Why Leaf is an icon for our times

Previous generations had the Mini and the Volkswagen Beetle. Near-iconic cars which were the stand-out stars of the era. Now we have the Nissan Leaf.

Friday, 20th August 2021, 8:30 pm
Nissan Leaf

No car has done more than this one to popularise the electric vehicle market. It is far from the only choice, but it was the first to make a mark. And despite a massive surge in alternative EVs, the Leaf remains the benchmark.

It is, above, all a simple car in a complex world. Driving it is easy – almost too easy. Turn it on, press the ‘gas’ and steer. There really isn’t too much more to it than that. In many cases, you don’t even need to brake. Ease off the throttle and the car slows in much the same way a fairground dodgem slows.

And charging is easy too. There is a bonnet concealing what looks to an untrained eye like an engine, but which is in fact a motor. In front of the bonnet is a smaller mini bonnet which conceals the charging points,

Find a charger and plug it in. Ninety minutes later your car could have gone from 20 per cent charge to 80 per cent.

Zoom off – ever so quietly – and you will find you have almost sports car-like performance. You could touch 60mph in under seven seconds. So much for EVs being boring.

New Leaf is not a bad looking car, which is a breakthrough considering early Leafs and rivals such as Honda Insight and Toyota Prius were unappealing. Quite why an EV has to be dull is beyond me but new Leaf is a neat looker.

It is a five-seater. The price of the well-equipped test model is £30,445, which is notional seeing as though no-one ever went in and bought one with cash. Well, it may have happened once or twice, but most EVs are hire-purchased in the same way you might get an iPhone. So it’s the monthly deal which is crucial rather than the list price.

This is a well-equipped version. Anti-lock brakes, intelligent lane intervention to prevent wandering, pedestrian recognition, heated seats front and rear and a heated steering wheel, plus a terrific 360 degree camera system to help with manoeuvres and an 8in touchscreen are all standard.

It has traffic jam pilot, which enables the car to keep a safe distance from other vehicles in moving traffic.

The Nissan ProPilot is a semi-autonomous, advanced driver assistance system. It enhances the driver’s control of the vehicle by assisting with steering, acceleration and braking. Nissan says ProPilot makes motorway and traffic driving “easier, less stressful and more relaxing”.

Leaf is currently picking up awards. Only last month it was named ‘Best Used Electric Family Car’ at the What Car? Electric Car Awards 2021. The annual awards recognises the best fully electric and hybrid models available today.

What Car?’s judging panel praised its “polished handling” and “comfortable ride” as well as occupant and boot space. They said; “A truly viable alternative to the traditional family car: the Leaf is practical and good to drive, plus its range makes it useful for more than just commuting. Overall, the 40kWh Leaf impresses next to its used rivals.”

So while early Leafs were oddball cars, this is very much a mainstream model. Which it will have to be if the Government is to have any chance of making EVs a popular choice of car.

Since its global launch in 2010, Leaf has seen enhancements to both battery capacity and performance from 24kWh to 30kWh in 2016. A second generation model introduced in 2018 now offers both 40kWh and 62kWh versions, with an official range of up to 239 miles (WLTP) on range-topping e+ models.

It seems as though early EVs were made to stand out. Now the Leaf looks like any upper-medium family car with premium pretensions.

This is actually a very well appointed vehicle but it is simple to drive. Press and go, essentially. If you have doubts over electric cars, some time in a Leaf may calm your fears.

Nissan Leaf e-Plus N-Connecta

Price: £30,445. Test model added ProPilot, Traffic Jam Pilot, Lane Keep Assist, electronic parking brake, LED lighting pack and spare wheel pack bringing total to £31,720

Engine: A 62kWh electric motor plus rapid charging capability. From 20 per cent to 80 per cent in 90 minutes

Transmission: two-wheel-drive via automatic transmission

Power: 217ps

Performance: Top speed 98mph and 0 to 60mph in 6.9 seconds

Costs: 239 miles range on a full charge

Emissions: Zero

Warranty: Three years, 60,000 miles