The people’s car v2.0
Thinking of making the switch? Nissan’s uprated Leaf and VW’s classy e-Golf lead the charge of the afordable electric family cars. But which is best? By Jake Groves
REMEMBER THE FIRST Leaf? A pioneer inside and out, the weird-looking trailblazer with the air-bending headlights and an optional solar panel on the spoiler was a sales success. Now it’s back, with a meatier battery and sleeker silhouette.
The Nissan wears its alternative character with some pride, even if it’s been visually toned down to open up its appeal.
By contrast the e-Golf’s nothing more or less than an electric Golf: classy, confident, reassuring. So, two different approaches; which is the better car?
Jump into the Leaf and it might not be immediately obvious that you’re in a car that doesn’t burn long-dead dinosaur food to get you around, but there are clues to the Nissan’s USP, the most obvious being the drive selector. It sits there like a giant solitary blueberry awaiting your next move – which will almost certainly be a frustrated attempt to properly adjust the driving position.
The seat is set high, prompting tall drivers to pump the intricately upholstered and supremely comfortable seat as low as possible, only to still want it lower, and there’s zero reach adjustment for the steering wheel (rake only, bucko). The infotainment is a little off the pace too, both in terms of usability and presentation. There are some useful cubbies in the cabin, though. By contrast the e-Golf’s cockpit is like coming home, familiar as it is from numerous generations of VW’s finest hatch. There’s no OTT gear selector, no starry veneer on the centre console and incredibly basic, to the point of austere, seats. There’s a Golf steering wheel, a Golf DSG gearlever, a Golf dash and, crucially, Golf build quality. If you were asked to create the perfect car interior to reassure EV sceptics, this would be it.
Then the e-Golf has the temerity to do a pretty convincing impression of a petrol-powered Golf with VW’s hasslefree DSG transmission. The steering is positive and fluid, and it’s much easier to get into the driving position you’re after, with plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment. The VW has a nicely judged ride, too, helped no doubt by the battery’s contribution to the car’s sprung mass.
The Leaf is not uncomfortable – despite riding on larger 17-inch wheels that translate more of the road surface to you – it’s just that the JCB-like sidewalls on the e-Golf render knobbly UK roads suddenly knobble-free. The Nissan’s steering is also less intuitive than the VW’s, but the Leaf fights back with speed; in the traffic-light drag race the Leaf easily bests the e-Golf, not to mention almost everything else around it. The Nissan interior’s roomier, too, due to it being taller and longer, with a longer wheelbase.
On the move the Leaf offers a B drive mode with stronger regenerative braking, while e-Pedal mode ups that to the point of never needing to touch the brakes, such is the rate of deceleration brought about by simply lifting off. Hit Eco and the throttle becomes as responsive as a sulking teenager. Unfortunately the air-con is permanently eco-optimised, making hot days unpleasant.
The VW also offers several modes; Eco limits power to 94bhp and speed to 71mph, while Eco+ dials it back further still to 74bhp and 56mph, and kills off the air-con entirely. Along with D for regular driving, a Leaf-esque B setting on the gearlever ups the level of regenerative braking to preserve your precious range.
Ah yes, range. On WLTP figures the Nissan wins out: 168 miles to the VW’s 124. But during our test, conducted on warm, dry summer days (ah, the summer of 2018 – great days) both fully-charged cars predicted 145 miles of range. That’s 20 miles more than the e-Golf’s claimed figure and 20 fewer than the Leaf’s WLTP figure. But run both cars over the course of a few weeks and the Nissan’s range advantage does make itself felt. We haven’t managed the full 168 miles on a charge but the Leaf averages a solid 150 miles, driving in a fairly representative manner. In similar conditions you can expect to get around 120 miles from the VW.
When you do need to charge, with either car this can be done at home from a three-pin plug (which takes forever) or rapid-charged at up to 50kW, via CHAdeMO for the Leaf and a CCS plug for the Volkswagen.
Nissan’s EV offers more kit (including the brilliant Bose audio system on this Tekna-spec car) and sprightlier acceleration. But the interior quality doesn’t compare with that of the classier e-Golf and some of the displays and interfaces are sub-par.
Leaf ownership starts for a good deal less money, if you opt for a more modest trim level. But the VW wins here by a hair. It’s comfier, more slickly executed, reassuringly normal and better to drive, with many of the virtues of a conventional Golf. An interim solution the e-Golf may be – VW’s clean-sheet EV hatch lands next year – but it’s a compelling one nonetheless.
Leaf’s acceleration and seats; Golf’s ride, cabin quality and normalness
H A T E
Leaf’s awkward driving position, boot shape and crude infotainment; Golf’s slightly tardy turn of speed
V E R D I C T
Crave nippiness and tech? Go Nissan. For everything else there’s e-Golf
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
NISSAN LEAF TEKNA
★ ★ ★ ★ ★