Nissan Leaf electric motor, drive & performance

Very impressive performance marred only by slightly stiff suspension

Forget what you thought you knew about how an electric car drives. The Nissan Leaf proves that you can combine a decent driving range with good performance in a practical package. It doesn't handle like a hot hatchback, but it's very nearly as fast as one.

Nissan Leaf electric motor, 0-62mph and acceleration

The Nissan Leaf’s motor produces a not-inconsiderable 147bhp, which is the equivalent of many 2.0-litre diesel engines. Where the Leaf is more than a match for those is when it comes to torque, or pulling power. It generates 320Nm, which is about the same as a diesel Golf, but it's available from a standstill, so you can access the full force of the motors all at once while that Golf is still only getting going.

Consequently, the Leaf takes just 7.9 seconds to cover the 0-62mph performance benchmark. And unlike petrol or diesel cars, it’ll keep accelerating just as fiercely above the motorway speed limit. Not that much above the limit, though – top speed is just 89mph.

It’s not just the way the Leaf goes that impresses. How it stops is worthy of note, too. There are two selectable drive modes – B and ECO – which progressively increase the input of the regenerative braking. When you slow down, this recoups power that would otherwise be wasted and directs it back to the electric motor. Lots of other cars have similar systems, but it’s the 'E-Pedal' that’s the real standout in the Leaf. Effectively, it boosts the regenerative braking to such an extent that it’s possible to drive using only one pedal. Pressing the pedal to go faster is intuitive, but releasing it to actively slow takes a bit of getting used to. The efficiency rewards are worth the effort, though.

Handling

The Nissan Leaf is fast, but it’s not particularly sporty. The steering is light, which is great for around-town maneuverability, but it's also direct and responsive enough that you can corner with confidence at higher speeds. That sense of control is aided by a low centre of gravity (thanks to the heavy batteries being positioned beneath the floor) and firm suspension. However, that latter feature is also our biggest gripe about how the Leaf drives. With a little more suppleness, it could have scored a five-star rating in this section.

There are no such complaints with how quiet the car is, though. The sensation of silent acceleration takes a little getting used to, but is strangely beguiling. Nissan says the Leaf is around 30% quieter than petrol or diesel alternatives, and we believe it. In fact, the most noticeable noise comes from the tyres rotating on the road surface.

All models in the Leaf range come with the option of ProPilot self-driving technology, with the exception of the range-topping Tekna, which has it fitted as standard. It can make the car go, turn and stop without any input from you, and will even park the car by itself. Once activated, all you need to do is place your hands on the wheel and be ready to take back control if you need to. It works very well indeed.