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)