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What is the Nissan Leaf?

Put simply, the Nissan Leaf is the world’s best-selling electric vehicle (EV or BEV depending on your preference). That’s a significant achievement, and one Nissan managed by being one of the first to market with an affordable, long-range electric car that didn’t seem like a compromise to own. It’s often called the first mass-market BEV, and did for electric vehicles what the Toyota Prius did for hybrid ones – it normalised them.

The original Leaf was launched in 2010 – nearly a decade ago – yet as Nissan markets its second-generation model, launched in 2017, many manufacturers are only now building their first EVs. Models such as the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia e-Niro and upcoming Volkswagen ID.3 and Tesla Model 3 do look set to challenge the Leaf for its position at the top of the sales charts, but they’ve got nearly ten years of catch-up to do before they penetrate the market in the same way.

The latest Leaf has been refined into a remarkably usable EV, with a battery capacity that will suit all but the highest-mileage drivers, and a relaxing and high-tech driving experience that will endear itself to evangelists and sceptics alike.

Read on for our overview of the entire Nissan Leaf range, where we give advice on the different battery sizes and power outputs as well as specifications and driving experience.

At-a-glance specs

  • Top speed: 89mph (all versions)
  • 0-62mph: 7.9-11.5sec
  • Range: 168-239 miles
  • Emissions: 0g/km
  • Boot space: 370-435 litres

Which versions are available?

This is the second generation of the Nissan Leaf, which launched in 2017. The electric car is now offered in the UK with two different battery capacities: the regular car offers a claimed range of up to 168 miles from a 150hp e-motor, while the Leaf E+ boasts an extended range of up to 239 miles thanks to a bigger battery. The range-topper also has a more powerful 217hp electric motor for punchier performance.

Only one bodystyle is available and this is a five-seater hatchback. Thanks to a total lack of transmission tunnel (the bump normally found bisecting the rear seats), you can viably fit two or three adults in the back in some comfort.

Nissan Leaf rear

Once you’ve chosen your desired battery range, you then simply choose your trim level: pick from Nissan Leaf Acenta, N-Connecta (adds part-leather trim, 360deg parking cameras, 17-inch alloy wheels and heated seats/wheel) or Tekna (for additional Bose stereo, full LED headlamps, electronic parking brake and Nissan’s ProPilot semi-autonomous cruise control). The range-topping E+ Tekna adds the bigger battery, punchier motor and metallic blue bumper detailing.

Styling and engineering

You won’t mistake the Nissan Leaf for anything else on sale today. It’s a distinctive-looking standalone electric car, rather than a discreet normal hatchback with super-human electric powers like its battery-powered Golf rival. Its design values are wholesomely Japanese and if you want to to wear your eco credentials proudly on your sleeve, this car should fulfil that brief.

Those adventurous looks mask a reasonably conventional interior package. The interior has a few strange controls, but once you’ve adapted to the stubby gearlever and the odd sci-fi switch you’ll be able to jump in and drive in no time. The E-Pedal harnesses the braking inherent in any electric car when you lift off the throttle, as the battery recharges on coasting; in practice, this means you won’t have to brake much in economy mode - a simple lift of the accelerator should be enough to drag your speed down instead of braking.

The Leaf EV is bristling with clever fuel-saving touches like this. It’s all about maximising the range. In our experience you’ll not quite match the official figures of how far you can drive on one charge, but driven sympathetically it’ll get jolly close.

Is it good to drive?

On the whole, yes. Driving an electric car such as the Nissan Leaf is a wholesome experience. This is a very relaxing car, silent, whispering progress a natural by-product of the EV powertrain. You can almost feel the halo above your head as you quietly scamper around town.

There’s the usual slug of instant acceleration you’ll find in most electric cars, but if you get heavy on the right pedal, your battery range will rapidly disappear. Instead, treat the accelerator with kid gloves and focus instead on maximising your range. Driven thus, the Nissan Leaf is a properly relaxing, satisfying drive.

There’s little here to entertain enthusiasts, but in the pursuit of mainstream electrification, the latest Nissan Leaf is nevertheless jolly impressive.

How much does it cost?

The Nissan Leaf still qualifies for the government’s shrinking £3,500 Plug In Car Grant, subsidising the cost of full electric cars. Deduct that amount and prices start at £27,995 - still quite a lot for a mid-sized family hatchback. Therein lies the rub of electric power…

This is actually Britain’s best-selling electric car, though, and volumes are such that it’s still worth shopping around for further discounts and deals. In our experience you can save a small chunk off that list price just by haggling. Expect to chip off a few hundred quid if you push the sales staff for a deal.

Nissan Leaf Model History

Current generation Nissan Leaf model history

  • November 2017 – Second-generation Nissan Leaf available to order in launch edition 2.Zero guise, with deliveries set to begin early in 2018.
  • March 2018 - Mainstream models in the range available to order, following Nissan's familiar trim level hierarchy of Visia, Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna. All models have a 40kWh battery pack.
  • January 2019 - Limited edition 3.Zero available to order for May delivery with improved multimedia system, while the 3.Zero e+ has a 62kWh battery pack and a more powerful 217hp motor.

First-generation Nissan Leaf (2010-2017)

Nissan Leaf MkI (2010-2017)

It’s hard to believe but the first Nissan Leaf - hailed as the world’s first purpose-built mainstream electric car - was unveiled a decade ago, with first UK deliveries in 2011. The Japanese really were ahead of the curve with this EV.

We loved the engineering of the Mk1 but it was hardly a pretty car. In a bid to encourage owners to have faith in the longevity of batteries, Nissan provided an eight-year warranty on the cells in the original Leaf. It’s telling that nearly all of the launch cars are still running around today, with only a modest drop-off in range and battery charge.

The original Leaf launched with a 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack; over time Nissan has expanded the battery capacity, with a 30kWh boost in 2016. For reference, today’s Mk2 Leaf is available with a 40kWh or 62kWh battery. It’s like Moore’s Law for electric cars, the cost tumbling and the range expanding with every passing year…