Nissan Leaf long-term test

What's an electric car like when you live with it every day? We're running a Nissan Leaf for six months to find out...

Nissan Leaf long-term test review
  • The car Nissan Leaf Tekna
  • Run by Allan Muir, managing editor
  • Why it’s here To see whether our 2018 Electric Car of the Year has advanced the cause of battery-powered vehicles at the affordable end of the market
  • Needs to Have a long enough range to make it usable for more than just short hops; be cheap to run; and be as comfortable and practical as any regular family hatchback

Price £32,890 (before £4500 gov’t grant) Price as tested Price as tested £34,555 Miles covered 829 Official range 168 miles (WLTP), 235 miles (NEDC) Real-world range 160 miles Options ProPilot Park £1090, metallic paint £575

18 July 2018 – the Nissan Leaf joins our fleet

Has the time come for a wholesale switch to plug-in hybrid and fully electric car? Interest in electrified cars is growing all the time, as motorists seek ways to reduce running costs and air pollution, and the arrival of ground-breaking new models from premium European car makers such as Jaguar only makes the prospect of going electric all the more tempting.

The only problem with the Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV is that prices start at around £60,000, even after the Government’s £4500 grant for zero-emissions vehicles has been taken into account, so it’s going to be well out of reach for many motorists.

That’s why the introduction of a new Nissan Leaf at the beginning of this year is very nearly as significant as that of the I-Pace. This battery-powered family hatchback can be had for as little as £25,190, thanks to the grant, making it much more attainable.

The original Leaf was a pioneer, kicking off the modern era of EVs in 2011 and going on to become the world’s best-selling EV. This second-generation model is a useful step forward in every way. Among other things, it’s got more power and performance, a bigger battery pack, a longer claimed range and a much smarter interior.

Its progress prompted us to give the Nissan Leaf our 2018 Electric Car of the Year award, and we’ve been looking forward to welcoming one to our long-term fleet to see whether it can live up to that title.

Nissan Leaf long-term test review

The Leaf's claimed 235-mile range under the old NEDC test procedure can be discounted as unachievable in the real world, but Nissan is now quoting a range of 168 miles, based on the new, stricter WLTP test. That’s better than the 124-mile figure that Volkswagen claims for the VW e-Golf, one of the Leaf’s closest rivals, but only about the same as what you can already get out of a Renault Zoe. Frankly, I had been hoping for something closer to 200 miles this time around.

The Leaf's 40kWh battery pack can be recharged with a three-pin domestic socket (overnight), a seven-pin plug (seven and a half hours via a 7kW wall box) or a 50kW public rapid charger (40-60 minutes, to 80% capacity). With a subscription to Chargemaster’s Polar network, I’ll have access to more than 6500 public charging points in urban areas around the country. For longer trips, I’ve also registered the car and a credit card with Ecotricity, which provides all of the rapid chargers at motorway services, so I’ll be able to access them and pay for each recharge via a smartphone app. However, previous experience suggests that the majority of the recharging will be done at home or the office, both of which are convenient for me.

Of the three trim levels available, mid-range N-Connecta gives you as much kit as you’re likely to need, including a rear-view camera with a surround-view monitor, heated front seats and steering wheel, power-folding door mirrors and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, and is the one we recommend.

However, in this case we’ve gone for range-topping Tekna trim, mainly because it opens the door to the full gamut of Nissan’s latest safety technology and driver aids. Standard equipment includes Nissan’s ProPilot advanced driver assistance system (which combines active cruise control with lane-keeping assistance and blindspot monitoring), as well as leather and ‘ultrasuede’ upholstery, a Bose premium audio system and full-LED adaptive headlights. On top of that, we’ve added an almost fully automatic parking aid called ProPilot Park (£1090 with Tekna trim only) and Spring Cloud Green metallic paint (£575).

I’m no stranger to EVs, having previously run a Renault Twizy and a BMW i3, and I’m a big fan of them for several reasons. These include the fact that they don’t produce any exhaust emissions, thereby contributing to an improvement in the quality of the air we breathe, and that even the most humble of EVs are incredibly relaxing and easy to drive.

Nissan Leaf long-term test review

I was never particularly impressed with the previous Leaf’s interior, but the new one is a definite improvement, with a much more contemporary design and higher-quality materials. On first acquaintance, I still have some reservations about the driving position, mainly because the steering column doesn’t adjust for reach and I feel as though I’m perched on top of rather unsupportive seats. However, I’m hoping this won’t be too much of an issue once I’ve settled in properly.

Practicality is a strong point for the Leaf, with plenty of space front and rear and a good-sized boot that’s hindered only slightly by the presence of a subwoofer on the floor. There’s a cargo net on either side of the boot for retaining the two charging cables – not as good as a separate compartment but hopefully convenient enough to prevent the boot from getting cluttered up with tangled cables.

Another piece of new technology for the Nissan Leaf is e-Pedal – a strong regenerative braking function that allows you to drive fairly easily most of the time without touching the brake pedal. I know from previous experience with the i3 that this ability to drive using just one pedal makes for exceptionally smooth progress, especially around town. There’s no creep in this mode, though, so it isn’t ideal for parking. In which case, you can switch it off, giving the same level of creep as you’d get in a normal automatic car.

As you’d expect, the Leaf is wonderfully smooth and quiet when it’s rolling along, and its ride is remarkably comfortable, while the 148bhp electric motor provides lively, linear performance. The new car also feels more stable than its predecessor did, so I’m hopeful that it’ll be more assured on the motorway.

The big question for me isn't “Can I live with an electric car?”, because I already know I can. No, the questions for me now are “Has Nissan made a big enough step forward compared with the original Leaf and its contemporaries?” and “Is the Leaf now usable enough to give it widespread appeal?”. The answers to those questions will be revealed over the next six months.

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