramped being about on par with rivals on passenger space. There is plenty of adjustment to the driver’s seat, but there is no reach adjustment for the steering wheel which might be a problem for some buyers. The back seats offer decent space and there is plenty of headroom so six-footers should have no problems travelling long distances. Not that the Leaf can travel particularly long distances.
A feeling of calm is the overriding sensation you get after driving the Nissan Leaf. That’s mostly down to the car’s electric motor, which operates in near silence. Where a petrol or diesel car splutters into life on the turn of the key, a light on the Leaf’s dashboard is the only indication that the Nissan is primed and ready.
Thanks to the electric motor’s instant torque, there’s no need to worry about which gear you’re in or the careful modulation of the clutch, you simply push on the accelerator pedal and the Leaf surges forward using its single gear. That makes it ideal for town driving where its instant get-up makes it brilliant for accelerating away from the lights or nipping into breaks in traffic. All models come fitted with a reversing camera complete with guidelines that make parking a piece of cake, too.
Out on the motorway there are also benefits to be had. Thanks to the electric motor a radiator grille isn’t needed and the Leaf has a slippery shape that not only helps save energy, but also cuts down on wind noise. Small 16-inch alloy wheels shod in relatively slim energy-saving tyres mean that road noise is extremely well contained.
Its under-floor batteries mean the Leaf has a low centre of gravity, which helps it hold the road well, but it only takes a series of quick of corners to get the car out of shape as the suspension struggles rein in body movements.
Technically, the Leaf has no engine. What it uses instead is a 107hp, 187lb ft electric motor fed by 48 lithium-ion cells, which gives it measly running costs of just 2p per mile. The power output doesn’t sound like much, but like all electric vehicles that torque figure is available as soon as you touch the accelerator, so it feels quicker than it is. Officially, the latest car will do 0-62 mph in 11.5 seconds and a range-preserving 89 mph flat-out, but at town speeds it feels much brisker than the figures suggest.
As for refinement, you’d struggle to find a quieter and smoother method of propulsion this side of a Rolls Royce Phantom. It feels more natural to drive than you’d think too, thanks to a ‘B’ setting providing stronger electric regeneration when you back off the accelerator, replicating the feel of engine braking in a regular car.
Nissan Leaf 30kWh
For the 2016 model year Nissan is offering the Leaf with a larger capacity battery without sacrificing any interior space. The new battery uses state-of-the-art technology to pack in more charge, so now you can go up to 155 miles at a time. Our real-world test proved that number to be closer to 100 miles, but that’s still a commendable achievement.
The reviews below all refer to the car's first iteration, available from launch. The 2011 Leaf is a smooth, quiet vehicle, but to get a true idea of the Leaf you'll find in dealerships, click on the drop-down box above and select the 2013 model, on sale now.
Most significant of these changes is the car's range, now standing at 124 miles (up from 109). A new on-board charger also reduces the Leaf's potential charging time, as little as four hours from a compatible 32-amp home charger, and just 30 minutes for an 80% charge at a fast charger. The changes have had physical benefits too - a 32kg weight saving among them.
Comments on the drivetrain are positive - the experts rate its ease of use and smoothness. It feels quicker than the 11.5-second 0-60 time suggests thanks to the electric motor's instand torque - a few critics say it feels little different from the diesel and petrol cars it competes against.
A five-star rating from Euro NCAP might be a common on decent family hatchbacks today, but on an electric vehicle? Yes, the Leaf not only scores a full five stars, but comes with a few extras too. There’s a total of six airbags, ABS, hill-hold, and electronic traction control.
Also, the inherent ability to not let energy go waste means that as soon as you lift-off, the regenerative systems start working, and that slows the car down – similar to engine-braking in a conventional vehicle.
For 2016, the Leaf got a whole lot cheaper than before. Opt for the Flex models and pay a monthly battery fee (£70 – £113 per month) rather than buying it with the car, and you’ll pay just £16,530 after the government’s £4,500 grant. That’s almost £10,000 cheaper than before and less than a basic VW Golf – but you will have to pay a minimum of £70 per month for the battery.
At least it’s cheap to “fuel” – a full charge in the Leaf should only cost about £2 if charged overnight, rather than the £60 every four or five hundred miles most vehicles will demand.
The Leaf comes in three increasingly more expensive trim levels – Visia, Acenta and Tekna.
Nissan Leaf Visia
Even in its most basic trim the Nissan Leaf is well equipped to appeal to executive car owners looking for a second car specifically for city driving. That means sat-nav, a reversing camera, air-con and electric windows all come as standard. Keyless entry is also standard, so there’s no need to spend your time fumbling for keys.
Nissan Leaf Acenta
Acenta trim makes the Leaf an even easier car to live with every day. It adds auto lights and wipers, but also cruise control so you don’t have to keep your foot on the accelerator pedal once you’re on the motorway.
Nissan Leaf Tekna
The top-of-the-range model that we tested is truly a nice place to spend time in thanks to its heated leather seats and heated leather-bound steering wheel. The windscreen is also heated so you don’t have to wait for the ventilation system to clear any fog. The new-for-2016 infotainment system now supports pinch to zoom and swipe gestures and in Tekna trim it’s hooked up to a powerful Bose stereo that can fill the interior with sound, should you ever tire of the Nissan’s silent running.
The market is slowly waking up to electric vehicles, but the Nissan Leaf’s new long-range battery should keep it at the top of the pack. The Leaf remains an excellent choice thanks to it’s practical interior, near-silent operation and lower-than-before price. If you’re happy enough with the charging times and still limited range (when compared to a petrol or diesel), there’s little that should dissuade you from getting a Leaf.