Nissan Leaf electric motor, drive & performance

Very impressive performance marred only by slightly stiff suspension

0-62mph Top speed Driven wheels Power
7.3-8.6 secs 89-98mph Front 150-217bhp

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.

Nissan Leaf electric motor, 0-62mph and acceleration

The Nissan Leaf’s motor produces a not-inconsiderable 147bhp and 320Nm of torque, which is the equivalent of many 2.0-litre diesel engines.

The difference is that the Leaf (and most electric cars, in fact) generates that torque from a standstill, so you can access the full force of the motor all at once, delivering a strong burst of acceleration that you don’t get in equivalent diesels.

Consequently, the Leaf takes just 8.6 seconds to cover the 0-62mph performance benchmark, although 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.

Other cars have similar systems, but the 'E-Pedal' is the real standout in the Leaf. Effectively, it boosts regenerative braking to such an extent that it’s possible to drive using one pedal.

Pressing the pedal to go faster is intuitive, but releasing it to actively slow takes a bit of getting used to, and the sudden change in brake response if you turn E-Pedal off can be alarming – you need a surprising amount of force to stop the Leaf from creeping if you haven’t got E-Pedal activated.

The efficiency rewards are worth the effort, certainly, but we prefer the more intuitive wheel-mounted paddle system (that simply toggles up and down the brake regen modes) that's similar to what rivals like the Hyundai Kona and Kia e-Niro use.

Handling

The Nissan Leaf is fast, but it’s not particularly sporty. The steering is light and great for around-town maneuverability, while also being direct 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. It can feel pretty lumpy over uneven and patchy roads, although it’s not intrusive enough to bother most drivers.
 
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.

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.