Nissan LEAF: Out on a limb

Riley Riley


What is it?

It’s hard to believe the LEAF has been with us for 10 years.

I write LEAF with capitals because it’s actually an acronym for Leading, Environmentally-friendly, Affordable Family car — or so they say.

Nissan is to be commended for going out on a limb (sorry, couldn’t resist) and putting the LEAF out there, then working to improve its latter day electric offering.

The first version was launched with plenty of bravado back in 2010, but was too expensive, had limited range and was not terribly practical as a result.

Not surprisingly, they didn’t sell too many.

The second generation, which arrived here in 2019, is styled very differently, but remains a five-seat hatch, with more power and significantly greater range.

In other words, it’s bordering on being a “real” car, one that the man in the street can aspire to own and drive, and one that, depending on personal circumstances, deserves serious consideration.

2020 Nissan LEAF in red 5 1

What’s it cost?

There’s just one fully equipped model priced at $53,190 driveaway.

For your money, you get a small to medium-sized hatch that seats five, with a reasonably sized boot.

The batteries (there’s more than one of them), are hidden under the floor where they don’t intrude and you can’t seem them, and are covered by an 8-year/160,000km warranty — whichever happens to come first.

Curiously, although the majority of cars sold nowdays are high-riding SUVs, but Nissan has opted to stick with the hatchback format, which could be a limiting factor (as could the price).

Maybe that’s the role of the recently announced Ariya electric crossover?

LEAF comes with leather/suede trim, single zone climate air, 17 inch alloys and an 8.0-inch touchscreen, with satnav, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus 7-speaker Bose Energy Efficient premium audio — along with a 7.0-inch Advanced Drive Assist Display.

There also push-button start, heated seats front and back, a heated steering wheel, LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, auto dimming mirror, auto high beam, and adaptive cruise control.

Five-star safety extends to six airbags, Intelligent Emergency Braking with pedestrian detection, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Lane Intervention and Intelligent Forward Collision Warning.

It also comes with Intelligent Around-View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, Intelligent Cruise Control, Intelligent Driver Alert, front and rear parking sensors, Vehicle Dynamic Control with Traction Control System, plus ISOFIX and three top tether child restraint anchor points.

What it doesn’t get is reach adjustment for the steering wheel, power adjustment for the seats or a wireless phone charging pad — not exactly cutting edge?


What’s it go like?

Better than expected.

With a 40kWh battery pack, power output has been boosted to 110kW and 320Nm, with a claimed range of “up to” 270km from a single charge.

The automatic transmission drives the front wheels, the dash from 0-100km/h takes 7.9 seconds and top speed is 144km/h.

With most city-based Aussies driving just 38km a day, Nissan argues LEAF will satisfy the daily driving needs of the majority of buyers.

The car sits low, with a roomy interior, but the split-fold back seat is better suited to two rather than three adults and there are no rear air outlets.

With no engine noise to compete with, it’s very quiet inside, making for easy conversation between front and back, and emits a high-pitched beeping noise to warn pedestrians of its approach.

Like most cars these days, it’s keyless start, requiring the driver to put a foot on the brake and push a button, whereupon the engine does not spring to life — but all the lights do come on.

The gear selector is little more than a small, joystick that you move across and up for reverse or across and down for drive.

There’s also an Eco button and a switch for e-Pedal mode that allows the driver to control both acceleration and braking with the accelerator.

Lift off and it starts to brake and will in fact brake all the way to a stop if needed.

Accelerate again and it stops braking.

Eco? The whole damn car is designed from the ground up to be ecologically friendly — why the hell does it need an Eco button?

Turns out it does exactly what other Eco buttons do, that is to reduce power output and as a result fuel consumption — or in this case power consumption.

e-Pedal is a bit daunting to start with, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually quite fun.

But remember to turn it off for low speed parking manoeuvres, or things become a little jerky.

You might want to make a mental note of whether you’re in normal or e-Pedal mode too, because if it’s in normal mode it’s not going to come to a stop without applying the brake.

With no background engine noise, the driving experience is quiet and for want of a better description “rush-like” — a bit like riding the light rail.

The car takes off with a bit of a jerk and accelerates rapidly, thanks to the instant torque of the electric powertrain, to the accompaniment of rushing air and a whirr from the tyres.

It’s well sprung and the ride is comfortable, but the seats are not so comfy, with relatively short seat bottoms and bolsters that create pressure points on the back of the thighs.

It pays to keep an eye on the remaining battery capacity and it also pays to start any journey with a fully charged battery.

For the harder you push the LEAF, the quicker the battery will deplete (think 110km/h on the motorway).

While you can fully charge LEAF in about 18 hours using a standard home wall socket, this figure drops to 7.5 hours with the latest 7kW home charger installed.

A wall charger will set you back about $2000, so you might want to factor one into the price.

You can also plug your LEAF into an industrial strength CHAdeMO rapid charger and get from alert to 80 per cent charge in around 60 minutes depending on charging conditions.

Them’s the figures.

In reality it is not necessary to charge the LEAF every night, for normal day-to-day driving.

But of course, the longer you leave it, the longer it will take to fully recharge.

It’s comforting then to know all is not lost if you forget to plugin the car on your return home — like forgetting to charge your phone before going to bed.

Here, however, we should perhaps pause and consider the wider implications of buying an electric vehicle.

When you buy an electric car, you also buy into the electric car lifestyle.

This in part means shuffling cars to give the EV access to a power point, because you can’t use an extension lead.

And, because the EV is always at the head of the driveway, it means that everyone parked behind it will need to move when it’s time for the EV to leave.

This of course implies the EV owner has off-street parking, otherwise home charging could be something of an issue, which is ironic considering electric vehicles are targeted primarily at city dwellers — most of whom are forced to park on the street.

We clocked up just under 500km at an average of 15.2kWh/100km.

With a fully charged 40kWh battery, this means a range of about 260km, which is bang on the claimed figure.

Service intervals are 12 months or 20,000km and capped pricing over four years works out at about $1130.



What we like?

  • Fun to drive
  • Low operating costs
  • Zero tailpipe emissions
  • Smooth, silent engine response
  • e-Pedal mode
  • Handles quite well


What we don’t like?

  • Too expensive (still)
  • No reach adjustment for the steering wheel
  • No power adjustment for the seats
  • No wireless phone charging
  • Foot operated parking brake
  • Space saver spare located under the rear
  • Service costs


The bottom line?

Nissan is close to getting it right.

Once driving range approaches that of a conventional car and they manage to get the price down to around $40,000, LEAF or the SUV version of LEAF will take off like a skiff in a southerly buster.

Like mobile phones, flat screen TVs and Netflix, electric cars are here to stay people and it’s just a matter of making them a more attractive proposition — the desire is probably there but not the funds.

It would however help if the Morrison Government provided something in the way of financial incentives to encourage people to make the change to electric vehicles.

But that doesn’t appear likely any time soon, does it?


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Nissan LEAF, priced from $53,190 driveaway
  • Looks - 7/10
  • Performance - 7.5/10
  • Safety - 8/10
  • Thirst - 9/10
  • Practicality - 7/10
  • Comfort - 7.5/10
  • Tech - 8/10
  • Value - 7.5/10