Nissan Leaf hatchback (2017 - ) review
The Leaf is a five-door, fully-electric hatchback, around the size of the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf. It’s the best-selling electric car in the UK and rivals other zero-emission vehicles like the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Soul EV and Tesla Model 3.
The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.5
The Leaf has long been the go-to choice for electric car customers, but with the marketplace being flooded with rivals, there are cracks appearing in its appeal. It’s still a decent car, available at a decent price, and doesn’t have the long waiting list of some rivals. But rivals like Tesla’s Model 3, Hyundai’s Kona Electric and Kia’s Soul EV have a better range, better driving manners and better interior quality. And there’s plenty more competition on the way. We definitely recommend that you check the Leaf out when looking at electric cars, because at certain price points it could fit your needs very well, but make sure you do your homework on other options before you buy.
- Entry-level models are affordable
- Zippy performance
- Lots of standard safety kit
- Disappointing interior
- Range lacks behind newer rivals
- Not very involving to drive
Interested in buying a Nissan Leaf?
How good does it look?
The Leaf has a more conventional look than the quirky visuals of the first Leaf, which was introduced back in 2011, and looks more akin to traditional hatchbacks. We’ll let you decide whether or not that’s a good thing.
Four versions are available. The entry-level Visia model, available from 2017, has now been discontinued, which means the cheapest Leaf is the Acenta. It has 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps and electric folding mirrors, while the N-Connecta has 17-inch alloys, tinted glass, and some gloss black paint to make things look snazzier. The Tekna adds bright, full-LED headlights, while the range-topping Leaf E+ Tekna, which has more power and performance, can be spotted by extra blue bits on the front bumper.
What's the interior like?
The interior of the Leaf isn’t its strongest point, and it lags behind other cars of this size in several areas. The seating position doesn’t adjust as much as we’d like, leaving taller drivers sitting too high, and the steering column doesn’t adjust for reach at all, which is very unusual these days. This may well mean you have difficulty finding your preferred driving position.
The plastics are very hard to the touch in an age of soft-touch materials, but to Nissan’s credit, they are all very solidly assembled. The dashboard area is very cluttered, though, with more than 50 buttons dotted around. Some of them help control the infotainment system, which in cars from 2017 had a 7.0-inch touch-screen that feels pretty small by modern standards. It’s was also slow to respond and feels dated compared to the competition. Nissan addressed this in 2019 by introducing a new system. The 8.0-inch screen still feels on the small side compared to rivals, and we haven’t had enough chance to play with it yet to give a definitive verdict, but it does seem like an improvement.
How practical is it?
There’s plenty of room for four tall adults in the Leaf, and a fifth at a squeeze in the middle of the back row. The boot is a decent size – bigger than the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf, although not quite as big as the Honda Civic – but if you fold the rear seats down there’s a huge lip between them and the boot floor, which restricts the space a bit. If you have the optional Bose sound system, which is standard on the Tekna version, it places a big lump of audio technology on the boot floor, which gets in the way somewhat. There are several cubby holes and pockets around the cabin to store odds and ends, but no fold-down central armrest in the back.
What's it like to drive?
The Leaf is set up for comfort rather than thrills, and benefits from a nicely supple ride that massages out most lumps and bumps in the road. The steering could use a bit more feel, but it doesn’t really get in the way of everyday driving, and the Leaf stays fairly level when cornering. It’s a perfectly capable machine for driving around town or cruising on the motorway.
The more powerful E+ model is considerably heavier, thanks to its larger battery, and the suspension has been stiffened to cope. This has a slight impact on ride quality, and means it’s not quite as comfortable or agile as the regular models, but it’s still acceptable for everyday use.
How powerful is it?
The basic Leaf comes with a 40kWh battery, which gives you 150 horsepower and zippy acceleration. As electric cars don’t need a gearbox, that acceleration is brisk and uninterrupted by gear changes, and is great for quickly nipping past a slow-moving tractor or getting up to speed on the motorway.
New for 2019 is the E+, which has a 60kWh battery that improves range to 239 miles (WLTP) and ups the power to 217 horsepower. That sounds like a lot, but because the new battery is some 130kg heavier, it doesn’t feel a huge amount quicker. That said, it’s still nice and fast to react on the accelerator.
The Leaf regenerates electricity and puts it back into the battery when you lift off the accelerator, and you can also control the level of regeneration. At the highest level, this acts like a brake – Nissan calls it the e-Pedal – and means that 90% of the time you can drive the Leaf using one pedal. Combined with the comfortable ride, and the technology mentioned below, it means driving the Leaf is generally a pretty relaxing experience.
How much will it cost me?
The Leaf is more expensive than many of its petrol or diesel rivals. However, being an electric car, the costs of charging it will be far less than filling up at the fuel station. Drive it in as economical a manner as you can – helped by some of the in-car graphics that show how much energy you’re using – and you should be able to get 160-170 miles out of it, or up to 239 miles in the E+. Using a public fast charger, you should be able to get to 80% of a full charge in around 40 minutes, and an overnight charge at home – using the 7kW wall box supplied free with the car – will take around eight hours. E+ models can accept 100kW rapid charges, while the standard car only works up to 50kW. You’ll also benefit from exemption from Vehicle Excise Duty, free parking in many places, and exemption from the London Congestion Charge.
When compared to rivals, entry-level Leafs are cheaper than rivals like the Hyundai Kona Electric and, we expect, the forthcoming new Kia Soul EV. It also has the advantage of being available to buy right now, without the long waiting list of those newer rivals. When you get up to the E+, the price advantage disappears, and the Leaf doesn’t offer quite the same interior quality or range. Tesla’s new, very impressive Model 3 isn’t a huge amount more, which means we’d recommend you stick to the more affordable Leaf models.
How reliable is it?
Nissan as a brand has a decent and improving reputation for reliability, sitting in fourth place in JD Power’s 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study, which ranks manufacturers based on performance. While we don’t have any data for the Leaf specifically, our owner reviews of earlier cars have been almost universally positive, so we’re hopeful the latest Leaf will perform just as well. Nissan offers an eight-year warranty on the battery and a three-year/60,000-mile warranty on the car.
How safe is it?
The Leaf scored the maximum five stars in crash testing by safety organisation Euro NCAP. Several cutting-edge safety technologies are included on all cars, including automatic emergency braking, which will intervene if you don’t react to an impending accident. All cars also have lane departure warning systems, blind spot warning systems, six airbags and two Isofix child seat mounting points.
N-Connecta and Tekna cars get a full ProPilot system, which includes automatic steering and adaptive cruise control. It’s essentially a form of autonomous driving, controlling the speed on motorways automatically, and helping you stay in the centre of the lane. Cars from 2019 on have an improved adaptive cruise control that will automatically change the set speed to match speed limits.
How much equipment do I get?
The entry-level Acenta car comes with a rear-view camera, keyless entry, Apple Car Play and Android Auto for integration with your smartphone, as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and air conditioning. The N-Connecta has synthetic leather upholstery, heated seats, a clever around view monitor that shows an overhead view of the car when parking or manoeuvring, as well as parking sensors. The Tekna has part-leather seats, an electronic parking brake and an uprated Bose stereo system, while the E+ Tekna has part-leather and synthetic suede upholstery.
There’s a reason that the Leaf has been a huge hit for electric car customers, and Nissan is continually working to keep it competitive against the competition. It has the advantage of being relatively affordable compared to a lot of its rivals, and is packed with safety kit too.