Car review: Nissan LEAF

Carlton Boyce / 10 October 2016

Comfortable, quiet and cheap to run, the electric Nissan LEAF is a thoughtfully designed little hatchback.



Score 

8/10

Nissan has sold more than 200,000 all electric LEAFS worldwide, with more than 12,000 finding homes in the United Kingdom. 

Between them, LEAF owners have covered more than 1.1 billion miles - and they must be happy miles because 96% of owners would recommend it to their friends and family.

But that’s a self-selecting, non-randomized sample and given the tendency for people to validate their decisions even when they’ve made the wrong one, the only way to be sure that it really is as good as they say was to drive one and find out for myself.

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A good first impression

The LEAF is a thoughtfully designed little hatchback in the modern idiom, even down to the blue accents that denote an electric vehicle, or EV. 

The raised headlights struck me as being a little odd but otherwise it’s conventional enough not to scare away potential owners because of the way it looks.

The story continues inside; this is an EV for people who for whom familiarity is more important than innovation. While the Tesla Model S and BMW i3 rewrite the interior design book for the iPhone generation, the LEAF gently insinuates itself into your life in a more conventional way.

Not that there is anything wrong with that; what is there is nicely done and well screwed together. 

There’s more space than you might imagine too, making this a genuine four-seater, and even a fifth person isn’t presented with too much to complain about. 

The front seats are easily the softest I’ve sat on for a long time, but they are also some of the most comfortable and equipment levels are high, even on the more basic models.

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The little details make a difference

One of the real benefits of driving an EV - apart from the absence of noise, vibration and harshness – is the instantaneous interior heat that is available; on a chilly June morning I was warm within a minute or so of setting out when a lot of petrol cars would have only started to get warm by the time I was coming home after nipping into town for bread. These sort of things matter, and they make a huge difference to the whole ownership experience.

And there is more to like. 

The instantaneous heat is matched by an instantaneous torque delivery, making a mockery of the official 0-62mph time of 11.5 seconds. The reality is that the acceleration to a city-limit 30mph is as quick as anything on the road, making this the perfect city car for those for whom nipping and tucking their way through the traffic is part of what makes life worth living.

A silent assassin?

Speaking of which, the LEAF doesn’t half raise your attention levels. On the way home from the train station after dropping off the delivery driver I nearly hit two squirrels and a wood pigeon, all of whom were startled by the LEAF’s silence.

Pedestrians too are regularly caught out by the lack of an audible warning of its approach, so you learn, and learn quickly, to take into account other people’s inattention, which verges on the suicidal at times. 

The LEAF might be kinder to the environment than a petrol- or diesel-powered car (although some might argue otherwise) but it is potentially very harsh on the inattentive.  

How far will your leaf float?

The claimed range is anything up to 155 miles, but I’m guessing that 100-120 is probably more typical, especially in the winter when power-sapping accessories like the heater and the lights are going to be working overtime and draining the battery as a result. 

Even so, I found that there was a certain pleasure to be had by gaming the system to get the best possible consumption, and by lowering my cruising speed from 60mph to 50mph and making the most of the regenerative braking on the approach to roundabouts and junctions, I could travel for miles without a corresponding drop in the predicted range.

Sadly, I’m a non-typical owner. I live in the middle of nowhere, and Zap-Map says that mine is the only charging point for miles. This could be a problem because what is frequently termed ‘range anxiety’ is more properly known as ‘charge anxiety’; if you know you can recharge your LEAF’s battery easily and quickly then the limited range simply isn’t an issue.

This is an infrastructure problem that is rapidly improving but only you will know if the somewhat patchy rural cover would rule the LEAF out of a place in your garage. I could manage if I had a more conventionally powered alternative for the frequent long journeys I do, and I suspect that is the role of the LEAF is a lot of households.

Urban dwellers might struggle too, and if you have to trail a charging lead across the pavement to reach your kerbside car then you might need to look elsewhere, although many find they can manage the problem by charging their cars at work, in an interesting inversion of the more conventional arrangement.

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A lot to like

So, there is a lot to like about the LEAF: it’s quick (and feels even quicker), comfortable, quiet and cheap to run. If you can leave with the inherent compromises that come with running an electric vehicle (and can afford it; a clear conscience doesn’t come cheap, although the range does start at a more reasonable £16,530 and discounts are available) then you’ll probably love it.

Stats

Power – 30kWh

Torque – 254 Nm

0-62mph – 11.5 seconds

Top speed – 90mph

Kerb weight – 1,535kgs

Official range – up to 155 miles

VED class – Band A

Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles (8 years on the battery and motor)

Price – £27,230 (inclusive of grant)

Price as tested - £27,975

Best-in-class

The Nissan LEAF is the original EV and still the best.

The best of the rest 

If you need the reassurance that a hybrid gives then the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the best-selling car in its class for a very good reason.

Left-field alternative 

The Renault Zoe is great to drive and huge discounts are reputed to be available if you ask nicely.

 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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