Why are we driving the Nissan Leaf again, just a couple of years after CAR ran one as a long-term test car? Well, Nissan has given its electric brainchild a thorough overhaul, packing in more powerful motors, increased battery range and improved practicality.
It’s also much cheaper: the base model we tested can now be had for £15,990 with a £5000 government grant – as long as you’re willing to lease the battery for a minimum of £70 per month. That’s £10,000 less than the first Leafs cost. Tempted? Then read on for the full CAR review.
Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK
How fast is the new Nissan Leaf?
Thanks to the instant torque of its under-bonnet electric motor, the 2011 European and World Car of the Year never really lacked for decent pace. The 80kW (109bhp) motor powers the Leaf to 62mph in 11.9 sec and on to an effortless limited top speed of 100mph – those performance figures are the same as the old car despite the 2013 model’s 77kg weight saving courtesy of revised batteries.
The ever-ready torque and stepless delivery are as compelling as ever, whether zipping silently away from red lights or demanding a motorway overtake. It’s on a par with a regular 1.6-litre turbodiesel for pace, only with far superior refinement, maintenance and – says Nissan – 2.5p per mile running costs.
Is the Nissan Leaf’s range now long enough to depend on every day?
If you’re what Nissan classifies as a typical motorist – someone averaging up to 37 miles a day – then you’ll be fine. Nissan claims the Leaf can now achieve 124 miles on a single charge (up from 109 miles) and takes half the time to charge, at four hours from a household plug. You’ll also score a handy 50% charge in just 30 minutes from a standard domestic outlet.
Of course, you’ll only top 120 miles of range if you drive the Leaf like you’re hypermiling a conventional car, with light-footed acceleration and plenty of early throttle lift-offs to get the re-gen effect. Regenerative braking is one of the most rewarding aspects of electric car motoring: lift off the throttle and modern EVs recharge their batteries while coasting. The resistance means you won't freewheel as far, but with plenty of anticipation and a careful right foot you'll basically drive one-footed most of the time, only using the brakes for a complete stop situation.
Crank up the (standard-fit) air conditioning and that range will dip too – in our test period with mixed driving and regular interior accoutrement usage, 80-90 miles was the trip computer’s best guess. The heating and windscreen demister aren’t as ‘off-limits’ as the old Leaf though, thanks to a revised heating system that’s 70% less power-hungry.
An 80-mile range, then? That’s spot on for many commuters – the majority of the CAR team conform to Nissan’s low-mileage stereotype. However, the Leaf still can’t offer the multi-hundred mile touring capacity even a humble petrol city car does, on the rare off-chance such a schlep might be required. For many buyers, we suspect that’ll be enough to cross the Leaf off their shopping lists, even with free road tax, no London congestion charge and running costs that give cyclists a run (or ride) for their money.
Are there any other improvements to the Nissan Leaf?
The bootspace is up 40 litres to 370 litres, and besides natty LED headlights and aerodynamic 17in alloys, top-spec £25k Tekna models get a seven-speaker Bose hi-fi designed to use less juice than other high-end systems.
The car is slightly more supple too, thanks to retuned dampers set for British roads. Besides the twist and go-go-go performance, the Leaf isn’t a driver’s car, but the low-mounted batteries do give it a decent centre of gravity and smidgen of agility that similarly lofty MPV-cum-hatchbacks usually do without.
It’s also now British-built (at Nissan’s ultra-efficient Sunderland plant) thanks to an £188m investment in January 2013 that secures 6000 jobs in the north east of England.
Be in no doubt the 2013 Leaf is an all-round improvement over the outgoing model. You get more range for much less money, as well as all the perks of EV motoring that the original (non-British-built) model offered.
Of course, most of the drawbacks remain too, and the Leaf will always be beset by the problems of patchy infrastructure, comparably low range and a lingering image problem – which afflicts almost all EVs, not just Nissan. If you’re patient enough to work around its flaws, the Leaf could provide one of the most satisfying, stress-free ownership experiences in modern motoring. The caveat, of course, if that in almost all cases, you’ll want an old fashioned fuel-burning car on standby too, just in case.