Last updated on July 27th, 2020 at 07:35 pm
- Fast acceleration for a mid-range EV
- Decent boot capacity with rear passengers
- Useful range on e+ versions
- Less boot capacity than competitors with rear seats down
- Fiddly media control unit interface
- No thermal management on battery
Range (WLTP): 168-239 miles Top Speed: 90-98 mph 0 to 62: 7.3-7.9 sec Cost/Mile (@14p/kWh): 3.33 - 3.63p
If Tesla made EVs cool, Nissan made them a viable everyday drive with the original Leaf, and since its inception in 2010, the Leaf has grown in ability. Where the first version was only capable of an EPA-rated 73 miles, the top of the current range can stretch to a much more flexible 239 WLTP miles. The general appearance has mostly just been modernised over this period, but what was once merely a natty little city car can now be purchased as a vehicle you could conceivably use to travel between cities. Rather than feeling long in the tooth and a casualty of early adoption, the Nissan Leaf still has plenty to offer and is now available with two drivetrains, one that’s still primarily city-only, and one with a bigger battery and more potent motor. This was the version we had on test.
Price and Options
There are five different trim models for the Leaf, but these are split between the two drivetrain variants – one that is still aimed at city driving, and the e+, which was the model we had to review. The standard version comes with a 40kWh battery and a 110kW (147hp) motor, whereas the e+ offers a 62kWh battery and a 160kW (215hp) engine. This makes the e+ a noticeably different car to drive, happy to travel at motorway speeds and distances, where the basic model would be more suited to the odd jaunt on a dual carriageway and otherwise more local trips.
Within the two drivetrain types, there are various trim levels. For the basic drivetrain, the entry level is the Acenta, which is available for a reasonable £26,845. This comes with 16in wheels, the Nissan Safety Shield package, and the connected 8in touchscreen but only a rear reversing camera. The £28,145 N-Connecta model adds front and rear cameras with sensors, plus a higher-quality part synthetic leather / part cloth interior. There are heated seats and a heated steering wheel, privacy glass and 17in wheels. For £29,845, the Tekna model adds the ProPILOT Advanced Driver Assistance System, a premium BOSE hi-fi with seven speakers, even more luxurious seats with “Ultrasuede”, LED Foglights and an electronic parking brake.
The e+ Tekna is basically the Tekna trim but with the more potent drivetrain, although it does also include a metallic blue front bumper splitter and e+ embossed on the charging point. It also has an improved suspension setup. This costs £36,395. Finally, you can also get an e+ N-Tec for £3,100 less. This has the e+ drivetrain but with a variant on the N-Connecta trim. It has the blue splitter, LED light pack from the Tekna, the electronic handbrake, and the same suspension as the e+ Tekna, but not the other premium features. Note that all the above prices have the £3,000 government Plug-In Car Grant already applied.
There are lots of different colour choices, too numerous to mention here, ranging in price from £250 to £1,095 extra. You can also add features such as the Heat Pack (£295), ProPILOT Advanced Driving Assistance system (£595), Tech Pack with 360-degree camera (£450) and LED lighting pack (£450) to a lower trim level that doesn’t have them as standard, although the pricing is such that you’re probably better off just getting the better model. Our car had Storm White Pearlescent Paint and a Two-Tone Pearl Black roof, adding £1,075 to the price.
We’ve debated the appearance of the Nissan Leaf a lot at WhichEV. Overall, we love it, but opinions vary whether this is because it’s actually good-looking, or because of the statement it makes. If you delve into the specs, you realise that the Leaf is slightly taller than most cars. With the 17in wheels on our sample, it’s 1,545mm tall, which is 100mm more than the Hyundai Ioniq and indeed most regular cars that aren’t trying to be SUVs. On the plus side, the extra height provides more headroom for tall occupants. But this must also be why the drag coefficient is just 0.28, where the Ioniq is a much more slippery 0.24.
The end result of the additional 10cm is a vaguely SUV-like look – or what Honda might have called a “high-riding vehicle” – and this means the appearance is a bit chunky. The Leaf is definitely less generic and Prius-alike than the Hyundai Ioniq Electric. But it’s not going to be beating a Jaguar I-Pace in any EV beauty contests either. One thing is for certain, it’s distinctive, particularly with the two-tone white pearlescent paint and pearl black roof of our review sample. The design makes a statement about being different, and overall, we prefer this to a ubiquitous and boring appearance.
The extra height comes into its own for seating. This is an easy car to get in and out of, front or back, and there’s plenty of legroom in the rear. Four adults will sit comfortably in this car and even five at a pinch. The seats will be comfortable enough for a couple of hours. All occupants have electric windows, but the rear passengers don’t have their own aircon vents to control.
