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Mould-breaking electric hatchback closes in on its dotage by pitching to steal buyers from the Chinese brands

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The second generation of the pioneering Nissan Leaf electric hatchback is now fading slowly towards retirement. It inherited quite a legacy from its mould-setting predecessor, which became the first truly globally sold, mass-produced electric vehicle of the modern era when it entered production in 2010.

It wasn’t until 2020 that even the mighty Tesla could eclipse the Leaf’s tally of commercial success, when the Tesla Model 3 saloon finally overtook it for cumulative sales of any single model. To date, more than 650,000 Leafs have been sold the world over since 2010 – one in the eye for the Renault Zoe which, while more popular in Europe, itself never made it through the 500,000 mark.

The name of the world’s best-selling EV is actually an acronym. This is Nissan’s ‘Leading Environmentally friendly Affordable Family vehicle’.

Nissan replaced the jelly-mould-like original Leaf with this sharper-looking second one in 2017, and the improvements it made on its forebear (battery range went up by 50%, motor power by 40%, and torque by 25%) looked sizable. It went further still and launched an e+ version of the car in 2019, which pushed range up as far as 239 miles.

Such is the pace at which mass-market EVs have advanced since then, however, that the Leaf now offers notably less performance, range and rapid charging speed than key rivals. So it has been forced to compete for business at the budget end of the class, the larger-batteried version having been discontinued in 2023.

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While UK production of the Leaf at Nissan’s Sunderland factory wound up in March 2024, enough dealer stock exists to see the car through the rest of this year and into 2025.

So is there still some rational appeal to find in this electric old-stager?


nissan leaf 2024 02 side panning

The Leaf is a five-door hatchback - although quite a big one by particular class standards, measuring almost 4.5 metres in length. If even that has always seemed a little too small for the average customer’s liking (and given this car’s popularity in North America and Asia, it could have), it might explain why the third-generation Leaf, due in 2025, is tipped to become a compact SUV.

This car has an underfloor battery pack of nickel-manganese-cobalt pouch cells with a usable capacity of 39kWh. With drive power delivered via a 148bhp AC synchronous permanent magnet-style motor to the front wheels, range is claimed as 168 miles, and 0-62mph is possible in 7.9sec, with top speed limited to 90mph. 

None of these figures makes for any particularly strong relative selling point for the Leaf in 2024, when significantly more powerful and longer-range EVs are available for a comparable price.

Suspension is via hatchback-typical struts at the front axle and a torsion beam at the rear. 

Kerb weight is claimed at between 1540kg and 1594kg, which is itself quite creditable, given that it’s circa-100kg less than the MG 4 EV weighs and more like 200kg lighter than the Volkswagen ID 3.

The car charges via a lidded port above the front grille. But while it connects to an AC charging port via a standard seven-pin charging cable, it’s compatible with DC rapid chargers via a Chademo-type connection, which is becoming less and less common at UK fast charging stations (adaptor cables converting to the more common CCS Type 2 can be bought separately). DC charging is possible at speeds of up to 50kW only – another relatively poor showing compared with key rivals.


nissan leaf 2024 09 dash

There’s a certain simplicity to the interior layout of the Leaf that those frustrated by the car industry’s fixation with touchscreen technology might just embrace. 

There’s a clear sense of antiquation too, of course, and a certain plainness and monochrome drabness about the mouldings and materials used that fails to invite you in or appeal much to your senses, like the cabin of the Cupra Born or Hyundai Kona Electric might.

The trick to realise is where, if anywhere, the Leaf is likely to find its buyers in what remains of its lifecycle: not among those who can afford richer-looking and -feeling alternatives but as a cut-price rival to Chinese-made EVs like the MG 4 EV, BYD Dolphin and GWM Ora 03. Next to cars like those, there’s a certain reassurance and solace to be found in a dependable known quantity of an interior like the Leaf’s, from a company like Nissan, which has been majoring on sensible cabin designs for generations.

The driving position is improved but still feels oddly perched (because you’re sitting, even up front, directly above the battery) and still lacks a bit of longitudinal seat travel for longer-legged drivers, and telescopic steering column adjustment also.

Perceived cabin quality’s a shade improved over the 2011-2017 Nissan Leaf, although it was never really good enough for the prices being asked for upper-tier versions of this car a few years ago. In 2024, for less than £30,000, it’s passable - but no better.

In front of the driver, in the case of our Shiro-spec test car, was a half-digital, half-analogue instrument binnacle with a clock-style speedo and a screen-style drive/trip computer. The infotainment is a smallish 7.0in touchscreen system with quite basic-looking graphics and physical shortcut buttons around its margin. There’s a physical button console for heating and ventilation just below, as well as fairly chunky physical switches and knobs for drive selection, electronic handbrake activation and start/stop.

In the back seats, there’s space for smaller adults and younger teenagers, but both head and leg room are a little too limited for larger occupants. Here, both the 4 EV and ID 3 are more spacious.

