Nissan Leaf (2011 – 2018) Review

Nissan Leaf (2011 – 2018) At A Glance

Honest John Overall Rating
For years, the Nissan Leaf was the best option in a limited market. Today, the competition is stronger than ever, but the Leaf remains the most sensible choice if you’re buying a used EV on a budget.

+An affordable mainstream electric car, practical and well-equipped, 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.

Insurance Groups are between 22–24

The Nissan Leaf is the world’s most popular electric car. Launched in 2011, the Leaf helped to kickstart the EV revolution, putting electric cars on the path from niche to mainstream. It had few direct rivals, but was followed a little while later by the Renault Zoe, the Leaf’s closest competitor on the used car market. Its biggest problem is the rate at which the electric car industry is developing, which means early versions of the Leaf are looking rather outmoded. Later models make more sense as an affordable entry point into the world of electric motoring.

The Nissan Leaf has secured a chapter in the big book of motoring history. It popularised the concept of electric motoring, taking the EV into the mainstream. Before the Leaf, an electric car meant a small driving range, limited practicality and high prices.

There was also the problem of a small charging network, which created a classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation.

A decade on, things are very different. Potential electric car customers have a wide range of new EVs to choose from, from relatively affordable city cars to luxury SUVs. It will take a while for these to become affordable used cars, which is why the Nissan Leaf is such a compelling prospect. Prices start from around £6,000, so it’s ideal if you’re taking your first steps in the world of electric motoring.

Launched in 2011, the Nissan Leaf grew in popularity as the years went by. If the Tesla Model S was the pin-up star of the electric car world, the Nissan Leaf was the mainstream hero. Relatively affordable, a decent range and conventional (if slightly oddball) styling meant it encouraged more people to take the electric plunge. Not that mixing electricity with water is a good idea… 

Before the Leaf, electric cars were crude, expensive and unsophisticated machines. We couldn’t rely on cars like the Reva G-Wiz and Mitsubishi i-MiEV to catapult the electric car into the mainstream. That job was left to the Nissan Leaf and, soon after, the Renault Zoe.

Today, these are the most affordable electric cars you can buy used. Don’t expect to achieve anything like the electric driving range of the current crop of EVs. While the all-new Nissan Leaf can travel up to 239 miles on a single charge, the earliest Leaf can only muster 109 miles. Things improved in 2013, when the range increased to 124 miles, before a larger 30kWh battery arrived in 2015 to deliver a range of 155 miles.

This might be enough to handle your daily commute, but it would be worth seeking out a model with a 6.6kWh onboard charger. This allows you to use fast chargers, making the Nissan Leaf a viable prospect for longer journeys.

It’s reasonably practical, with a boot that’s a match for a family hatchback. You have to accept a few sacrifices due to the structure of the car, but thanks to five seats and five doors, the Leaf is a car you could live with on a daily basis. Just add electricity.

Excitement is one thing the Nissan Leaf is lacking. Sombre styling, a cabin that lacks sparkle and a so-so driving experience combine to make it a largely forgettable car. That said, anyone new to electric cars will relish the whippet-like acceleration, which is great fun in the city. Just don’t experience it too often – think of the electric range.

If you're looking for the newer version, you need our Nissan Leaf review

Ask Honest John

Can I buy a car with solar panels?

"Why don't manufacturers omit the sunroof and add solar panels instead? They could be used to power the obligatory air con and the sound systems and eventually trickle charge the main batteries to charge the car while it's parked. Solar panels are already installed on some camper vans, why not cars? "
The previous-generation Nissan Leaf was available with a small solar panel on the roof spoiler which was used the trickle-charge the 12-volt battery. Toyota has also experimented with a solar roof - the Prius Plug-in was available with solar panels. We're likely to see more cars with solar panels, as you suggest, in the future - the biggest obstacle is their efficiency. Solar panels the size of a car roof only provide very limited power.
Answered by Andrew Brady

Does rapid charging damage electric vehicles?

"Does the rapid charging of electric cars have any significant detrimental effects, i.e. shortening the battery's life?"
Manufacturers often warn that regular rapid charging can harm the long-term life of the battery. To some degree, it's an example of them being cautious - so little is known about how long batteries will last car makers want to make sure they're covered if anything goes wrong. But the evidence doesn't really support this. Early adopters of the Nissan Leaf who used them as Taxis (and regularly rapid charged them) have reported no ill-effects of regular rapid charging in the first 100,000 miles - although, this is not a comprehensive study. Whereas Tesla will actively limit the rapid charge speed of a battery that's had 'too many' supercharges. Meaning you can still use a supercharger, it just won't be as quick. As always, if you're thinking about getting an EV, we'd recommend putting in place a way of charging them at home (a wall box is ideal). If you live in a flat, lampost charging could be an option but this is hardly a nationwide scheme.
Answered by Keith Moody

With EVs, is age or mileage more important on a used model?

"I'm looking at a used electric vehicle. I would spend up to £9000, which bring five year old cars into range e.g. Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf. Can you advise whether the battery status is related to the number of times it has been charged or the age of the battery? Should I buy an older vehicle with less miles or a newer vehicle with more? And would you advise a leased battery or owned? I think the £90 per month for the Zoe seems a little steep. Many thanks."
It's more to do with how many times it's been recharged than the age. You'd be better looking for an older, low-mileage example. And yes, battery rental can be expensive, particularly if you don't cover many miles to offset the cost. An owned one would be a better option.
Answered by Andrew Brady

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
More Questions

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