The aircon has auto, heat, and A/C modes, with discrete temperature controls. However, not only are there no vents for rear passengers, you can’t control driver and passenger side aircon levels individually either. Assuming you have this option on your Leaf, there are discrete buttons for the driver and passenger seat warming, which has two levels.
Storage and Load Carrying
The Leaf’s load-carrying abilities are a bit of a game of two halves. With the rear seats up, you get a sizeable 420 litres (with the luggage shelf removed), which is larger than the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, for example, and only about 20% down on a small estate car. So you could definitely get a couple of suitcases in there for a family trip across the UK or airport pickup, and it’s plenty of room for the weekly supermarket shop.
However, putting the rear seats down only increases capacity to 1,161 litres, which is less than the Ioniq’s 1,417 litres and way behind a small estate car. The main reason for this is that when you do drop the rear seats, they leave a shelf, so you don’t get a smooth continuous rear space but one with less height towards the front. This is because some of the Leaf’s batteries are under the rear seats, so these can’t be lifted in order that the seat backs can go down further.
This will be a problem if you want to move a fridge, but at least the batteries don’t reduce the regular load capacity, as they do on many PHEVs. There’s a 60/40 split for the rear seats for different load sizes and passenger numbers. The maximum load is a reasonable 450kg, which should be enough for four adults and luggage. There’s no space under the front bonnet, either, as this is taken up by the engine and other electronics.
The steering wheel is bristling with buttons, with ten on the left-hand side and nine on the right. It’s great to have so many controls within thumb reach while your hands are still in full control of steering, but you will have trouble remembering what they all do and they’re quite small. We found this a little fussy. There are umpteen discrete buttons elsewhere for functions like the heated steering wheel and opening the charging flap on the front. The stalk on the left controls the lights, while the one on the right is for the wipers. These are stocky, robust and easy to use. The climate control is operated with a series of discrete buttons, as already mentioned.
There’s no need to delve into the menus to access regenerative braking options, the eco mode, or turn on the e-pedal. There’s a separate power button, and on models with this feature, another switch for the electronic handbrake. The stubby little blue-lit joystick where the gearstick might have been selects drive modes. There’s forward for reverse, back for drive, and back again for the B mode with stronger regeneration. The eco button is top right, with the e-pedal next door (of which more later). You need to be braking with the regular pedal to engage this. Finally, a button on the top of the joystick enables park. It’s very useful to have all these discrete controls, and you even get an analog speedo on the dashboard, although you probably won’t look at this as the speed (and limit, as well as range) are visible on the 7in LCD panel next door.
One area where we think the Leaf doesn’t quite feel as modern and polished as the best recent EVs, however, is in the Media Control Unit. Nissan did pioneer connected EV tech with the Leaf. You could do things like check charge level and start climate control remotely as far back as the original version in 2011. But since a lot of the functions have their own discrete keys, the 8in MCU panel is mostly focused on the sat-nav, audio controls and a few settings. Even this uses a combination of physical buttons and touchscreen capability. We found the MCU features were inconsistent. The menu ribbon on the bottom is useful, but the displays each mode calls up have different user interfaces – some using icons, and some lists of descriptive words. Lucky, then, that you will mostly be using the MCU for deciding on your listening while driving, or setting your navigation destination.
The Leaf e+ is a more engaging drive than you might expect. The 160kW engine is quite pokey and can take the car to 62mph in 7.3 seconds (or under 7 seconds according to some reports), which is close to a hot hatch, and certainly quicker than most EVs in this class. Even the basic 110kW engine gets the Leaf to 62mph in 7.9 seconds. So neither version is a slouch, but the e+ is decidedly speedy. Around town you can really make use of the low-speed torque for rapid getaways off the lights.
However, the Leaf doesn’t handle like a hot hatch, even with the improved suspension setup of the e+. The tallness counts against it, and the suspension is soft, although for the UK’s decidedly uneven roads this is probably the best option for a family car. This is also a heavy car, like most EVs, coming in at over 1,700kg – around 300kg more than a Golf GTI, for example. At least most of that weight is low down due to having the batteries under the seats, but you feel it as well as the height in tight corners. Obviously, this isn’t intended to be a sports car. The e+ is more than a family hatchback, but less than a GTI.
Think of the Leaf as a family car that can be a bit sporty when you feel like it. If you’re hoping to get the best range, you might not most of the time, and this brings us to another key element of the Leaf driving experience. Nissan Leaf owners are usually quick to mention the e-pedal on their cars. This is a mode where the regenerative braking engages as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator, so you can essentially drive just by using one pedal. You feather your speed by lightly controlling the accelerator, and only engage the actual brake pedal in an emergency or if you haven’t quite judged where to stop. Most of the time, you don’t need to touch the brake pedal at all, because if you get your speed right you can pull your foot off the accelerator near your stopping point and the car will come to a halt where you want it. Driving with the e-pedal takes getting used to, as it’s a bit more subtle and fluid than the traditional two-pedal approach, requiring greater anticipation. But some people really love this style of driving, and it became quite natural after just an hour or so of driving for us.
