Nissan Leaf Tekna road test

  • All-electric hatch gets updated for 2013
  • Better range, charges faster, more kit
  • We take the top Tekna version for a spin

When the Nissan Leaf touched down on planet earth in 2011, it was a bit of a milestone. Here was a pure electric car, powered by batteries and electric motor alone, that was also a usable mainstream hatchback with five seats and more than enough performance to keep up with motorway traffic.

For 2013, Nissan’s engineers have been tinkering with the Leaf to give it a collection of small but important updates.

First off, the charging system has moved to the car’s nose to free up more boot space. The Leaf’s quoted range has also been upped to 124 miles (from 109 miles previously) and the battery takes less time to charge.

There’s a bit more choice when it comes to speccing the Leaf, too. The original Nissan Leaf options list was very much on the short side; in fact, it was more or less confined to what exterior colour you’d like it painted in and not a lot else.

There are now three trim levels, with varying grades of equipment. We’ve been spoiled because our test car is in top-dollar Tekna specification. That means leather seats (heated for both front and rear passengers), a posh Bose hi-fi system (which didn’t sound particularly inspiring in all honesty) and 17-inch alloy wheels.

It also features a clever bird’s-eye view 360-degree parking camera system like that of the Nissan Qashqai 360 we tested recently.

Shame they haven’t done anything to make it look a bit nicer, though. The Leaf seems to subscribe to the school of thought that an electric car has to look a bit weird and it’s something of an ugly duckling compared with most mid-sized hatchbacks.

The only obvious exterior change for 2013 is a slightly different front grille, designed to improve aerodynamics.

Driving the car is a serene experience. There’s not a lot to let you know the car is ‘running’ as such, bar a Gameboy-esque electronic startup noise when you press the starter button. Pop the car into ‘D’ via the circular gear selector, take your foot off the brake and the car silently glides away.

The Leaf is no milk float and its performance is on a par with many conventional hatchbacks. Such is the nature of an electric motor that there’s instant torque on tap, all the time. In fact, it’s easy to accidentally spin the front wheels out of junctions if you’re in a hurry.

Once you’re up to speed, though, the Leaf is a progressive and easy car to drive. In fact its real strength is how normal it feels – it’s easy to forget that you’re driving an electric car at times.

It’ll cruise at dual carriageway speeds with ease, although this kind of behaviour takes its toll on the battery. Sustained high-speed running sees the predicted range displayed on the instrument panel tumble.

That brings us on to the Leaf’s nemesis – range anxiety. A half-hour stretch of driving (admittedly with a slightly heavy right foot) on a mix of rural roads and dual carriageways saw the indicated range plummet from 85 miles to around 35.

Another update is the option of a new 6.6kW charging system. With this fitted, charging the Leaf takes around four hours from a 32 amp home socket. Without the standard charger the time doubles to eight hours.

To help the Leaf’s battery hang on to its charge for a bit longer, the 2013 model features a new type of heater that won’t use as much energy in the winter and a ‘B-mode’ setting which recuperates more energy from the braking system.

On the practicality front, you’ll fit five adults in without too much difficulty and the boot is usable if not particularly huge for a hatchback. The small hatchback opening means loading wide objects could be tricky and part of the boot in our test car was taken up by a soundwave unit for the Bose stereo system.

There’s now the option to lease the Leaf’s battery from Nissan for a cost of £70 a month, with that price increasing depending on the length of the contract and mileage covered – a bit like the similar scheme for the Renault Zoe.

If you buy the battery outright with the car, the top Tekna-spec Leaf currently costs £25,490 (after the Government’s £5,000 plug-in grant).

To find out more, check out our full Nissan Leaf review here.

Nissan Leaf

Tekna spec includes satellite navigation with touchscreen interface

Nissan Leaf 

At 370 litres the boot is reasonable, if not enormous, but rear seats fold in a 60:40 split

Also consider:

Renault Zoe

The Clio-based Zoe is the closest equivalent to the Leaf on paper. It’s an all-electric hatch operated under a scheme where you lease the battery from Renault on a sliding cost scale according to annual mileage.

Toyota Prius Plug-in

A hybrid car combining a petrol engine and electric motor, the plug-in version of the Prius can also be charged from the mains to enable it to drive further on pure electric power before the engine cuts in.

SEAT Mii

There’s a school of thought that suggests a lightweight petrol-powered hatch could be just as environmentally friendly in the long run as an electric car. The Mii, part of the same family as the VW Up and Skoda Citigo, is worth a look.