Nissan Leaf car review
- We like...Silence, refinement
- We don't...Back seats don't fold
Could this be the future? The Leaf is Nissan’s first all-electric car, leading the coming wave of motors that’ll rely on a drink of juice from a regular household electric socket to keep them running.
There are no tail-pipe emissions to worry because there’s no exhaust, while a full recharge – enough for about 100 miles of driving, depending on how hard you go – costs (at time of writing) about £1.70. There’s no road tax to pay and if you live in London, no Congestion Charge, either. As its electric motor has fewer moving parts than a regular fuelled engine, it’ll be cheaper to service and, Nissan promises, it will last just as long.
Downsides? The Leaf will travel only those 100 miles – stretching to 125 miles perhaps if you’re expert at conserving the last watts of power. Once its batteries are drained, it’ll take 7-8 hours to recharge unless you’re fortunate enough to access a high-capacity charger, in which case it’ll take 30 minutes. And while the car doesn’t generate any polluting gases, the power it uses may well do, particularly if it’s made by burning coal.
Oh, and there’s the price. The Leaf is a Volkswagen Golf-sized hatchback that has a high specification, incuding sat-nav and remote control of some functions using your Smart phone. But it costs £28,990, though a government grant available next year will lop £5000 off that sum.
Start it up and the first thing you notice is... silence. It’s handy that the instruments light up like a Tokyo store-front, to warn you that it’s ready. It has no gears as such, so you pick between ‘drive’ and ‘reverse’ using the pod-like switch set between the front seats, and off you go.
Unlike a petrol or diesel this electric motor has all its power available from standstill so step-off is fast and it pulls as hard as, say, a good 1.6-litre petrol motor . The engine is quiet; so much that Nissan has introduced a muted whistle, like that of an aircraft turbine for the sake of pedestrians, cyclists and other road users. It’s there until the Leaf exceeds 20mph, when there’s enough tyre and wind noise to alert others. It’s entirely artificial, pumped out from a speaker hidden within the car.
Acceleration is constant – there’s no noticeable peak in power: it just keeps on coming. And shedding speed is easy, too. Although using the brakes ‘scavenges’ power, which is returned to the batteries, they feel easy and responsive. There’s not that ‘over-assisted’ feel you’d experience in some hybrids.
With its lithium ion batteries built into the floor it’s a heavy car and this helps the Leaf ride smoothly and feel ‘planted’ as it moves over the tarmac. Our test car was a left-hand drive pre-production model so we can’t tell precisely how UK cars perform, but first impressions are very positive. It’s an easy and rewarding car to drive that is also very refined: it’s quiet even at motorway speeds, where only tyre hum and a rustle of breeze across the front pillars intrudes.
Its looks are love or hate. We’re definitely in the first of these camps and reckon it looks better in the metal than it does in photos.
Inside it is attractively trimmed in welcoming warm-hued shades. The speed relays via a big digital readout, while a second display monitors how economically you are driving and also how many miles you have before a recharge. Helpfully, it also tells you how long a power top-up will take using a standard 13-amp supply.
To recharge, you hook up a flex that plugs into a flag in the car’s nose.
There’s good space inside for five adults, while a rear hatch opens on to a usefully sized boot. Only a big bulkhead containing the charging equipment limits practicality – it means you can’t drop the back seats to allow for long or awkward loads.
Kerb-side charge points are being installed across Britain, although for now they are confined to London and a handful of major cities, although Cornwall is among the regions getting in on the act. The detail of how payment will be collected is still being worked out but one idea is to debit the cost from your home electricity account.
Should you buy one? It’s a brave move, though Nissan guarantees the batteries for five years and claims that they and the motor will be going strong after 10 years. But even with the £5000 grant, it’s an expensive car.
Balanced against this are its strong eco credentials, low ownership costs and the cachet that goes with an entirely new kind of motoring. It’s also a real treat to drive.
As a real alternative, we’d go for it.
* After £5000 govt grant for electric cars is applied. List price is £28,990
- EnginesAC electric motor
- 0-60 mphna
- Economy100 miles for £1.70 recharge
- Insurance groupstba
Motors.co.uk value verdict: