‘Electric cars are the future’ they say. But what about the present? Are there actually any affordable EVs that are worth your money, or are you better off waiting?
The Renault Zoe and the Nissan Leaf are perhaps the most trusted names in the budget EV line-up.
Launched in 2010, the Nissan Leaf was the first mass-market EV. It’s stood the test of time too - the original EV was recently named ‘best used electric car of the year’.
The Renault Zoe followed hot on its heels and became the best selling EV in Europe in 2020, holding off high-profile competitors like the Tesla Model 3.
But which is the best? Is the Renault Zoe the new Queen of affordable EVs, or should Renault take a ‘leaf’ out of Nissan’s book?
To help you make up your mind between the two, we've done an in-depth Nissan Leaf review.
Renault Zoe vs Nissan Leaf
Before we get into the details, let’s take a quick look at the specs of each car:
- Doors: 5
- Engine: N/A
- Fuel: E
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: A
- Doors: 5
- Engine: N/A
- Fuel: E
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: A
Longer range for less.
A bit cramped in the rear.
Another conservative design.
The Nissan Leaf is in its second generation and has gone from one extreme to the other. The original 2010 model was almost reptilian, with large protruding headlamps on either side of the bonnet.
The second generation is more modern and angular, but still very conservative for an EV.
We could say the same about the Renault Zoe, which also has an entirely uninspiring design. It looks a lot like the conventional-fueled Renault Clio. So much so, in fact, that you might find yourself having to point at the badge on the back when people ask you what you’re doing to combat climate change.
Given that all EVs have a ‘skateboard design’ which incorporates the battery within the platform and facilitates greater design innovation up top, it’s almost a shame to be so… well, boring.
You’d be forgiven for thinking electric cars weren’t up to much in the performance department. For a long time, milk floats were the only battery electric vehicles on the road.
But if you compare some of the best small electric cars with some of the best small cars on the market, you’ll notice a big difference when it comes to acceleration. That’s because electric cars can produce near-instant maximum torque.
While you wouldn’t describe a Nissan Leaf or a Renault Zoe as a hot-hatch, neither is particularly slow off the mark. The Nissan leaf offers the best performance, with a 0-60mph time of 7.9 seconds on the Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna trims, or 6.9 seconds on the e+ N-Connecta and e+ Tekna.
The Renault Zoe is equally enthusiastic from a standing start, but this enthusiasm tapers off after 30 mph. The entry-level R110 motor manages 0-60mph in 11.4 seconds. While there is the option of a more powerful R135 motor, this will still only achieve 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds.
Despite their impressive acceleration, both cars offer a decidedly tranquil driving experience. There’s no engine noise from the front, no awkward gear changes (electric cars don’t have gears!) interrupting the flow of power, and no noisy exhaust. The Leaf is the quieter of the two, however, as it manages to insulate itself more from tyre and wind noise.
Both cars have regenerative braking to allow for one pedal driving. In the Nissan Leaf, this is referred to as the ‘e-pedal’. Regenerative braking levels can be adjusted in each to suit the taste of the driver.
If you’re new to EVs, you may have to get used to the fact that both the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe offer a fairly firm ride compared to their petrol and diesel cousins. This is because of the big battery, which is by far the heaviest component, sitting beneath the car.
Although it is smaller than the Leaf, the Zoe should get further on a single charge. The entry-level Renault Zoe has a 52kWh battery with a range of 245 miles under WLTP. The cheapest Leaf has a 40kWh battery with a range of just 168 miles. However, if you opt for an Nissan Leaf e+ you’ll benefit from a larger 62kWh battery with up to 239 miles of range.
The interior on both the Leaf and the Zoe is as under-the-radar as the exterior. If the Tesla Model 3 made electric cars cool with its minimalist interior and large centre touchscreen, the Leaf and the Zoe simply offer “more of the same”.
The Renault Zoe is a smaller and comparatively cheaper electric car, but it does have a reasonably high quality interior.
The ‘Iconic’ trim features upholstery made from 100% recycled fabric, while the ‘GT Line’ incorporates synthetic leather and recycled fabrics such as old seat-belts and plastic bottles. It might not sound like a ‘premium’ option, but it is certainly better than previous versions of the Zoe - and it reduces the emissions during production by as much as 60%.
