Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Some people still associate electric cars with milk float performance, but that really couldn’t be further from the truth. The 40kWh version of the Leaf can manage 0-62mph in around eight seconds; a perfectly respectable time and quicker than a Renault Zoe, if not quite as nippy as the Kia e-Niro or Volkswagen ID.3. The 62kWh Leaf (called the e+) is quicker still with 0-62mph taking just 6.9sec; acceleration is surprisingly brisk, if not quite in the league of a Tesla Model 3.
But when it comes to electric cars, performance isn’t just about how quickly you can speed up – it’s also about how far you can drive between charges. Official figures for the 40kWh Leaf say 168 miles, which is a lot farther a Honda E can manage and about the same as an MG ZS EV. Meanwhile, the 62kWh version of the Leaf can officially manage 239 miles on a full charge.
However, in our Real Range tests, the 40kWh Leaf managed 128 miles on a full charge. The 62kWh Leaf managed 217 miles, which is reasonable by today's standards but still someway behind the e-Niro (which managed 253 miles).
Suspension and ride comfort
The standard 40kWh Leaf is far more comfortable than the Renault Zoe and BMW i3. In fact, ride comfort is hard to fault on the motorway and faster A-roads. It’s only around town that you notice being jostled around a bit, although potholes are still dealt with in a perfectly respectable fashion.
Things are rather different in the 62kWh e+ version. It’s heavier than the 40kWh model and its ride height has been raised by 5mm to help accommodate the bigger battery under its floor. The result? It's still relatively soft giving similar comfort around town, but on the motorway things get really quite unsettled and along undulating roads you’ll experience a lot of head bobbing, which gets annoying after a while.
The Leaf isn't as agile as a Mini Electric, but it does stay more upright through bends than the Zoe or ZS EV. Its steering is also precise, so you can guide it through town or along winding roads without drama, but don't expect much feedback through the wheel to help you gauge grip levels.
You might imagine that the supposedly sporty rear-wheel-drive BMW i3 would be the benchmark for handling in this class, but it isn't: the Leaf is actually far more composed and settled along sinewy, bumpy roads.
No electric car in this price bracket is truly great fun to drive, though; the Honda E is as good as it gets.
Noise and vibration
Electric cars tend to be much quieter than their petrol and diesel counterparts because there’s no combustion engine rumbling away, burning gallons of fossil fuel.
So, if you’re used to a conventional car, you’ll find the Leaf eerily hushed on the move – especially at town speeds, where it's mostly suspension noise that percolates through to the interior. There is some wind and road noise on the motorway, but the Leaf is definitely a more peaceful companion than the ZS EV or Zoe.
The brakes are more progressive than the Zoe's, too, and the Leaf comes with a one-pedal driving function called E-pedal; essentially, the battery's energy recuperation system does most of the braking, so you can typically slow down to a stop simply by lifting off the accelerator.
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