Nissan could quite easily be considered the world leaders in electric vehicles. Sure a certain eccentric billionaire-led US company takes most of the headlines, and others have forged ahead into the world of hybrids more swiftly, but it's hard to argue that many head Nissan in pure-EV terms. Nissan branched out into full zero-emissions motoring back in 1997 with the Altra, which, during its two-year sales run, would see barely 200 models reach the public. However, it was the start of an exploration of alternative fuels that has continued for the following 21 years.
Nissan's Leaf hatch first appeared in Europe in 2011, after a launch into other markets the previous year. It was at once class-leading, interestingly styled and revolutionary, tying up the issues of the previous low-volume production and concept EVs into a package with real-world usability.
Earlier this year the new Leaf arrived to our shores, fixing those styling issues and adding even more tech.
The new Leaf in Acenta form gives you the regenerative e-pedal as standard along with lane-departure warning, emergency braking and lane assist, Nissan’s NissanConnect EV 7-inch infotainment screen including rear-view parking camera, preset air-con and 16-inch alloys. Our car was in top-of-the-range Tekna spec, which adds heated seats, 17-inch alloys, a heated steering wheel, folding door mirros, radar-guided cruise control, and full LED automatic lights for an extra £3,200. Our test car also included two-tone pearlescent white paint with black metallic roof and the extra accessory pack that adds rear spoiler, ambient lighting, illuminated door entry, mug guards and more.
The figures at first don't look that impressive. The Leaf produces the equivalent of 109bhp from its electric motor. But this is where EVs win, 0-62mph is covered in just 7.9 seconds, and still the figures definitely don't tell the whole story. The Leaf is nothing short of electric (forgive the pun) in the way it dispenses that power – hauling in a way that 109bhp really shouldn't. In town, or in traffic, you've got the ability to surprise anyone around you. Steering feel isn't exactly blinding, but the leaf holds the road surprisingly well for a car that weighs nearly two tonnes and sits on low-rolling resistance tyres.
The most interesting part of the new Leaf's performance is the use of Nissan’s e-pedal for the first time. This is Nissan's first foray into one-pedal operation and, while eventually pretty intuitive, does take some getting used to. Instead of the neutral pedal position being at the top of its travel, it is now in the middle. Anything further forward is go, any further back is slow, up to the point of pretty heavy braking. Stick the Leaf in e-pedal mode and you can all but dispense with the second pedal. It works by strengthening the regenerative braking element to slow you and balancing with a little old-fashioned friction when needed. It won't bring you fully to a halt in an emergency, but once you’re used to it it's pretty relaxing for everything other than your ankle – which needs to maintain pressure on the car at all times.
What is brilliant about driving the Leaf is the pure refined feeling it brings. On an open road the low centre of gravity and decent suspension setup bring an almost wafty feeling, although if the road gets a little juddery it can be a little more jarring. No engine noise is available to intrude into the cabin, and while this allows a little more tyre and wind noise in than normal, it's deadened pretty well, allowing you to waft along in a relaxed style.
We can’t ignore the elephant in the room – range. Nissan have had the Leaf put through the more realistic WLTP trial, which give the Leaf a range of 168 miles. On our week with the car we found this was probably about right, and a 60-mile daily commute took about 70 miles of range off the trip computer. While that may not sound revolutionary, it would be a lie to say that 168 miles isn't enough for most people to live with day-to-day. Install a proper charger at your home for a four-hour top-up and it should be more than enough. Electric tech simply isn't ready for those with longer daily journeys yet, but realistically that's a very small part of the population.
As with all EVs you will be very very hard pushed to ever see those maximum quoted range figures, but in the right situation there is no real reason for anxiety. If you live within a normal distance of your office and have access to a normal three-pin plug when you get there it'll actually take some of the hassle out of driving. Just get to work, plug it in and forget about it. You never need worry about wasting time at the petrol station on the way into work again. Behind the wheel it feels completely normal when driving in two-pedal mode, and while the e-pedal can take some getting used to, it becomes intuitive after not too long.
Our top-of-the-range model came with an at-first difficult pricing point of £31,000, and the government does provide help in bringing that cost down, but that help has been reduced in the middle of writing this article, so it’s yet to be seen how much that affects buyers now having to stump up an extra £1k to go EV. If you're happy with the new £3,500 grand and prepared to swallow any pre-held distaste for electric cars, or if you've been looking to go emission-free for some time it's hard to look past the Leaf. This is a quiet, nippy hatchback, which will cost you just a matter of pennies to fill up each time. Nissan reckon the average daily commute is around 20 miles, so the Leaf seems like a no brainer to us if the range works for you.