- Low running costs
- Low rear headroom
- Dated interior
- Inferior to some rivals
As its environmentally-friendly name suggests, the Leaf is an all-electric car.
The Leaf first arrived on the UK’s roads in 2011 and, until the recent launch of the Ariya SUV, was Nissan’s only electric-powered offering.
Although it was a trend-setter and arguably ahead of its time, the past few years have seen a string of other manufacturers follow suit. And many have surpassed the standard Nissan originally set.
As a result, the old Leaf fell down the pecking order, and the second generation, launched in 2018, couldn’t come soon enough.
It brought many improvements to its drivability, range, and interior, as well as being faster than its predecessor. And it’s had a facelift which should help even more.
Entry-level Acenta trim comes with 16-inch alloys, a 39kWh battery, an eight-inch touchscreen with DAB radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a rear-view camera and Nissan’s e-Pedal.
N-Connecta trim gets 17-inch alloys, automatic climate control, a heated steering wheel and front and rear seats, around-view monitor and access to NissanConnect services.
Tekna trim gets part-leather seats, LED headlights and fog lights, an electronic parking brake, a Bose premium audio system and ProPilot advanced driver assistance.
The standard electric motor with the 39kWh battery produces 147PS. But N-Connecta and Tekna grades can be upgraded to the ‘e+’ version, which replaces them with a 59kWh battery and a 217PS motor.
Like many Nissans, the Leaf's looks are controversial and aren’t to everyone’s liking.
It has an awkward shape, appearing to taper into a flattened point at the front. Meanwhile, a glossy black panel replaces the traditional grille, from which the two headlights sprout up diagonally.
The side has relatively flat doors, although they curve at the bottom, almost tucking underneath the car, accentuating the side skirts hanging underneath.
The glossy black styling also covers the window frames. It then continues around the back, with the rear pillars, roof spoiler and upper part of the boot also coloured in black, contrasting against the car's primary body colour.
The interior isn't dreadful, but it's hardly exceptional, either. There's minimal silver styling, so the whole lot looks bland and almost the same colour. Despite integrating the eight-inch touchscreen in the dashboard, it looks and feels on the cheap side and has a somewhat dated layout.
The touchscreen system is relatively straightforward and intuitive, although it’s not the clearest of displays. Shortcut buttons simplify navigating specific menus, and there are other physical dials and controls for the air conditioning.
One handy feature is that you can check the car's status from a smartphone app, enabling you to pre-heat the cabin on a cold winter morning.
On The Road
Handling & Performance
The lower-powered Leaf can get from 0-62mph in 8.0-seconds, which isn’t bad, while the e+ version manages the same in 6.9-seconds.
Even in the entry-level version, the acceleration feels brisk thanks to the torquey motor, and the performance is delivered instantaneously once you apply pressure to the accelerator pedal.
It’s supremely comfortable, too, especially on faster roads like motorways. Lumps and gouges in the road surface are more noticeable when driving slowly, but never to the point that it’s unpleasant.
The higher-powered version is okay, but it’s heavier due to the more powerful electric motor and larger battery. As a result, the suspension has been tweaked and the height raised by half a centimetre, creating a firmer ride. Meanwhile, it feels noticeably less settled at higher speeds.
On the other hand, these suspension tweaks make it the car of choice if you enjoy cornering. In addition, it controls the body roll better, meaning it has superior handling to the entry-level version.
Even so, it isn’t a car meant for handling enthusiasts. Traction levels are good, and the steering is okay, but it doesn't provide much feedback. And many electrified vehicles on the market are more thrilling to drive, such as the Mini Electric.
Electrically powered cars are, by nature, quiet, so those who prefer to drive in a peaceful, relaxed manner will be more at home in the Leaf.
The e-pedal means you can lift off the accelerator and gradually coast to a stop, which puts some charge back into the batteries to extend your range.
Space & Practicality
The driving position is relatively high – not on an SUV’s level – but higher than average for a hatchback, providing a good view of the road ahead. Still, the relatively thick front pillars make seeing out of the corners tricky.
Rear visibility is even worse in the back, although all models come with a rear-view camera, which helps. Still, parking sensors aren't available on the entry-level trim.
Finding a chilled driving position is easy enough, but there's no adjustable lumbar support offered on the Leaf, which is disappointing.
There's good space up front, and, despite the high driving position, there's no problem with headroom and legroom for even the loftiest of drivers. Although the back is generously sized compared with most of its rivals, the headroom is limited thanks to the sloping roofline. Meanwhile, the floor accommodates the batteries, raising your feet and legs slightly.
The door bins are well sized in the front, and there are two cupholders and another small cubby. However, the rear door bins are quite a bit smaller.
Boot space is also generous, measuring in at 435 litres. It increases to 1,176 litres with the rear seats down, which fold in a 60:40 split, although versions with a Bose speaker system lose you 15 litres.
Folding the seats down also creates quite a prominent ridge, which makes it difficult to get long, heavy items in. The boot lip is very pronounced, too, which doesn't help.
The 39kWh battery claims to do 168 miles before running out of juice, while the larger 59kWh version claims a range of 239 miles.
However, expect to achieve between 10% and 25% less in the real world.
The 39kWh battery can be charged at a speed of up to 50kW, which is slow by today's standards but still enough to reach a full charge in under an hour.
The larger battery can be charged at up to 100kW, which means it’s quicker to get a full charge out of. It’ll take ten hours using a home 7kW wall box, though.
Road tax is free, which is nice, while zero emissions make it a good choice for company car drivers.
A three-year, 60,000-mile warranty is offered, although the electric motor gets a five-year, 60,000-mile guarantee, while the battery gets eight years’ coverage up to 100,000 miles.
The Nissan Leaf is comfortable, reasonably quick and relatively pleasing to drive.
If comfort and practicality are priorities, then it's a good choice. But, despite recent upgrades, it’s showing its age as more competition arrives on the scene.
In electric car terms, it’s not particularly expensive at entry level.
But, once you start moving up the trim levels, it gets a lot pricier, especially if you go for the bigger battery – and there are better emissions-free cars out there.