Used Nissan Leaf Mk1 buying guide
The original Nissan Leaf was one of the first viable electric cars released by a mainstream manufacturer, which is partly why it was the world's best-selling electric car for many years.
It offers enough range for many people's daily motoring, coupled with decent performance and practicality. Used prices for early examples are now temptingly low and there are plenty of examples to choose from in the classifieds.
Early cars can be bought from just a few thousand pounds, meaning you can give electric motoring a try without a massive initial outlay and benefit from the ultra-low running costs straight away.
Yes, the first Leaf is now a bit behind the times compared to more modern models, but that’s forgivable given it was the first electric car to sell in big numbers. Some may have concerns about long-term battery life, but we know of at least one Leaf with almost 200,000 miles on its original battery and still going strong.
The Leaf is not the most attractive-looking car on the road, and its interior isn't exactly luxurious, but most people choose this car for more pragmatic reasons – and here it scores well.
You can pick up a FLEX model, which comes with a battery lease. If you’re looking to offset some of the purchase price – which is fairly low for used Leafs, anyway – or worried about the battery deteriorating over time, it’s an option worth considering. Given the lack of reported battery problems, though, most buyers are probably better off buying the car and battery outright.
Expect to get around 70 miles from a charge on the earliest Leafs, while updated 2013 cars will do around 100 miles in the real world. 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 temperature and whether you need to use the air-conditioning, lights and other ancillaries. Charging from 0 to 100% takes 10 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 original 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 driving range from 109 to 124 miles.
The interior of these cars is darker in colour, immediately making it more family-friendly, and the range was expanded from one trim level to three – Visia, Acenta and Tekna. In 2015, an Acenta+ model joined the range, featuring 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 30kWh battery that gave the Leaf an official range of 155 miles between charges. It 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 that got 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. The original 2011 model records a range of 109 miles and the 2013 version 124 miles, and 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.
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 offered as an option to earlier cars, as it halves the charging time to four hours.
As far as trim levels go, we’d avoid the earliest cars, as their light-coloured interior gets grubby quickly. Even so, they comes with most features 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 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 received alloy wheels, sat nav, an energy-saving heater and a CHAdeMO 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 Mk1 Renault ZOE, which is a little smaller, but still remarkably practical. Its battery can be leased or bought outright, so it’s important to understand the 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 in more popular fully electric form.
Other affordable options are the small and rare Mitsubishi i-MiEV and its near-identical sister models the Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero. They're cheap to buy, but feel quite dated and have a very limited range.
What to look for
Battery: We’ve yet to hear widespread reports of Leaf batteries failing, so it's reasonable to say they’re well up to the job. The instruments indicate the battery condition and will show you if the maximum capacity (and therefore driving range) has reduced over time. Nissan offered a five-year/60,000-mile warranty on the original Leaf, and eight years/100,000 miles on the 30kWh version.
Drive: The Leaf is as easy to drive as any other automatic car. The regenerative braking system charges the battery when you slow down, and there’s a mode to increase the effectiveness of this. Early cars had an electronic handbrake, later cars a foot pedal. 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 that 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 ensure any car you’re buying is equipped with one.
Like most electric cars, the 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, as few independent garages are geared-up to service electric cars. Main-dealer services alternate between minor and major, costing £150 or £200, although the inclusion of 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 their start button. The last was to check the automatic headlight aim on cars built in February and March 2017.
In our sister title Auto Express' 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 theirs. It finished top in the engine and gearbox category and, rather unsurprisingly, chalked up an extremely strong score for running costs, too.