Used Nissan Leaf Mk1 buying guide
Think of an electric car, and the chances are it’s the Nissan Leaf that springs to mind. It’s the world’s best-selling electric car, and with very good reason.
It blends practicality, decent performance and enough range for most buyers, in an affordable package. And with so many on the market, there’s no shortage of choice for the used car buyer.
Prices start from around £5-6,000 for the earliest cars, which makes a used Nissan Leaf a tantalising prospect for those dipping their toe into the water for the first time with electric cars, or simply for someone looking for an affordable used car that's cheap to run.
Yes, the Mk1 Nissan Leaf is dated by comparison to more modern cars, but that’s entirely forgivable given it was the first electric car to sell in big numbers. Some buyers had – and still have – concerns over battery life, but we know of at least one Nissan Leaf that has close to 200,000 miles on the clock and is still going strong on its original battery.
It’s not the most strikingly-styled car on the road, and the interior doesn’t boast the most tactile materials, but most buyers choose the original Leaf for more pragmatic reasons – and here it scores well.
There’s also the option of choosing a FLEX model, which comes with a battery lease. If you’re looking to offset some of the purchase price - which is fairly low on used cars, anyway - or if you're worried about the battery condition running down over time, it’s an option worth considering. Given the lack of reported battery problems, for most buyers it’s better to buy the car and the battery outright. That’ll reduce your monthly outgoings to just electricity, insurance, repairs and maintenance.
You can expect around 70 miles from a charge on the earliest cars, while updated 2013 cars will do around 99 miles in the real world, and the 30kWh Leaf tops the lot if you're concerned about driving range, with 124 miles quite achievable in ordinary use.
Of course, your actual range will vary depending on how you drive, but also on the ambient temperature and whether you need to use the air-conditioning, lights and other ancillaries. Charging from 0 to 100% takes ten hours from a household socket or four and a half hours from a 7kW wallbox. An 80% charge from a rapid charger takes just 30 minutes.
The Nissan Leaf went on sale in the UK in March 2011. It was built in Japan, and can be identified by a cream-coloured interior that really does show up dirt.
Two years later, the British built version went on sale with a raft of improvements that increased the official (NEDC) range from 109 to 124 miles. The interior was darker in colour, immediately making it more family-friendly, and the range was expanded from one trim to three – Visia, Acenta and Tekna. In 2015 an Acenta+ model joined the range which featured a 6.6kW on-board charger as standard – it was previously an optional extra – allowing owners to charge the battery from empty to 100% in four hours. Importantly, 2015 also saw the introduction of a model with a new 30kWh battery that gave the Leaf an official range of 155 miles between charges, and was available in Acenta and Tekna trims.
Regardless of the model you choose, there’s only one 107bhp motor, and while the earlier models had a 24kWh battery, it’s worth seeking out those later models with a useful boost to 30kWh if you're at all concerned about the car's range.
The Mk1 Nissan Leaf’s swansong was the Black Edition, launched in March 2017. It was based on the Acenta trim, but with a black styling treatment.
Which one should I buy?
This depends largely on your budget and how you’ll use the car. While the original 2011 model records a range of 109 miles and the 2013 version 124 miles, the vast majority of buyers won’t need more. If you’re one of those people, then you’re in luck, as they’re also the cheapest to buy.
That means that, unless you really need the 30kWh version with its 155 mile range, you’re better off saving your money.
It’s worth trying to find a version with the 6.6kW on-board charger, which was fitted as an option to earlier cars as it halves the charging time to four hours.
As far as trims go, we’d avoid the earliest car as the interior gets grubby quickly. Even so, it comes with most things you could reasonably want, including sat-nav, climate control and 16-inch alloy wheels. Metallic paint was an option, as was a solar panel fitted to the rear spoiler. Most owners agree it doesn’t do much, other than keep the car’s 12v battery charged.
Models built from 2013 started with the Visia trim, which we’d avoid as it lacks alloy wheels, and an infotainment screen which makes it harder to access some of the car’s features. More importantly, there’s no fast charging and the heater isn't terribly efficient.
Acenta models receive alloy wheels, sat-nav, an energy-saving heater and a CHAdeMO rapid charge socket, which gives you the ability to use many public rapid chargers. Tekna models add leather trim, LED headlights, a Bose audio upgrade and larger alloy wheels.
Used Nissan Leaf alternatives
There are few electric cars to rival the cheapest Nissan Leafs. The closest is the Renault ZOE, which is a little smaller, but still remarkably practical. The battery can be leased or bought outright, so it’s important to understand that arrangement before you buy. The ZOE also comes in two versions with different battery outputs.
The BMW i3 is a handsome and upmarket rival to more expensive used Leafs. Unlike the Leaf, the i3 was available with a small petrol ‘range extender’ engine that works as a generator should the battery become depleted, as well as a more popular fully-electric version.
Other affordable options are the small and rare Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero. They are all closely related, and none are particularly well regarded.
What to look for
Battery: We’re yet to hear stories of batteries failing, so it's reasonable to say that they’re well up to the job. The instruments indicate the battery condition and will show you if the maximum battery capacity (and therefore driving range) has reduced over time. Nissan offered a five-year or 60,000 mile warranty on the original Leaf, eight-years and 100,000 miles on the 30kWh version.
Drive: The Leaf is as easy to drive as any other automatic. The car’s regenerative braking system charges the battery when the car is slowing, and there’s a mode to increase the effectiveness of this. Early cars had an electronic handbrake, later cars a foot pedal instead. Which you prefer will be personal preference, but neither is hard to use.
Charging: The majority of Leafs have two sockets under a flap behind the Nissan badge on the nose. One is a Type 1 connector for slow and fast charging, and the other is a CHAdeMO for swifter rapid charging from the kind of chargers you’ll find at most service stations.
Boot space: Early cars have smaller boots than later models. The high-spec Tekna version of later models has audio equipment mounted in the boot, which robs some of the luggage space.
Interior: The very earliest, Japanese-built cars have a cream interior which doesn’t look that great and shows up dirt very easily; Sunderland-built cars have a darker interior and are more desirable.
Infotainment: Much of the infotainment is powered by an SD card. They’re expensive to replace, so it’s vital to ensure any car you’re buying is equipped with one.
Like most electric cars, the Nissan Leaf should be affordable to run. That’s because when it comes to service and maintenance, there are far fewer things to go wrong. As such, its 18,000-mile service intervals are more widely-spaced than most petrol or diesel alternatives although, regardless of your mileage, it’ll need an annual service.
It’s likely you’ll need to take it to a Nissan dealer for a service, as few independent garages are geared-up to service electric cars. Main dealer services alternate between minor and major, costing £150 or £200, although 12 months free breakdown cover (worth £95) softens the blow.
Given the Leaf was built using technology that was relatively unproven, just three recalls is pretty impressive. The first concerned a steering column clip fitted to 2013 and 2014 cars, and the second affected cars built between September 2013 and January 2014 which could develop a fault with the car’s start button. The last was to check the automatic headlight aim on cars built in February and March 2017.
In our 2018 Driver Power ownership satisfaction survey, the Mk1 Nissan Leaf was rated top in the electric car class. A remarkable 96% of respondents said they’d not had a fault with the car. It finished top in the engine and gearbox category and, rather unsurprisingly, chalked up an extremely strong score for running costs too.