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 has a 0-60mph time of around eight seconds, making it nippier than a Volkswagen e-Golf if not quite as quick as the Kia e-Niro or the most powerful version of the Hyundai Kona Electric. The 62kWh Leaf – which is called the e+ Tekna – drops that time by one second, which is enough to see off its rivals in a drag race, and that increase in pace is very noticeable.
Unlike in most petrol and diesel cars, when you lift off the accelerator pedal you feel yourself slowing down quite quickly as the regenerative brakes harvest energy to replenish the battery. You can increase this effect by moving the gear selector to B mode, or go one step further by pressing the ‘e-Pedal’ button between the front seats. This makes the regenerative braking effect so pronounced that you barely have to use the brake pedal at all.
Suspension and ride comfort
Although you feel more when bumps pass beneath you than you do in an e-Golf, 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 version, though – It’s heavier than the 40kWh model and the ride height has been raised by 5mm to help accommodate the bigger batteries under its floor. The result? Well it is still relatively soft, and the ride around town is similar. But on the motorway it is really unsettled, and over undulating roads you’ll notice a lot of head bobbing which gets really annoying.
The Leaf is far from a hot hatch but it does stay more upright through bends than the Zoe or e-Golf. Its steering is a match for the e-Golf’s, too; it’s less natural in feel but is heavier and a bit more precise.
You might imagine that the supposedly sporty rear-wheel-drive BMW i3 would be the benchmark for handling in this class, but the Leaf is actually more composed and settled along twisty roads – especially when the road gets bumpy.
Noise and vibration
Electric cars tend to be much quieter than their petrol and diesel counterparts because there’s no combustion engine rattling and rumbling away while burning through fossil fuel.
So, if you’re used to a conventional car, you’ll find the Leaf eerily hushed on the move. True, the e-Golf is even quieter because its suspension goes about its business with fewer clunks, and there’s a bit less wind and road noise, too. But the Leaf is definitely a more peaceful companion than the cheaper Zoe.