Road test: Nissan LEAF
Slicker styling and a bigger battery are worthwhile improvements.
What is it?
A plug-in electric car, originally launched in 2010 and now substantially updated, with a name that is an acronym – for Leading Environmentally-friendly Affordable Family car.
How green is it?
Very, with zero emissions, so no tailpipe and no nasty exhaust gases. That doesn’t include the output from a conventional power station that probably supplies the electricity though.
Who should buy one?
Environmentally conscious types, dedicated tree-huggers and anyone who wants to be kinder to the earth as they travel about. Or someone who wants a commuter car and minimal running costs.
Road test by Sue Baker, June 2018
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
The original Leaf was a bit of a pioneer, quickly becoming the world’s best selling plug-in model. It had a 24 kWh battery pack and a quoted range of 76 miles. Fast forward eight years, and the new Leaf now has a 40 kWh battery and a range of 168 miles, based on the latest WLTC (Worldwide harmonised Light vehicles Test Cycle) result. Even so, that range is likely to be a bit optimistic in typical driving conditions.
Recharging via a specially installed home charging unit, included in the price of the car, takes seven and a half hours and would normally be done overnight. Using a 50 kW quick charger, such as can be found at motorway service stations and shopping centres, can boost the battery pack from empty to 80 per cent in 40-60 minutes.
With its refreshed body styling and re-engineered suspension, the Leaf’s centre of gravity is now slightly lower than before, which makes it feel a little more secure on the road. Like any electric car, it is delightfully refined, with its absence of engine noise and hushed progress.
The Leaf is quick off the mark, and the car feels lithe and responsive on the move. It is easy to drive, with its progressive one-speed auto transmission. Steering feel is reasonably communicative, and the suspension is pretty good at cushioning out the bumps and undulations of a typical road.
There is a clever feature to help improve battery range by enhancing the car’s regenerative braking. Called the ePedal, it is engaged via a switch near the gear knob. It lets you recoup brake energy, and you feel it instantly when you back off the throttle and the car slows much more dramatically than you would normally expect. So you can use it to drive the car most of the time using just the accelerator like an on-off control, and mostly ignoring the brake pedal. Odd at first, it quickly becomes completely natural to drive the car that way.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
At just under 4.5 metres long, the Leaf is a medium-size family car with seats for five people, although those in the back are quite snug for kneeroom. Rear headroom is reasonable though, and the car’s boot has grown in size by 30 litres compared with the previous model: it is 385 litres, extendable to 1,161 litres by folding down the rear seat-backs.
A bit of boot room has to be devoted to stowing the Leaf’s on-board charging cable, which needs to travel with you as a means of plugging in to a charging point when the car’s big battery pack needs replenishing.
The cabin is reasonably comfortable and functional, if not exactly plush. It is a bit disappointing that the surroundings are rather plasticky, and the surfaces around the dashboard and door tops are all mostly firm to the touch. The seats are a bit on the firm side too, bucking a recent trend for softer cushioning in some other similar size cars.
The new-generation Leaf has yet to be tested by Euro NCAP, but its predecessor, tested in 2012, was awarded a full five star rating with high scores. Its successor is expected to have a similar result, and there is a good level of safety kit on the car. It includes a safety shield technology suite, comprising lane departure warning, intelligent emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, cross-traffic alert and auto-dipping headlights.
The Leaf comes equipped with a plug-in charging cable, illuminated charging point, six airbags and a comprehensive package of electronic driver safety aids. There is a four-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and audio streaming, automatic climate control, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and follow-me-home headlights. Higher-spec versions have a 360-deg colour camera system for an all-round view out of the car, heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, and driver alertness monitoring.
Leaf pricing starts from £22,790 for a base level Visia, which includes a £4,500 allowance resulting from a government grant that benefits fully electric plug-in models. High trim levels are Acenta, N-Connecta and top-spec Tekna at over £28,000. Running costs are lower than for a petrol or diesel car, as the absence of an engine means there is much less maintenance involved, and electricity re-charges are much cheaper than liquid fuel top-ups.
WE SAY Slicker styling and a bigger battery are worthwhile improvements.
AT A GLANCE:
Price: £28,066 (including plug-in car grant)
Performance: 0-62 in 7.9 secs
Range: 168 miles
Figures for the Leaf Tekna