After six successful years, the Leaf is under attack from new rivals. We spent a week in it to see if it could stand up to the challenge
What do we have here?
In 2010, Nissan brought the electric-only Leaf to market, a move that put the Japanese firm at the forefront of the electric and hybrid boom.
By December 2016, over 275,000 Leafs had found a home, making it the best-selling all-electric car, ever.
Nowadays, the Leaf gets a single electric motor with a choice of two batteries, 24kWh or 30kWh. The smaller battery car is available in Visia, Acenta and Tekna trims, while the 30kWh is only available in Acenta and Tekna. A Black Edition will be available in March 2017.
NISSAN LEAF VIDEO REVIEW
Visia trim gets; 16in steel wheels; fabric seats; automatic air con; hill start assist and Bluetooth connectivity. Acenta adds; 16in alloy wheels; NissanConnect EV telematics system; B-mode (enhances regenerative braking); reversing camera; cruise control and speed limiter; rain sensing wipers; and automatic headlights. Tekna brings; 17in alloys; black leather seats; Bose sound system; heated front and rear seats; and a heated steering wheel.
All cars get two charging cables; an EVSE 10 Amp three-pin cable for domestic sockets; and a Mode 3 Type 2 seven-pin cable for public chargers which plug into the nose of the car. There’s also a port for a 3 Phase 50kW DC 400v for a fast charger.
Prices start from £21,680 which includes the £4,500 UK government grant. You can opt for leasing the battery rather than buying it, which reduces the asking price to £16,680 plus a monthly battery rental charge. Monthly charges range from £70-£113 depending on mileage and rental term (12-84 months).
We’re testing the 30kWh battery in Tekna trim which costs £27,230.
You can also see our ‘Living with an electric car’ film, which plots how we coped living with an electric car in real world scenarios with no prior knowledge or planning. While earlier in 2016, we met with Gareth Dunsmore, Electric Vehicle Divisional General Manager at Nissan Europe SAS to hear the firm’s electrical vision and how the Leaf can earn you money. CLICK HERE TO READ.
How does it drive?
As you might expect, the Leaf does what it can to encourage you to drive smoothly and slowly.
The instrument panel will reward you for such driving as you cultivate your own digital forest. It’s like a modern-day Tamagotchi. Annoyingly, if you stop even for a few moments, the forest is wiped out and you have to start again.
Mechanical encouragement comes in the form of an accelerator pedal that’s slow to respond to inputs, meaning more often than not you’ll pull away slowly. B-mode, which is selected through the gearbox, increases the amount of regeneration (i.e. where the car’s using kinetic energy to recharge the batteries) when you apply the brakes or when free-wheeling (engine braking). You’ll notice the car seems to be under more resistance and slows quicker.
There’s an Eco mode button on the steering wheel which can improve energy saving by an additional 10%.
Turn these off and the car feels much freer and will accelerate more keenly, although it runs out of surge quite quickly. All of its torque is available instantly and mid-range turns of speed are impressive, as 40-50 occurs in a flash. Push through the accelerator and there’s boost button should you need a sudden burst of pace, even with the eco-modes engaged.
Essentially the Leaf has two gears, forward and back. Simply move the ‘mouse’ controller to the side and pull down for forward and push up for reverse.
The Leaf emits an electric hum or whine depending on the levels of acceleration but overall remains impressively quiet. It sounds like a futuristic vehicle from Tom Cruise’s Minority Report. Some wind noise is noticeable at motorway speeds, though.
Complementing the relaxing manner of the acceleration is the supple ride which provides excellent levels of comfort, although some larger bumps aren’t contained too well.
It does roll too much though the bends but has good levels of grip. Its steering is weighted on the lighter side which helps around town manoeuvrability, yet still feels secure on the motorway and direct enough on twistier roads.
Overall, the Leaf is easy and stress-free to drive. That is unless you’re running out of range.
What's it like inside?
There’s a split digital instrument panel. The top section displays speed, time and outside temperature while the main lower section has details on the current battery charge, driving range and whether you’re using the battery power or recharging it (through regeneration).
The dash is dominated by a black gloss shield-like panel which features air vents, a 7.0in infotainment touchscreen and angel wing shaped automatic air conditioning controls. There’s some neat electric blue detailing and the gear selector is a funky addition.
Most plastics are hard although the armrests feature softer materials. The seats are soft but supportive, there’s a wealth of adjustment and despite the steering wheel only adjusting for tilt, it’s easy enough to find a comfy driving position.
You sit quite high up but there’s still plenty of head room, while shoulder room is good. The central armrest crowns a good-sized storage compartment, while the doors have space for a bottle and some personal effects. There are two cupholders and a phone tray ahead of the gear selector and a glasses holder by the rear-view mirror.
The infotainment system feels a touch dated and fussy but the sat nav function to locate your nearest charging station is essential.
In the back, head room is good while leg and knee room is decent. The seats are comfortable and spongy but you sit rather upright. The transmission tunnel is huge so will impact three sitting comfortably. There’s space for a bottle in each door.
The size of the boot is good but the Bose sound system on this version takes up floor space. As do the two large cases needed for the charging cables. The floor isn’t flat around the edge and the shape is a little meandering. It’s deep but there’s quite a high lip to get over.
CO2 emissions at the tailpipe are 0g/km but remember that any electric car is only as clean as the electricity going into it. I.e. if the power is from a coal-fueled power station then there’s a CO2 impact, whereas if it’s solely for renewable energy, then there’s much less CO2 involved.
Road Tax for a year is free while company car drivers get the lowest 7% BIK tax band.
Insurance is surprisingly high at group 22E.
Servicing intervals are every 18,000 miles or 12 months.
The Leaf gets two warranties, one for electric components - eight years and 100,000-mile cover – and one covering the rest of the car - three years 60,000-miles cover.
It’s not difficult to see why the Leaf has done so well. It’s easy to use and is a spacious car that offers quiet, refined and comfortable motoring, while at the same time wears an ‘environmentally friendly cap’.
Charging can be a drawn-out process and range anxiety strikes regularly. If you’re after an electric car, make sure you have a network setup for charging, whether at home or work.
We’d go for the Hyundai Ioniq as it’s better to drive and newer but we’d understand if you went with the Leaf’s proven track record and comfy ride.