Nissan's all-electric LEAF has been given some useful improvements. With its affordable pricing, bold engineering and surprisingly enjoyable driving dynamics, many green-minded motorists looking to drive an EV through the Motability Scheme may find that the updated LEAF ticks most of their boxes.
The electric 5 door Nissan LEAF range still starts at £0 Advance Payment (section updated October 2023).
You may already be aware of this - but it bears repeating: before the arrival of the Tesla Model 3, the Nissan LEAF was the world's best selling electric vehicle. You might think that would equate to sales in their tens of millions. Actually, the truth is that following its launch back in 2010 and throughout a production life that lasted nearly eight years, the first generation version of this battery-powered Nissan shifted 283,000 units. Worldwide. So, we really aren't talking massive numbers here.
That says less about the LEAF - a design we've always thoroughly respected - and more about the initial slow global take-up of battery-powered cars. Mostly, that's been because of the restrictions that fully battery-powered vehicles put on driving range, though that's something that's changing as automotive electric technology changes. It's certainly developed enough to make this second generation LEAF well worth another look if you couldn't quite justify the purchase of its predecessor. Particularly in this latest form.
Nissan wants to tell us about the more appealing 'Canto' sound the latest version of this model makes. But here we're going to start by dealing quickly with the first thing you'll want to know about: driving range. We remember vividly setting off in the first generation LEAF model back in 2010 and struggling to get much more than 60-70 miles out of it between charges. With this second generation design, Nissan claims a homologated WLTP driving range of 168 miles from the standard 40kWh model - or 239 miles (WLTP) from the alternative 'e+' version with its 62kWh battery. Even if you think in terms of a 'real world' driving range being about two-thirds of those total figures (which is our experience anyway), you can't deny that these readings represent an impressive improvement, representing a 50% increase over the final version of the original generation model.
The 40kWh lithium-ion battery that virtually all LEAF models still use produces 110kW (which equates to 148bhp) and 320Nm of torque - making the LEAF feel quite fast from a standing start: Nissan say that the 0-62mph time is about 9.8s. In the past with LEAF models, the amount of retardation you got when lifting off the throttle meant that the brake pedal was something you rarely needed to use. With this second generation model, you'll hardly need it at all thanks to 'e-Pedal' technology that can bring the car to a complete stop when you come off the accelerator. The key news here though is that the larger 62kWh battery 'e+' version of this car and its longer 239 mile driving range could be key in convincing potential buyers who might otherwise be swayed by longer-running EV rivals in this segment.
Not too much has changed visually with this refreshed LEAF: redesigned 16 and 17-inch alloy wheels, a refreshed palette of colours and a revised Nissan brand badge - that's about it. Otherwise, it's all as you were.
There are two routes to styling an all-electric car. Either you make it look exactly like a conventionally-engined model, as with, say, the Hyundai Kona Electric and the Kia e-Niro. Or you go for something overtly futuristic, as Nissan did with the first generation LEAF model. That approach continued on with this second generation design, which gets a sleek body featuring a flat floor, a sharp nose and an aggressively tapered rear end. There are though, familiar cues from more ordinary Nissan models - things like the company's signature 'V-motion' front grille, the 'boomerang'-style lights and the kicked-up rear shoulder line for example.
The MK2 model shape is certainly slippery; Nissan says it has a drag coefficient of 0.27Cd. And the whole structure's stiff too, torsional rigidity having improved by 15% over the previous generation design. Importantly, interior practicality is much like any combustion-engined family hatch, notably in terms of boot space, which is rated at 435-litres. The designers have also tried to give the cabin quite a premium feel, with smart trim materials and a smart look for the 7-inch centre-dash infotainment touchscreen. To remind you of this car's eco-friendly remit, there's vibrant blue stitching on the seats, the dashboard and the steering wheel. Two adults can fit comfortably across the back seat - and three could fit at a push.
Most LEAF models feature the 40kW battery and are priced quite affordably. There are 'Acenta', 'N-Connecta' and 'Tekna' trim levels. The longer range 62kWh battery 'e+' models cost more and are available in 'N-Connecta' and 'Tekna' trims.
Nissan offers even the most basic versions of this car with lots of sophisticated equipment. The LEAF, for example, is the only model the company makes which features its 'ProPilot' autonomous driving technology as standard. This a set-up which on motorways, can steer, brake and accelerate for you. There's also a 'ProPilot Park' system which will take control of all steering, acceleration, braking and gear selection to automatically guide the car into a parking slot. Inside, every variant gets a 7-inch colour centre-dash infotainment touchscreen featuring 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring technology. Plus there's a package of 'Safety Shield' features familiar from other Nissan models.
As the UK's electric car charging infrastructure becomes more advanced, it's becomes obviously much easier to make a case for cars like this. Quite a number of 50kW charging points are springing up in our cities and once you locate one of these, you'll be able to regularly re-charge your LEAF from empty to 80% capacity in just 40 minutes. As for domestic charging, well obviously if you plug into an ordinary three-pin plug socket - as you might have to do if you're out and about, say visiting relatives - re-charging still takes ages, though you can get quite a lot of it done with an overnight charge. Of course, for home re-charging, you'll want to fit a proper re-charging Wallbox which will charge your LEAF in about eight hours. A nice touch is the inclusion of an LED inspection light in the car's charging point so that owners won't have to rely on street lighting to connect their cars to an electric source at night.
Add these quick charging times to the increase in driving range that this current generation LEAF model has delivered over its original predecessor (a WLTP-rated figure 168 miles is quoted for the standard 40kWh model) and LEAF ownership could now add up for people who previously couldn't have justified it. To further strengthen its case, Nissan will want EV folk to consider the alternative 'e+' model, which uses a 62kWh capacity battery and is supposed to be able to extend that WLTP range to 239 miles.
Has this car's time finally come? Probably not quite yet, but the improvements Nissan continues to make will open up a much larger market for it. In developing this second generation model, the Japanese maker has clearly listened to customer feedback. The biggest issue of course was driving range, but as well as enhancing that with the alternative 'e+' variant, the brand has also added a package of technology that will make buyers feel that they're at the cutting edge of automotive technology.
Of course, some of the previous issues still remain. The car is still quite expensive if you want the 'e+' version, the looks will divide opinion and you probably won't even consider it unless you have off-street parking. Little by little though, all-electric motoring is widening its customer reach. And, as it's always been, the LEAF remains right at the forefront of that change.
People with a disability and carers who choose a new Nissan LEAF through Motability will receive a brand new car, delivered by a Motability Specialist at a local Nissan dealership, complete with insurance, servicing and maintenance, full breakdown assistance, replacement tyre cover, windscreen repair or replacement cover plus a mileage allowance of 60,000 miles over three years.
This month, these Nissan Leaf New models can be ordered through the Motability Scheme: