New Nissan Leaf vs Renault Zoe vs Volkswagen e-Golf Comparison

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With an improved range between charges, Nissan’s new electric Leaf promises to be more usable than ever. Is it better than the Renault Zoe and Volkswagen e-Golf, though?

*** Note : £1 = $1.41 (correct at time of post)

The contenders

Nissan Leaf 110kW N-Connecta
  • List price £30,490
  • Target Price £25,990*

New British-built Leaf is packed with technology and promises a great range.

Renault Zoe Q90 ZE40 i Dynamique Nav
  • List price £29,020
  • Target Price £18,719*

Cheaper than the Leaf and aims to get you almost as far between charges.

Volkswagen e-Golf 136PS BEV
  • List price £32,190
  • Target Price £27,690*

Revised electric Golf has already seen off the BMW i3. Has it finally met its match here?

  • Includes £4500 government grant

nissan-leaf-vs-renault-zoe-vs-volkswagen-e-golf

If you think electric cars are a new invention, prepare for a shock: they actually date back to Victorian times.

Yep, there were battery-powered horseless carriages whining around the streets of London and Paris well before the turn of the last century, and electric cars even dominated land speed records until 1902.

But there’s a good chance that the first electric car you’ll have actually heard of is the Nissan Leaf. Launched in 2011, the Leaf made other battery-powered options of the time seem like golf buggies, because it looked, well, like a proper car. It drove like one, too, with nippy acceleration and a top speed that meant you could get to where you were going faster than you could on a bike.

Things have moved on, though, so while the original Leaf is, perhaps surprisingly, still the best-selling electric car in Britain, its maximum range between charges now seems rather meagre. That’s one of the main issues this new model aims to solve, along with significantly improving performance and safety.

It’ll have its work cut out to beat the Volkswagen e-Golf, though. Revised earlier this year to provide a greater range between charges, the e-Golf is an extremely compelling proposition for all of the reasons a regular Golf is.

Don’t forget about the Renault Zoe, either. Our 2017 Electric Car of the Year looks cheap in this company and promises a cracking range between charges.

Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Some people still associate electric cars with milk float performance, but that really couldn’t be further from the truth. Modern electric cars actually feel remarkably nippy, because they can produce all of their torque (which is a lot) the instant you push the accelerator pedal. That makes them great for squirting away from traffic lights or onto roundabouts and means that even the Zoe, the slowest of our trio, is anything but a slouch.

That said, the Zoe does quickly get left behind by its rivals when accelerating above 30mph and is the least suited to outside-lane motorway driving. The Leaf, the most powerful car here, is easily the fastest; you actually have to be a bit gentle with your right foot when accelerating out of junctions or you’ll spin up the front wheels.

Unlike in most petrol and diesel cars, when you lift off the accelerator pedal of an electric car you feel yourself slowing down quite quickly as the regenerative brakes harvest energy to replenish the battery. You can increase this effect in the Leaf and e-Golf by moving their gear selectors to B mode, but the Leaf goes one step further with something called e-Pedal. Press a button between the front seats and the regenerative braking becomes so pronounced that you barely have to use the brake pedal at all.

However, when it comes to electric cars, performance isn’t just about how quickly you can speed up and slow down; it’s about how far you can get between charges. Nissan makes the boldest claim of 235 miles. Admittedly, that figure is based on a wholly unrepresentative official European test called the New European Driving Cycle, but it’s still better than the 230 and 186 miles achieved by the Zoe and e-Golf respectively in the same test.

The thing is, though, Renault and VW are at least honest about the misleading nature of the official figures and quote real-world ranges accordingly. VW claims 125 miles, while Renault actually gives two ranges: 174 miles in the summer and 112 miles in the winter. Still not satisfied, we decided to put all three cars through our own range test at our facility in Bedfordshire so that traffic conditions wouldn’t influence the outcome.

Our test route included a simulated mix of town, rural and motorway driving with the three cars in convoy, and we swapped drivers and running order after every circuit (about eight miles) to keep things as fair as possible. The temperature during the test was 3-5deg C – far from ideal for battery performance – and all three cars were tested with their headlights on, the air conditioning set to 21deg C and normal (rather than eco) driving modes selected. The fact that the e-Golf managed just 93 miles on a full charge is a bit disappointing. The Leaf gave up the ghost next after 108 miles, while the little Zoe kept whirring along for 131 miles – enough to get you from London to Birmingham.

All things considered, the e-Golf is the best to drive. It feels a touch wallowy through tight corners compared with petrol and diesel Golfs – blame the heavy battery pack and high-walled tyres – but it’s still agile enough and smooths over lumps and scars on the road with a sophistication its two rivals can’t match. The Leaf is far from a hot hatch, but it does stay slightly more upright through corners, while its steering is a match for the e-Golf’s – less natural-feeling but meatier and more precise. Although you feel more of the bumps as they pass beneath you at low speeds, the ride is never too lumpy and the Leaf is hard to fault for comfort on the motorway.

And the Zoe? Well, it’s outclassed here for both ride and handling. It trips up over bumps that wouldn’t even register in the e-Golf, so you find yourself doing a nodding dog impression along most urban roads. It’s never truly uncomfortable, though, and while it undoubtedly leans the most through corners, its steering gives you a decent sense of how much grip is available.

Nissan Leaf interior

Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality

We’ll start with the e-Golf, because most drivers will find that the easiest car in which to get comfortable. There’s loads of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel, for starters, and the seat itself is mostly very supportive, even if the small side bolsters don’t hold you in place particularly well through tight corners.

The driving positions in the Leaf and Zoe are more fl awed. You might like the fact that you sit higher up, but the absence of reach adjustment on the Leaf’s steering wheel is a big issue and means there’s a good chance that you’ll be forced to sit closer to, or farther away from, the wheel than you’d ideally like. The Zoe’s steering wheel does adjust in and out, but it’s angled up towards your face; you almost feel like you’re driving a bus. The Zoe also has the least supportive driver’s seat and is the only one of our contenders without any seat height adjustment.

As for visibility, the relatively boxy e-Golf is the easiest to see out of in all directions. You won’t have too many issues seeing out of the front or side windows of the Leaf or Zoe, but over-the-shoulder visibility isn’t ideal. All three cars come with rear sensors to help with parking, though, while the Leaf goes one step further with both reversing and around-view cameras; the latter displays a bird’s eye view of the car on the central touchscreen.

Seeing where you’re going at night is easiest in the e-Golf, too, thanks to its powerful LED headlights. Our test Leaf had LEDs fitted (a £350 option) and they were bright enough, if not quite as far-reaching. Meanwhile, the Zoe���s halogen headlights are, frankly, terrible. You’d almost be better off hanging a storm lantern on the bonnet.

Infotainment systems

Nissan Leaf

The touchscreen is mostly simple to use, thanks to its big icons and logical menus. The physical shortcut buttons that flank the display make it easy to hop between different functions, and we’re grateful that Nissan hasn’t bowed to the latest trend and swapped the volume knob for a fiddly touch-sensitive pad. Less impressive is the resolution of the display, which is nowhere near as sharp as the e-Golf’s and can be tricky to see in bright, sunny conditions.

Renault Zoe

This is essentially the same system that’s been knocking around in the Clio since 2013, with a few added features specific to the Zoe’s electric powertrain. It’s far from the most sophisticated infotainment system in the world and misses out on the latest smartphone mirroring software Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. However, there’s little else that really frustrates and, despite having just four speakers, sound quality isn’t too bad.

Volkswagen e-Golf

Volkswagen’s range-topping Discover Navigation Pro system comes as standard. That means you get a 9.2in touchscreen with graphics sharp enough to rival an iPad and it responds promptly when you prod it. The on-screen menus are mostly logical, although it’s a pity the shortcut buttons are touch-sensitive rather than physical. The fact that all the shortcuts are on the left side of the display means they’re a bit of a reach for the driver, too.

Nissan Leaf rear seats

Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

This section seems a bit unfair on the Zoe, because it’s easily the smallest of our trio – being about the same size as a VW Polo – whereas the Leaf and e-Golf are, well, Golf-sized. Unsurprisingly, the Zoe is indeed the least spacious in the front, although tall drivers are unlikely to grumble about head or leg room in any of our contenders.

It’s the same story in the rear, where the Zoe again impresses least – particularly when it comes to head room. Try to squeeze a couple of six-footers behind you and expect to see their heads tilted to one side in your rearview mirror. Rear head and leg room are better in the Leaf, but if you regularly carry adults in the back, the e-Golf is the most accommodating of our trio.

The Leaf is best for luggage, though; it managed to swallow seven carry-on suitcases in our tests and has by far the longest load bay. The electric Golf has a smaller boot than conventionally powered versions (because of the battery under the floor). It tied with the Zoe by taking six carry-on suitcases, although the e-Golf is the only one of our contenders with a height-adjustable boot floor and, as such, has the flattest extended load area when the rear seats are folded down.

However, while all three cars have folding rear seats, the Zoe’s seatbacks fold in one cumbersome piece rather than in a 60/40 split. This means you can’t carry two passengers and, say, a couple of sets of golf clubs at the same time. There’s also no body protection at the entrance of the Zoe’s boot, making it easy to scuff the paintwork when loading and unloading.

Nissan Leaf

The Leaf has the biggest boot of the three and there are handy nets at the sides for stowing charging cables. The huge lip at the entrance is a pain, though.

  • Boot 435-1176 litres
  • Suitcases 7
Renault Zoe

Zoe’s boot is the tallest here, but it’s by far the shortest and therefore has the smallest capacity. Absence of protection at the entrance means it’s easy to scratch the paint.

  • Boot 338-1225 litres
  • Suitcases 6
Volkswagen e-Golf

The e-Golf’s boot is fractionally bigger than the Zoe’s but is significantly longer. Standard height-adjustable boot floor reduces lip at entrance.

  • Boot 341-1241 litres
  • Suitcases 6

Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security

Let’s face it: however much you care about the environment, you probably won’t buy an electric car unless it saves you money. Well, there’s good news if you’re a company car driver, because all three qualify for the lowest benefit-in-kind tax band of 9%. Curiously, that will rise rapidly to 13% in April and 16% in 2019, before plummeting to 2% in 2020. That’s cohesive government thinking for you.

What does that mean if you aren’t up on your accounting? Well, it means that over the next three years you’ll sacrifice roughly the same amount of your salary as if you’d plumped for a middle-of-the-range petrol Polo, with about £500 separating the Zoe, our cheapest option, and the e-Golf, the most expensive company car.

But you’ll also be spending a lot less on fuel than you would in any petrol or diesel car. Even based on our cold-weather range tests and an electricity price of 13p per kilowatt hour, these cars will only add between £400 and £500 to your electricity bill every 10,000 miles. Sign up to an Economy 7 tariff for cheaper charging at night and you’ll pay around 8p (or even less) per kWh.

However, if you’re buying privately with cash or on PCP finance, you’ll need to do a lot of miles before any of these cars actually start to save you cash. Even taking into account the £4500 grant from the Government you’ll get when buying an electric vehicle and the fact that you won’t pay any road tax, a small petrol hatchback is still likely to be a much cheaper option in the long run. The exception is if you regularly drive into London’s Congestion Charge zone, because you’ll avoid the £11.50 daily fee.

Buy the Zoe and you’ll get a free 7kW Chargemaster point installed at your home. However, the same charge point will only cost you around £350 if you’re buying the Leaf or e-Golf, thanks to a £500 grant from the Government. All three come with a Type 2 charging cable, but the Leaf and e-Golf also come with a three-pin domestic cable (a £560 option on the Zoe). This takes an age to charge the battery, although it’s handy for when you get caught short.

While the three cars use the same Type 2 connector for normal charging, they have different connectors for fast charging (see connector types panel). The Leaf’s CHAdeMO connector is the most ubiquitous fast charger in the UK, while the e-Golf’s CCS connector is the least common, although still not exactly rare.

The Leaf has the most standard luxuries; it’s the only one with heated front seats and has the biggest wheels. The Zoe is the least generously equipped, with no front parking sensors and only manual cruise control (the others have adaptive cruise to automatically maintain a set distance from the car in front). However, the e-Golf is the only car without a standard heat pump for more efficient heating of the interior, partly explaining its disappointing range in cold weather.

Mind you, the Zoe’s shortage of safety kit is more of a concern. You get just four airbags (the Leaf has six and the e-Golf seven) and there’s not even the option to add automatic emergency braking. The other two get this important safety aid as standard and the Leaf even adds traffic sign recognition and blindspot monitoring to its standard roster of safety aids.

Nissan Leaf vs Renault Zoe vs Volkswagen e-Golf

verdict

In our group tests, there are usually clear winners and losers, but this one’s a bit different, because the best car depends entirely on your viewpoint.

The e-Golf is the best all-rounder; it’s the nicest to drive, the smartest inside and the most practical. Meanwhile, the Zoe makes the most financial sense and will get you the farthest (by far) between charges – arguably the two most important things an electric car needs to do well.

But while the e-Golf is let down by its limited range and high price, and the Zoe by its driving position, safety provisions and cramped interior, it’s actually the new Leaf that emerges from this battle with the fewest scars. Yes, it’s a pity that the steering wheel doesn’t have more adjustment and the interior isn’t plusher, but neither of these issues is a deal-breaker. And when you factor in the excellent performance, generous kit and low running costs, the Leaf actually makes the most sense to the most electric car buyers.

1st – Nissan Leaf

  • For Excellent performance; decent to drive; biggest boot; loads of kit; most standard safety provisions
  • Against Infexible driving position; so-so interior; tight rear head room
  • Recommended options Recommended options LED headlights (£350)
Specifications: Nissan Leaf 110kW N-Connecta
  • Engine Electric motor
  • List price £30,490
  • Target Price £25,990
  • Power 148bhp
  • Torque 236Ib ft
  • Gearbox Single-speed automatic
  • 0-60mph 8.2sec
  • Top speed 89mph
  • Official max range 235 miles
  • Real-world claimed range n/a
  • What Car? test real-world range 108 miles
2nd – Volkswagen e-Golf

  • For Smoothest ride; quietest; classiest interior; biggest in the back; most user-friendly infotainment
  • Against Limited range; high price and PCP costs
  • Recommended options Heat pump (£830); keyless entry (£365)
Specifications: Volkswagen e-Golf
  • Engine Electric motor
  • Battery capacity 35.8kWh
  • Gearbox Single-speed automatic
  • List price £32,190
  • Target Price £27,690 (after £4500 government grant)
  • Power 134bhp
  • Torque 213lb ft
  • 0-60mph 8.7sec
  • Top speed 93mph
  • Range (real-world claim) 124 miles
  • Range (real-world claim) 78 miles
  • Cost of electricity per mile 5.9p
3rd – Renault Zoe

  • For Longest range (by far); cheapest on all counts
  • Against Lumpy ride; cheap-feeling interior; least safety kit; makes more financial sense if you lease the battery separately
  • Recommended options Three-pin charger lead (£560)
Specifications: Renault Zoe Q90 ZE40 i Dynamique Nav
  • Engine Electric motor
  • List price £29,020
  • Target Price £18,719
  • Power 87bhp
  • Torque 162Ib ft
  • Gearbox Single-speed automatic
  • 0-60mph 13.0sec
  • Top speed 84mph
  • Official max range 230 miles
  • Real-world claimed range 174 miles (summer), 112 miles (winter)
  • What Car? test real-world range 131 miles

(whatcar.com, https://goo.gl/6bTms2)

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