Nissan LEAF Tekna 2013 electric review

Externally, not a lot has changed but a raft of improvements under the skin make the 2013 LEAF the best yet. This begs the question: Is the all-electric LEAF now a viable alternative to petrol?

Since our last review in 2010, Nissan has sold more than 50,000 LEAFs around the world, and our test car was built in the UK at Nissan's Sunderland factory rather than Japan. While many electric cars feel overly quirky or frankly a bit shoddy, the LEAF's build quality is first rate and it's quite easy to forget the power source until you coast to a halt in near-silence. For an extra challenge, we conducted our week-long test in the hills of West Wales during a prolonged cold spell. Neither gravity nor low temperatures are kind to electric vehicles, but the LEAF still managed a useful range of 60-80 miles per charge when driven briskly, against the claimed total of 125 miles in more ideal conditions.

Review by Ian Seabrook


PERFORMANCE

Electric motors give instant torque, so take-off is brisk and overtaking power is immediate with seamless power delivery. The official 0-60mph time of 11.5 seconds seems quite conservative, though if you spend too much time trying to beat this time then range will be reduced quite dramatically. Putting the LEAF in Eco mode dulls throttle response but boosts range and the amount of energy that is recovered through regenerative braking.

New for 2013 is B-Mode (Asenta and Tekna only). Moving the gear selector to B gives a greater 'engine braking' feel and more power regeneration when you ease off the throttle. It is very handy on twisty roads and you don't find yourself wasting energy by braking so often. A top speed of 87mph is plenty and the car remains near-silent at speed with minimal wind and road noise.

HANDLING

The electric power steering is nicely weighted – an improvement for 2013 – and gives confidence when cornering. The soft, composed ride is great for comfort, but doesn't encourage you to push too hard through bends, which is probably how it should be after all. This is more of a car cruising in comfort as opposed to racing about. Vehicle Dynamic Control and a Traction Control System aim to smother any hooligan tendencies, but with so much torque available, it is quite easy to break traction on muddy roads from a standstill. The traction control is actually a great help. Braking is powerful though it's a (pleasant) surprise to discover that the parking brake on this car is entirely mechanical – via a left-mounted pedal. It's very easy to operate.

BODY STYLE

Visually, very little has been amended for the 2013 makeover. The looks remain just the right side of quirky, though the rear styling does look a bit odd and slightly heavy. It doesn't really stand out as being much different from most modern hatchbacks though, and this is probably a good thing. The enormous headlamps pack an LED dipped beam, which is very effective and doesn't consume too much power. The main beam relies on Halogen bulbs. The lights have been designed in such a way to deflect air past the door mirrors as the car is in motion, reducing noise as much as possible in this almost silent car.

COMFORT & CONTROLS

2013 Nissan LEAF Nissan clearly had comfort high on the agenda. The seat is wonderfully supportive, with plenty of adjustment possible. A heated steering wheel is in addition to four heated seats – a real boon on cold winter days, though so is the heating system that can either be set to warm the car for a set time, or on this top-spec model can be turned in via your smartphone.

Most controls fall nicely to hand and have a good feel, including the centrally-mounted gear selector. The only annoyance is a scattering of minor controls down by your right knee which are tricky to see and find in a hurry. We found the automatic wipers were poor and never seemed to quite get the setting right, even when the sensitivity was adjusted. Nissan claims that the heating system on the 2013 models is more efficient. It generally estimated that its use would rob the range of 2-3 miles.



MPG & RUNNING COSTS

The car told us it was averaging 3.4 miles per kWh, which would mean that the 24 kWh battery pack would return a range of 81 miles if this level of driving were maintained (official range is 124 miles). That's a fuel-only cost of less than 5p per mile compared to 13p per mile for a petrol car returning 45mpg. Slow and rapid charging can be free if you use a supplier such as Ecotricity, who have charge points of varying power output all across the UK – though frustratingly not within range of our test in Wales. Other benefits include free entry into the London Congestion zone and free vehicle excise duty, as well as reduced servicing costs as there are no dual mass flywheels, timing belts or emission systems to go wrong. Servicing is due every 18,000 miles.

GREEN CREDENTIALS

The Zero Emission signs all over the car stretch the point a little – its fuel still has to come from somewhere – but the green credentials do stack up. Sure, the manufacture of the car and its batteries isn't the most eco-friendly, but that's true of any new car, and the oil they drink has a pretty large impact on the world. Lithium mining to manufacture batteries is harmful to the environment; however the batteries are very recyclable and can be used for other applications once its life in a LEAF is over.

Importantly though, a LEAF has no tailpipe and so does not emit anything at all when it is in use. Taking into account CO2 emissions from the power station, the LEAF still emits 20 to 40% less over its lifecycle, and if powered by renewable energy then emissions are effectively zero. Overall, Nissan claim more than 95% of the LEAF to be recyclable. Silent operation reduces noise pollution in urban areas. The new LEAF has a Next Green Car Rating of 26.

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

Our test car carries an eye-watering price tag of £32,119, though that did include the optional rear spoiler with solar cells (to top up the 12v battery), metallic paint, a 6kW charger and £49 for floor mats. The on-the-road-price for a Tekna with no options is £25,490 once the £5000 government grant has taken effect. The Tekna version includes parking cameras with all-round vision, which works really well until the lenses get dirty.

On-the-road prices start at £15,990 for the basic Visia and £18,490 for the mid-range Acenta – these prices however are for purchase without batteries, and are subject to an additional battery leasing plan. Battery leasing costs depend on mileage and contract length, but start from £70.

MODEL SUMMARY

2013 Nissan LEAF

Model tested: Nissan Leaf Tekna
Body-style: Five-door hatchback
Engine/CO2: 80 kW synchronous electric motor with 24 kWh li-ion battery / 0 gCO2/km
Trim grades: Visia, Acenta, Tekna

On-road price: On-road price from £20,990. Test car £27,119 (Inc. £5,000 OLEV grant)
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 STARS
Next Green Car Rating:Next Green Car Rating of 26

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Russell Bray

Author:Russell Bray
Date Updated:26th Nov 2013

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