Nissan quotes a combined WLTP range of 239 miles for the e+ and 168 miles for the standard version. However, this goes up to 319 miles when city driving with the e+. Nissan doesn’t quote a motorway range, and we suspect this could be a fair bit less than the combined figure and is greatly affected by driving style. On an enthusiastic motorway drive we managed to lose 64 miles of range in a mere 26 actual miles. However, you could improve on this a fair bit by being less enthusiastic, and by engaging the more frugal modes. It's worth noting that one area where the Leaf does show its age is in the absence of water cooling and a thermal management system on its battery – unlike the recently announced Nissan Ariya SUV – which will mean the battery performance will vary more than it needs to with temperature.
If you pull the joystick once more past Drive, you can enable the B mode option, which adds greater regenerative braking. There’s also an Eco mode that turns down the engine power and will improve range considerably. This is an example of a common EV problem – you tend to need to drive a lot more sedately on motorways to achieve the quoted range. But it further adds to the sense that the Nissan Leaf e+ is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades – economical if you want, or sportier and much less frugal if you want, too.
When it comes time to recharge, there is a variety of options. On a domestic socket, the Leaf will take 32 hours to recharge via its Type 2 connection. The on-board AC transformer has a 6.6kW ability, so if you have a 32A wall box or find a 7kW commercial unit, the e+ will take 11.5 hours to recharge to 100%. The 40kWh Leaf will only take 7.5 hours. For faster DC charging, the Leaf has a CHAdeMO connection, which sits alongside the Type 2 one under a flap with the Nissan logo, at the front. On a 50kW DC hookup, the e+ will take 90 minutes to go from 20 to 80% and the basic Leaf 60 minutes. Nissan also claims 100kW CHAdeMO charging for the e+, which could halve that time, but there are only 10 CHAdeMO 100kW locations in the UK so far, according to Zap-Map – and none in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
The basic Leaf is a reasonably cheap EV to run, costing 3.33p per mile with a 14p per kW supply. This is still more expensive than the very frugal Hyundai Ioniq, however. The more powerful e+ costs a bit more, at 3.63p per mile. That’s still going to be a lot less than a petrol or diesel equivalent. For example, you could get 67mpg out of a 1.5-litre Renault Clio dCi 85 diesel, but with current diesel prices of 109p per gallon, that would be 7.3p per mile, at least twice as much.
Whichever model you choose – basic, e+ and irrespective of trim level – the Leaf is in insurance group 21. The previous range varied between 19 and 25. This is significantly higher than most basic hatchbacks. The aforementioned Clio, for example, is group 12. So you will pay a bit of a premium on your insurance over a standard car. However, of course if you receive a Leaf as a company car, you will enjoy tax benefits from zero benefit-in-kind (BiK) as a company car like any EV.
All versions of the Leaf come with Safety Shield, which includes standard Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection. We didn’t feel it was appropriate to test this – this job hasn’t been written into our staff writer contracts yet. There’s an effective Blind Spot Warning system that we found would beep quite usefully and put up notifications on the wing mirrors. There’s Lane Departure Warning, although we didn’t encounter this in action during testing.
As standard, all Leafs have 10 air bags, ABS, and enjoy a 5-star NCAP rating. The ProPILOT upgrade, included with Tekna, adds Lane Keep Assist, a more sophisticated cruise control with adaptive braking, and a related Traffic Jam Pilot that will control acceleration in stop/start traffic. There are no fully autonomous capabilities beyond this but having adaptive cruise control and help with unpredictable traffic jam motion is a real benefit.
|Acenta – £26,845; N-Connecta – £28,145; Tekna – £29,845; e+ Tekna – £36,395; e+ N-Tec – £33,295
|168 miles (basic model), 239 miles (e+)
|Charge time (7.4kW):
|7.5 hours (basic model), 11.5 hours (e+)
|Charge time (50kW, 0-80%):
|60 minutes (basic model), 90 minutes (e+)
|40kWh (basic model), 62kWh (e+)
|On Board Charger:
|Cost per mile*:
|3.33p (basic model), 3.63p (e+)
|7.9 seconds (basic model), 7.3 seconds (e+)
|90mph (basic), 98mph (e+)
|147hp (basic), 215hp (e+)
*based on electricity costs of 14p per kWh