Review: Nissan Leaf (2011 – 2018)

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A realistic alternative to petrol or diesel cars. Easy to drive. Practical enough for a family. Range extended to 155 miles with optional 30kWh battery from September 2015.

24 kWh battery offers limited range. Interior relatively drab. Basic models go without an improved heater, so lose range in winter. Fundamentally unsuitable for high mileage users.

Nissan Leaf (2011 – 2018): At A Glance

Since the Nissan Leaf was launched in 2010 a lot has happened in the world of EVs. Infrastructure is better, battery technology has improved and – more importantly – so has the choice of cars. There is now a much broader range of pure-electric and plug-in hybrid models to choose from, but the Leaf still manages to stack up.

It is a pure electric vehicle, so there is no conventional engine to provide additional range when the batteries run dry. Fortunately the Leaf is – as EVs go – impressively endowed when it comes to range. Entry-grade models come with a 24kWh battery good for 124 miles, plus from late 2015 there is a 30kWh battery on offer with an increased range of 155 miles.

The amount of time it takes to charge depends on the type of charger used – a rapid charger, like those at motorways services, takes around 30 minutes to charge the battery from empty to 80 per cent. Other, less powerful public chargers will charge to 100 per cent in about four hours, or five and a half for the 30kWh battery. Charging from the mains takes up to 15 hours from empty.

Aside from the electric power, there really isn’t much to differentiate a Leaf from any other family car. It’s spacious, comfortable, practical and easy to drive, with the benefit of an automatic transmission. The motor itself doesn’t make any noise, so around town the Leaf is very quiet. Wind and road noise becomes noticeable at high speeds, but it’s never distracting.

The battery pack, which is the same size in 24kWh and 30kWh models, lives under the floor of the cabin, so it doesn’t eat into boot space. Maximum load volume is 370 litres, expandable to 720 litres with the rear seats folded. Rear legroom is perfectly adequate even for adults and there’s a good level of headroom.

For those with a suitable place to charge it, the Nissan Leaf is one of the most convincing electric cars on sale. Plug-in hybrids might provide better peace of mind on long trips, but the Leaf is perfectly capable of coping with fairly long commutes. That said, there are more and more electric cars going on sale, so consider other options like the BMW i3 before settling on a Leaf.

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What does a Nissan Leaf (2011 – 2018) cost?

List Price from £29,845
Buy new from £22,981
Contract hire from £205.88 per month

Nissan Leaf (2011 – 2018): What's It Like Inside?

Length 4445 mm
Width 1770–1967 mm
Height 1550 mm
Wheelbase 2700–2770 mm

Full specifications

The Nissan Leaf is fairly conservative inside – the dashboard layout and instrument binnacle wouldn’t look out of place in a conventional petrol car. The transmission selector is the only thing that stands out as being unusual, but despite its slightly odd appearance it works like any other automatic transmission selector.

The back row is perfectly capable of seating adults in comfort, with ample leg and headroom. The boot is sizeable too, with a load capacity of 370 litres, expandable to 720 by folding the rear seats down. This is comparable to conventional cars of a similar size, like the Volkswagen Golf.

Compared to something like a Ford Focus, the Nissan Leaf has a fairly cheap-feeling cabin, with hard plastics in place of plush, soft-touch materials and little in the way of fanciful embellishment. That said, the Leaf generally feels very hardwearing and durable, so should stand up to family life.

The basic Visia model comes with automatic air conditioning, keyless start and all-around electric windows, but it goes without a touchscreen system or alloy wheels and isn’t available with the high capacity 30 kWh battery. Visia models also come with a less efficient heater, which can reduce range in winter.

Acenta gains a more efficient heater, NissanConnect touchscreen infotainment, cruise control, speed limiter, auto lights, auto wipers and the option of either a 24kWh or 30kWh battery. Top Tekna models get alloy wheels, leather upholstery, LED headlights, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, heater door mirrors, a 360 degree camera and BOSE audio.

