Used car buying guide: Nissan Leaf (2001-2017)

Tyler Heatley

13 Oct 2021

Thinking of going electric? The Nissan Leaf might be the ideal used option for many.

+ Good reliability

+ Plenty on the used market

– Small battery range versus modern EVs

– Looks won’t appeal to everyone

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Nissan Leaf (2001-2017): what’s good?

The first-generation Nissan Leaf was something of a trailblazer for EVs in that it wasn’t sold as a novelty. Long before Tesla really took off, Nissan arrived with its quirkily styled hatchback that offered enough range for urban use and the average commute. For many, this was their first leap into the world of electric motoring – a service this car now loyally provides to the used car buyer.

At the Leaf’s core is a car that you can use like any other. It’s a hatchback, so there’s a respectable boot and seating for five. Logistically, it’s a simple swap for your average family car. Of course, this was an era where owning an EV was a bit of a statement, so its somewhat unconventional looks won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s a design that has arguably got better with age.

Zippy performance from its electric motor is ideal for life around town, and a real-world range of around 70 miles from early cars is still enough for urban life or a local commute. Updated 2013 examples pushed the 100-mile barrier, while the last 30kWh models could manage over 124 miles.

The good news is that the Leaf’s batteries have stood the test of time and proven to be durable. You can lease a battery from Nissan, a scheme that will see it replaced if there are any issues, but high-mileage examples of this EV are still showing respectable health.

A huge draw for anyone buying a used electric car for the first time will be the cost-savings. Electric is cheaper than petrol, servicing costs are less, and you should escape low emission zones around the country.

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Nissan Leaf (2001-2017): what’s not so good?

Just like smartphones, EVs do seem rather susceptible to being considerably outshone by their successors – as is often the way with technology. The new Mk2 Nissan Leaf can cover up to 239 miles on a charge, something that makes a decade-old Mk1 with its 70-mile range seem inadequate. In truth, for urban living and the average commute, that range is just fine, but it might come with a bit of anxiety should you wish to travel further afield.

Another bottleneck in regards to tech is charging. Newer Leaf models can rapid charge to 80% battery in 30 minutes, which isn’t bad, but 80% of a limited range might not suffice for some users. A used Leaf makes more sense if you have a 7kW wallbox at home where you can charge it overnight, or for four and a half hours. If you’re really patient, you can charge for 10 hours via a household socket. Public charging from slower chargers for a relatively short range might not be all that worthwhile in a first-generation Leaf.

Packaging in modern EVs has also improved, with early Leafs not featuring the largest of boots. Some interior tech also dates this car.

Find out what our community of Leaf owners say.

Nissan Leaf (2001-2017): Motors and trims?

There are effectively three variants of first-generation Nissan Leaf to look out for. The launch car, the update in 2013 that brought better battery tech, and another update that introduced a 30kW model. All feature the same 107bhp electric motor.

Early cars came in just one trim level that included niceties such as navigation and alloy wheels. There was even an optional solar panel. From 2013 various trims were offered including entry Visia, more tech-focused Acenta, and top-spec Tekna. Visia offered a lower price point but lacks things such as nav and alloy wheels, so Acenta would be our recommendation. Tekna models enjoy leather, LED lights, and a snazzy audio system.

Opting for a car with a touchscreen and navigation is strongly recommended as they feature software that can help plot where to charge based on current range. Acenta cars also came with a CHAdeMO socket which will help with charging at an array of public points.

Nissan Leaf (2001-2017): the alternatives

The Nissan Leaf was a bit of a forerunner for the mass market when it came to EVs, but it was soon joined by the Renault Zoe. While a smaller car, the Zoe is a great alternative that comes with a respectable range and a similar battery leasing scheme should you choose.

There wasn’t really any other direct rivals for the Nissan Leaf at this time, but the used market does offer vehicles such as the excellent BMW i3, however, this does come at a price premium. Vehicles like Peugeot iOn aren’t really comparable.

The Mk1 Nissan Leaf remains a frontrunner on the used market. 

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Tyler Heatley

13 Oct 2021