Review

Nissan Leaf hatchback

Price  £26,030 - £31,730

Nissan Leaf hatchback

reviewed by Carbuyer

Pros
  • Very low running costs
  • Comfortable & quiet
  • No emissions
Cons
  • High purchase price
  • Rivals are more fun to drive
  • Limited range & long recharge times

At a glance

The greenest
Visia 109PS 24 kWh 5dr £26,030
The cheapest
Visia 109PS 24 kWh 5dr £26,030
The fastest
Visia 109PS 24 kWh 5dr £26,030
Top of the range
Tekna 109PS 30 kWh 5dr £31,730

“The Nissan Leaf is quiet, comfortable, easy to drive and incredibly cheap to run. It marks a milestone in the development of electric cars.”

The Nissan Leaf has been around for five years now. While the pace of electric-car development means the BMW i3 seems more futuristic and the Tesla Model S offers greater performance and range, the Leaf (which stands for Leading Environmentally friendly Affordable Family car) has a greater range than the i3 and is half the price of the Tesla. The Renault ZOE is a more direct competitor to the Leaf; it's cheaper to buy than the Nissan, but it has a shorter range and is a smaller car.

The Leaf was also the first mass-produced electric car to be sold in the UK and was important in demonstrating to motorists that – range concerns aside – EVs can be very similar to a petrol or diesel-powered car to drive and own. Aside from near-silent running, the Leaf behaves just like a family hatchback. You simply turn it on, select ‘D’ and drive as normal.

The Leaf's real selling point, though, is how cheap it is to run. A full battery charge should cost around £2, you won’t pay a penny in road tax, Congestion Charge exemption means driving in central London is free and a 7% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) rate is as low as it's possible to get. The Leaf's biggest drawback, meanwhile, is its range. There are two versions available: the 24kWh (kilowatt hours) model can cover up to 124 miles, while the 30kWh option (which costs about £3,700 more) increases that to 155 miles.

Much like fuel-consumption figures, though, the Leaf's range is subject to significant variation in real-world driving conditions. The batteries are adversely affected by cold weather and on a chilly day, range can drop by up to 50%. Similarly, running the air-conditioning or driving up a lot of hills will affect how far you can go.

Electric-car customers tend to be after economy rather than an involving driving experience. And while the Leaf is by no means an exciting car on the road, it's very comfortable: soft suspension insulates you very well from potholes and broken tarmac, although the trade-off is a bit of body lean in corners. While the Leaf's natural environment is town, motorway cruising is a real possibility – as long as you’ve worked out where you’re going to charge the batteries on longer journeys. The electric motor produces the equivalent of 108bhp, so performance is adequate, with 0-62mph taking 11.5 seconds.

Charging the Leaf's batteries takes about 12 hours from a conventional three-pin plug, but it's worth specifying Nissan's £1,150 on-board charger. This facilitates four-hour charging at home, assuming you have a dedicated charging point. Thanks to Government grants, you can get a charging point installed at your home for relatively little outlay, assuming you meet certain criteria. Fast-charging public points are becoming increasingly common, too, particularly at motorway service stations. These will give you an 80% charge in just 30 minutes.

The UK's charging infrastructure is continually improving, but the fact remains that if the Leaf's batteries run out, you’ll be stranded. If you like the idea of an electric car but are put off by this prospect, a plug-in hybrid like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV may be a more sensible option. Like the Leaf, the Outlander PHEV is eligible for a Government grant, making the purchase price more palatable.

Something else to bear in mind is that the Leaf will probably outlast its batteries. While Nissan guarantees the 24kWh model's battery for five years, the 30kWh version gets an eight-year battery guarantee. This also covers the battery's performance – meaning if its capacity or performance deteriorates during this period, you’ll get a new one for free.

This is one of the reasons why we recommend going for the 30kWh model. Replacing the batteries out of warranty will set you back around £5,000 – although Nissan will contribute £1,000 to this. Because of this, you may want to consider leasing the batteries (for about £70 a month) rather than buying them outright with the car.

Nissan offers the Leaf in three trim levels: Visia, Acenta and Tekna. Entry-level Visia cars come with Bluetooth phone connectivity, electric door mirrors and windows, plus air-conditioning. We recommend Acenta trim, though, as it adds a seven-inch colour screen, cruise control and automatic wipers and lights, as well as a smartphone app that allows you to monitor your Leaf's charging status – something that’ll be very handy when you’re enjoying a coffee as the batteries charge at a motorway service station.

Despite being a relatively niche proposition, the Leaf has an excellent reliability record. In our 2016 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, it came 12th out of 150 cars. A second-place finish for running costs was as expected, but Leaf owners also rate their cars’ reliability and ease of driving. Safety is similarly reassuring, thanks to a five-star score from Euro NCAP.

MPG, running costs & CO2

4 / 5

The Nissan Leaf is extremely cheap to run thanks to the promise of 124 miles of driving for £2 worth of electricity

Engines, drive & performance

2.6 / 5

The Nissan Leaf is relaxing but unexciting to drive

Interior & comfort

3.4 / 5

Very little wind or road noise and near-silent running makes the Nissan Leaf extremely relaxing for occupants

Practicality & boot space

2.3 / 5

A limited range hurts the everyday practicality of the Nissan Leaf

Reliability & safety

4.3 / 5

Few moving parts means there’s less to go wrong with a Nissan Leaf

What the others say

4.3 / 5
based on 4 reviews
4 / 5
"Turn the ignition key, though, and you are greeted with silence. There's no mechanical hum from the electric motor – only a light on the dash to tell you the engine is ready for action. You can select the single forward gear with a switch in the centre console, then it's simply a case of releasing the brakes and pressing the throttle. Acceleration is progressive and the ride smooth."
3 / 5
"Press the throttle and the 551lb, 24kWh, 90kW (121bhp) lithium-ion battery pours current into the 80kW (107bhp) AC brushless electric motor, which drives the front wheels. While 'all-torque-at-zero-revs' electric propulsion can be overstated, the Leaf takes off with alacrity, especially up to 40mph."
5 / 5
"The future looks bright, because the world's first mass-produced electric car is fast, fun and comfortable. It's pricey, but it costs peanuts to run and you get stacks of kit included. Our Electric Car of the Year 2011."
5 / 5
"Could this be the beginning of the end for the internal combustion engine? The Leaf is the first serious mainstream production car to be powered by electricity. It emits zero CO2, can be charged at home for next to nothing and most importantly it drives and looks like a mainstream car. The body was designed using Nissan's ‘smart fluidity' principle, combining flowing lines with aerodynamic efficiency."
What owners say 
4.4612903225806
4.5 /5 based on 31 reviews
77%
 of people would recommend this car to a friend
Last updated 
12 May 2016
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