The funny thing about electric cars is you wait around for one for years and years, and then all of a sudden a bunch turn up at once. It’s weird. What’s even more strange is the fact that one of the world’s most popular electric cars, the Nissan Leaf, can look so ordinary on the outside, and yet actually turn out to be such fun to drive.
It would be hard to call the Nissan Leaf a pretty car in the classical sense of the word. Instead quirky might be a better adjective, in the same way the company’s delicious Cube is quirky. You’ll either like it or put up with it, but we’re doubtful whether anyone really *loves* the styling.
But there’s one thing to say for it, it’s functional. And more to the point, the design comes across as extremely practical, which is probably very important when you’re trying to convince Mr and Mrs Average to spend a lot of money on something so cutting edge. The design does have its advantages in terms of load capacity, driver visibility and seating comfort, in other words where it really counts, so maybe that’s the point?
It may also have something to do with the rather dull color of the test car we received. When you see the Leaf in white, for example, it looks rather different, with the curves becoming more seamless and definitely more elegant. Anyway, it’s a completely different matter when you step inside the vehicle, at which point design issues recede and it simply becomes a very refined, spacious five seater car. Check out the video below for our overview of the car in general.
We lived with the Leaf for a week of typical urban use, and during that time we were truly surprised by how quickly we grew to love the car and the way it performs. The hatchback format (even with the relatively high sill), drop down rear seats and roomy rear space really do make it a practical family car in terms of load and people carrying.
Click through for the rest our our report and conclusions on the Nissan Leaf Tekna
The driving experience is also a pleasure, with great visibility (although the chunky rear pillars do encourage more use of the reversing cameras) and driving position. The controls fall to hand easily, and even the novel ‘drive by wire’ drive selector works nicely in traffic situations, where you can easily flick between Neutral, Eco and Drive in an instant. Great design.
The dashboard delivers all the information you need in the right kind of place, and even with the proliferation of buttons everywhere, the main functions are never more than a menu click away, which is definitely what you need. The only caveat we had was with the voice recognition, which tended to be a little hit or miss at times, but that’s on a par with the technology in general we feel.
What’s clear is that 3 years of experience (the first Nissan Leaf was introduced to the world in 2010) really does make a difference when it comes to understanding how your customers are going to use the car. For example, having two distinct charging options built in means that you can take advantage of just about every opportunity to charge the car while out and about, unlike some of the other EVs which limit your choices.
In practice this is a big feature in removing range anxiety, because you can be fairly confident that you’ll be within range of a useable charge point on most journeys, and the sophisticated satnav system is also very helpful in identifying the nearest points. It sounds like a small thing, but it really does make it easier to get around without hassles.
The performance of an electric car is of course divided into two sections – how does it run and for how long? In the latter we found that the typical range for the Leaf is around 80-ish miles, although of course we kept it charged up long before that. In fact we seldom got below 30 miles of range before feeling a need to top up, which wasn’t that much of an issue. We also felt confident about the range gauge, which seemed to track our miles properly, and threw up no surprises.
By judicious use of the Eco button and a soft right foot, we could toodle around town effortlessly and with no drama, although as with all EVs you soon learn to stop chasing the gauges, especially when flicking the air conditioning on and off. Just relax and trust you’re going to be OK. You’re probably not going to run out of power on that trip to the station.
The real surprise, however, comes when you switch off the Eco button on the steering wheel, at which point you can literally feel the tug on the wheel as the car seems to go into ultra-responsive mode. At that point even the slightest dab on the throttle will urge the Leaf forwards with a surefooted nimbleness that is nothing less than exhilarating. The sedate sedan turns into a bit of a raver.
It took us a while to discover this hidden side to the Leaf, but when we did it transformed the whole driving experience. We could trot around town doing our chores quite happily on Eco mode, during which the car would be very well behaved and refined. But as soon as we needed a bit of oomph to overtake a bus or get out of a tricky situation in a gridlock, a quick push of the button to switch off Eco and we’d have all the power we need to get the job done and put a tiny smile on the face. Magic.
We really enjoyed our time with the Leaf, not least because we found out how flexible the car can be through the use of the two driving modes. Sedate, silent, refined saloon car in Eco mode, and nimble, brisk, fun sportster in standard mode. Of course for most of the time you’re likely to be husbanding mileage through whatever means is necessary, so Eco mode is likely to be the favorite choice, especially in colder temperatures when range suffers anyway.
But the knowledge that there’s a little tiger available should you need it, really does help make the car feel much more of a safe drive when it counts. Couple that with the ultra practical load capacity and general utility and you’ve got a great car for just about every need, except a long run up country of course. All in all, the Nissan Leaf has to be our favorite EV so far, and we can now see why it’s the world’s best selling EV with over 92,000 sold to date.
The word Leaf in the name apparently means Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable, Family car. Yes.
Price: From £20,490 (including govt subsidy and battery leaseback scheme)