We’ve driven the Nissan LEAF extensively already, but this is the new UK-built LEAF complete with various revisions; however there’s also more EV competition, so does the LEAF still make sense?
When it was launched in 2010 the Nissan LEAF was the first pure electric five-seat family hatchback from a mainstream manufacturer. This latest version is now made in the UK and has a number of revisions. However there are now an increasing number of other pure electric vehicles coming to market, so should you still buy a LEAF?
Unlike electric cars from some other manufacturers, the LEAF was designed as an electric car from the ground up. That means that there are fewer compromises to its design. It has a lithium ion battery under the floor of the car, aiding a low centre of gravity, and the electric powertrain has hardly any parts compared to an internal combustion engine – meaning fewer parts to go wrong.
The LEAF also has a unique exterior design, which helps to make the point that you’re driving an electric car; in our view, this is what the majority of EV-drivers want.
The interior is sufficiently modern to be in keeping with its electric propulsion system, even down to its computer mouse-like gear selector.
Nissan has now applied 100 changes to the LEAF based on real-world feedback, demonstrating its commitment to EV development.
Amongst the more significant changes is the switch from a conventional electric heater to a heat pump, which is 70% more efficient, helping the real-world range in winter. The combination of this, improved aerodynamics, and regenerative braking, increases the official range whilst practicality has been improved with a bigger boot now holding 370 litres – although the boot space is reduced by the cases containing charging cables, and the sound system.
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We’ve been involved in various electric car projects, and we’ve witnessed many people driving an electric vehicle for the first time. The result is always astonishment at how well the cars drive, especially in relation to people’s expectations.
When you start up the LEAF there’s no mechanical noise, just a futuristic chime to confirm the car is switched on. You then engage gear using the computer mouse-like gear selector, press the accelerator, and there’s instant acceleration that continues in a linear way, thanks to electric powertrains having 100% of torque available at virtually all times. The acceleration is effortless and almost silent. This is the point when most people test driving an electric car for the first time suddenly realise that this might actually be the future of motoring.
The LEAF even goes round corners well, aided by the battery’s low centre of gravity. In typical family hatchback fashion, it’s front-wheel drive. When you brake, the car extracts and re-uses energy from the retardation before it gets wasted, but in normal Drive mode there’s no unpleasant feeling of severe engine braking. However if you do want to capture more energy, you can select ‘B’ mode, which enhances regenerative braking.
There’s also an Eco button on the steering wheel, which extracts more range, but curtails acceleration.
The LEAF doesn’t have a reach-adjustable steering wheel, and the seat doesn’t go down particularly low, so some people may not be able to get the perfect driving position.
The Nissan LEAF is one of the most economical cars that you can buy because it uses zero petrol or diesel. This equates to zero tailpipe emissions, and zero emissions overall if you recharge with renewable energy. In terms of official electricity consumption, it has a figure of 150 Wh/km.
Although a public charging infrastructure is growing around the UK, most people still recharge mainly at home. To do this, it is highly recommended to have a home wallbox installed, as it’s safer and faster to recharge. Home wallbox chargers are either free or heavily subsidised, and they also come with their own lead so there’s no need to go searching in the boot on a cold dark night to find the recharging leads that come with the car. Recharging the car using a home wallbox charger is incredibly straightforward and takes a matter of just a few seconds to plug it in.
You will however need to wait for a number of hours for the car to be recharged. Exactly how long depends on how much the battery is depleted, and the capacity of the recharging infrastructure, but typically you’d be looking at around 3-4 hours minimum. Officially the recharge time, from empty to full, is 7-8 hours for a 240V charge. The optional 6.6 Kw home charger, as fitted to our car, cuts this to 4 hours. A quick charge, from zero to 80%, is possible in just 30 minutes, but you need to access a quick charger – these can be found at certain Nissan dealerships, and increasingly at other places around the UK.
Once you’re back on the road, officially you have a range of up to 124 miles. Like the NEDC cycle in petrol or diesel cars, this is not realistic in real-life driving. We were averaging around 80 miles of range per charge with typical driving – much of which was on motorways. The range improved towards 100 miles in urban driving – in other words the environment that the LEAF is designed for.
Although pure electric cars are designed for use in cities such as London, many motorists in such urban areas don’t have off-road parking – something that is pretty much a necessity to enjoy overnight charging at home.
Our LEAF TEKNA test car cost £25,490 after applying the £5,000 UK government plug-in car grant. There was one optional extra fitted to the car, a 6.6kW on board charger (allowing home and public charging at 32AMP); this cost £850.
The LEAF may sound expensive but the big news is that it has very low running costs – electricity costs about 80% less than petrol or diesel. If it is also a company car, then there is zero company car tax to pay. If you also regularly drive in London, then you’ll save on Congestion Charge too.
The Nissan LEAF is still an excellent car to drive. It has progressive, linear acceleration thanks to having 100% of torque available at virtually all times. When driving, it’s very refined and quiet. With its battery placed low down, the low centre of gravity aids handling. Because its transmission is basically automatic, it’s very easy to drive. When you’re at a standstill, such as at traffic lights, the interior is a calm and tranquil place to be. You never need to pull into garages to refuel with petrol or diesel, and the LEAF has zero tailpipe emissions. If you can recharge using renewable energy, then it is a genuinely zero emission car. Of course all EVs have a limited range, however Nissan never set out to say the car was suitable for everyone – the company is targeting people who drive no more than 80 miles or so between recharges.
For people who have such a driving pattern, especially in urban areas such as London, or any other large city, the LEAF makes massive sense: it’s an ideal car to drive in such places, and you’re really helping to reduce local air pollution. But you don’t have to take it from us; there is huge customer satisfaction with the LEAF, from owners, and from trial participants in a project called ‘My Electric Avenue’, where over 200 people are driving a Nissan LEAF for 18 months to find out more about the impact of EVs on the local electricity grid.
The Nissan LEAF gets a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10; it scores highly in every area, but ultimately we have to acknowledge that it’s not a practical proposition for everyone due its range limitation.