Nissan Leaf (2011-2017) review
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.
What's not so good
Nissan Leaf (2011-2017): what would you like to read next?
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.
There's nothing unconventional about the Nissan Leaf aside from it being electric powered
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.
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.
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.
The Leaf shifts off the lights with surprising enthusiasm
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.
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.
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.
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.