The Nissan Leaf also incorporates plush materials in the most noticeable areas. You don’t have to look far on either model for cheap, scratchy plastics, however.
In terms of adjustments, neither the Renault Zoe or the Nissan Leaf is particularly impressive. The Renault Zoe has a high driver’s seat position which can’t be lowered - a bit of a nuisance for taller folk.
Seat height adjustments aren’t an issue in the Nissan Leaf. However, the Zoe is the only one to offer telescopic steering wheel adjustment, so if you’re the kind that likes to find that ‘just right’ position for longer journeys, this may be worth keeping in mind.
The entry-level ‘Play’ trim on the Zoe bags you a 7-inch infotainment screen with a DAB radio, Android Auto and Apple Carplay as standard - a clear win over the Leaf. However, if you’re willing to move up to the ‘Iconic’ trim you can get a more user-friendly 9.3-inch display.
All models come with a 10-inch instrument cluster display behind the steering wheel, and if you buy the ‘Iconic’ trim with the built in sat-nav you’ll also be able to see turn-by-turn navigation in the driver’s binnacle, just like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit set up.
If you’re a bit of a music nut, the Bose sound system is a welcome optional extra on both the Renault Zoe and the Nissan Leaf.
When it comes to practicality, there is a fairly clear winner. The Nissan Leaf is 40cm longer than the Renault Zoe. This means you will have plenty of extra space to play with in the boot, with the Leaf’s 435 litre capacity boot dwarfing the 338 litres offered by the Renault Zoe.
It’s a similar story in the passenger compartments. The Zoe is noticeably less spacious up front and taller passengers will have to tilt their heads to get comfortable in the rear.
That said, there is no real ‘lump’ in the floor to accommodate the transmission tunnel, so you should be able to fit in 5 people without too much of a tussle for foot space in the back.
The Nissan Leaf does offer more space for passengers in the back, with ample head and leg room.
However, one downside to having a battery underneath the floor is that it actually raises the height of the floor. This means that in both the Leaf and the Zoe, backseat passengers may find themselves a little hunched, which can get uncomfortable on longer journeys.
The Renault Zoe offers the best value for money when it comes to range. All versions of the Zoe use the same 52kWh Z.E.50 battery, which will give you 245 miles of range on a single charge for much cheaper than the long-range Nissan Leaf e+.
Although it’s probably not playing on your mind because the price of charging an EV is already so much cheaper than refuelling a petrol or diesel car, the Renault Zoe will actually work out cheaper to run than the Nissan Leaf.
This is because you pay per kWh and the Renault Zoe goes further with a smaller battery (52kWh vs 62kWh on the Nissan Leaf e+).
Both cars come with a Type 2 charging cable for charging when you’re on the move. In the interest of cutting costs, Renault doesn’t include the ‘granny’ cable in the price. In other words, they expect electric car charging at home to be carried out using a wallbox rather than a three pin plug.
While this does mean you will have to spend a little extra to get a wallbox installed off the bat, there are enough reasons for you to want to do this anyway. Not only is it safer, it could also save you money with the right EV tariff.
Because both cars are electric, you’re also entitled to a slew of incentives. Road tax is currently non-existent on an EV, and company electric car tax (BiK tax) is just 1% this year, rising to 2% in 2022/23.
The Renault Zoe should be slightly cheaper to insure than the Nissan Leaf, sitting several insurance groups below. Entry-level ‘Play’ trim is in insurance group 18, while top-tier ‘GT Line’ is in insurance group 22.
The Nissan Leaf starts in insurance group 21 and goes all the way up to 25 on the e+ Tekna model.
|Derivative||Contract Length||Monthly Cost|
|ZOE Hatchback 100kW GT Line R135 50kWh Rapid Charge 5dr Auto||3 Years||£191.08|
|Leaf Hatchback 110kW N-Connecta 40kWh 5dr Auto||4 Years||£196.72|
The Nissan Leaf may have been around for longer, but it’s the Renault Zoe that appears to be winning all the accolades right now. It’s smaller, cheaper and has better range for less. It’s also got a much-improved interior compared to the original model.
Not sure how much an electric car costs in the long run? Don’t know whether you should buy an electric car or wait? Be sure to check out our handy electric car guides. We dispel some myths, highlight some great ways to save, and show you that driving a car doesn’t have to cost the earth (or your wallet!).