Boot space is more impressive, at 385 litres under the parcel shelf, and Nissan provides some handy retention nets in which to keep your charging cable tidy.


nissan leaf 2024 20 chagring port

The Leaf’s performance level itself might have been enough to draw a few customers in during the middle part of the last decade, when a sub-8.0sec 0-62mph felt like the mark of a quietly sporting hatchback. Today, next to plenty of electric rivals that manage it in little more than 5.0sec, it’s a little bit unremarkable in itself, although more than sufficient to make for an easy and assured driving experience whether you’re in town or out of it.

The Leaf doesn’t exactly bolt away from rest, its motor being calibrated to feed in torque progressively so as not to disturb the front tyres’ hold on the road, but from walking pace onwards, it has plenty of zip. You can squirt the car into gaps in urban traffic easily and nip past slower-moving traffic, up to about 50mph, quite assertively.

The ePedal driving setting filters in strong regenerative braking before you go anywhere near the brake pedal. This ‘one-pedal’ driving style was the Leaf’s main functional innovation a decade or so ago, as other first-generation EVs went for more conventional operating regimes. Even now, there’s a sense of efficiency to driving the car like this in town and in stop-start traffic - although you can disable the setting when you want to ‘sail’ more freely and conserve kinetic energy on open roads (there are no regen adjustment paddles here). 

Even if you do use ePedal mode, the initial brake pedal travel blends in more regen before actuating the friction brakes, so the pedal does feel a little bit fuzzy and non-linear at times.

The standard-fit ProPilot driver assistance systems, meanwhile, feel a little bit backwards compared with more modern equivalents. The autonomous emergency braking system is a little prone to intervene unnecessarily in traffic; the lane-keeping assistance is a little intrusive on flowing single-carriageway roads out of town; and the adaptive cruise control is a little slow to respond.

The systems themselves can be switched on and off fairly easily via the trip computer and steering wheel controls, although it’s a slightly protracted process.


nissan leaf 2024 22 rear cornering

Intended very much as the EV for everyone, the Leaf isn’t really interested in the notions of sportiness that other EVs indulge. It’s not here to excite but to reassure; to be comfortable and predictable, rather than playful or poised. Pretty plainly, it was conceived and tuned to be easy to process; the kind of car that quietly says: “Of course you can drive an EV. Look, you’re doing it already.”

The steering is medium-weighted and paced. The handling is wieldy enough in town and when manoeuvring but more stable and predictable at higher speeds than agile or entertaining. Ride comfort and body control are medium-soft, yet contained.

The Leaf certainly doesn’t ride or handle like one of the lighter, simpler electric hatchbacks on the market, taking on the characteristics of a fairly substantial car out of town, when it rides bumps with a fairly gently loping gait and takes corners with a bit of apparent roll and inertia. 

There’s a note of sophistication about its damping, though. While the springs allow the Leaf to begin to pitch and heave on country roads, the dampers are progressive and effective enough to rein body movements in gently but effectively. So you’re aware that the Leaf feels softer than some EVs, but when it moves, as often as not it feels like it’s absorbing what the road’s throwing at it, rather than being disturbed by it.


nissan leaf 2024 01 front cornering

Nissan effectively took a couple of thousand pounds off the entry-level price of the Leaf in 2023 when it launched the Shiro trim level, which bundles extra equipment into a car for a lower list price.

It's also currently incentivising Leaf sales pretty hard, with a £2500 manufacturer finance contribution for personal finance and 0% interest. Over a five-year finance term and with a fairly typical deposit, then, that puts the Leaf within reach for less than £250 a month. And that’s the kind of affordability that, so far, only the Chinese brands are really competing with.

If you’re paying cash, the Leaf is priced from under £29,000 - and few new EVs cost less than that.

Real-world range and rapid charging speed aren’t strong suits of the car – but for the price, you might not expect them to be. That claimed 168-mile range is just about reproducible around town and at slower country road speeds, but during longer-range motorway commuting, 130 miles is about all you will get, and then only in favourable running conditions.

Peak DC rapid charging speed is about 50kW, allowing the battery to go from 10-80% charge in about an hour.



The first age of the fully electrified car feels like it’s drawing to a close as the Nissan Leaf draws towards the end of its life. 

Even now, so many years after this car showed the rest of the industry that full electrification could be made viable in a compact family car, the second-generation version remains a fairly mature, competent and reassuring proposition. Compared with any compact hatchback you like, it’s competitively spacious and versatile, easy and simple to drive, but comfortable and refined with it; similarly easy to operate and decently finished inside; and viable, even, as a short-hop family car.

Range and rapid charging speed are the Leaf’s key shortcomings in 2024, and, frankly, unless you can only afford to put the most affordable EVs on your shopping list, we would recommend spending a little bit more on a compact EV with significantly longer range and quicker, more freely available rapid charging. Because the difference between a real-world 130-mile motorway cruising range, and one at 180-200 miles, is great and probably worth an extra £100 a month.

If, on the other hand, the Leaf’s range is likely to be enough to meet your needs, the rest of the package probably won’t disappoint. Even allowing for some slightly intrusive assisted driving technology and antiquated infotainment technology, it’s easier to get on with and less likely to annoy than several of its key Chinese-made rivals.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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