Standard Equipment from January 2016

Visia trim comes with front and rear electric windows, keyless entry and start, automatic air conditioning, tilt-adjustable steering wheel, height adjustable driver’s seat, charge port light, hill start assist, 3.3Kw onboard charger, EVSE charging cable, rapid charge port, Bluetooth connectivity, USB port, aux-input, steering wheel audio controls and 16-inch steel wheels.

Acenta trim adds halogen headlights, electrically folding door mirrors, NissanConnect touchscreen with smartphone link, reversing camera, six speakers, cruise control with speed limiter, B-mode to enhance brake regen, more efficient air conditioning, heat pump heater, auto wipers and auto lights.

Tekna adds heated front seats, heated steering wheel, heated door mirrors, BOSE audio, 360 degree parking camera, black leather upholstery, LED headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels. 

Child seats that fit a Nissan Leaf (2011 – 2018)

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What's the Nissan Leaf (2011 – 2018) like to drive?

Driving the Leaf is easier than driving most cars, since it has a very smooth automatic transmission. Simply select D, disengage the foot-operated parking brake and that’s that – it silently starts to move. Aside from the eerie quietness it’s all familiar and straightforward, which makes the Leaf very easy to live with, particularly around town.

Here the Leaf’s relaxed character makes the stress of traffic jams easier to deal with and, since maximum torque is available immediately, it’s great for getting away from the lights quickly. Out of town the Leaf is fine too, with a comfortable suspension that absorbs the worst bumps, yet provides ample body control through corners.

The Leaf copes well with motorway speeds, though it occasionally feels like it needs a bit more overtaking pace, particularly on an incline. Fortunately it remains quiet even at 70mph, with just a little wind and road noise entering the cabin. Entry-level models do without cruise control, but the rest of the range gets it as standard.

There are two battery options on offer. The 24 kWh battery provides a maximum range of 124 miles and the 30kWh battery provides 155 miles of range – but they are the only differences. Performance for the two is the same, although the higher capacity battery is marginally heavier, despite being the same size.

The car monitors the way the car is being driven as well as the usage of things like heating, audio and navigation in order to give the most accurate possible reading for remaining range. It seems to work quite well in practice and, thankfully, using things like the heater and heated seats on a cold day doesn’t have a massive impact on how far you can travel.

Most examples of the Leaf have a ‘B’ drive mode that increases the level of regenerative braking. It’s engaged using the transmission selector and when active it slows the car down when the throttle is disengaged, generating some extra juice for the battery. To come to a stop the brake pedal is still required, but for decelerating gently towards junctions or roundabouts it’s great for recuperating some energy.

Since the Leaf arrived on the scene in 2010 a lot has been done to improve infrastructure. There are now enough rapid chargers dotted around to feasibly take on a long road trip with rest stops to top up the battery, but for regular long distance drivers a Leaf is probably more of a hassle than a plug-in hybrid. 

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
24kW - 11.5–11.9 s -
30kW - 11.5 s -

What have we been asked about the Nissan Leaf (2011 – 2018)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

Should I buy an electric car if I don't have a home charger?

I'm looking to sell on my current car soon and that leaves me in a strange situation. I want a practical, comfortable and interesting car, but I'm also not wanting to destroy the planet and want cheaper bills. At the moment, I spend £120-£150 a month just travelling to work. My commute daily is 23 miles each way, about two-thirds of this is on A roads or dual carriageways. I want to invest in getting an EV. With trade-in value and some cash, I have about £10,000 tops and I'm not wanting to go into finance deals. I also don't have a driveway to charge an EV. What would you suggest?
I would not advise buying an EV if you do not have a place to charge it at home or at work. Your budget will get you a Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe, but this will be the older models and (based on owner feedback) the real world range appears to be in the region of 90 miles. Given your long commute, I would recommend choosing a diesel. I know this isn't very interesting, but your budget will get you a crossover like the Honda HR-V. It's comfortable, practical and has a strong reputation for reliability:
Answered by Dan Powell
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