2018 NISSAN LEAF Redesigned Nissan Leaf gets more of everything: more range, more power, more space, and more tech
LAS VEGAS — Introduced in 2010, the Nissan Leaf has always been an intriguing car. Problem was, it looked like a carp fish. Sure, the fully-electric car might have had a range to accommodate plenty of hip, urban commuters, but it was far from fetching. Eye-watering was more like it.
Enter the 2018 Leaf, stripped of its frightful flesh and repurposed on the same bones with the same dimensions but with more power and range, to suddenly compete with others rushing into the hot spot of electric cars. And it looks like a normal, attractive Nissan, with a low .28 coefficient of drag, Jukelike tail lights and Qashqailike front end. No one will be sheepish about parking one in the driveway.
Next year, a 60-kWh battery is expected to arrive (Nissan will only say a bigger battery is coming) that could bring a range nearer to its close rival, the Chevrolet Bolt, which can go about 380 km between charges. Range, it seems, is the modern equivalent of horsepower. Volkswagen’s e-Golf, for example, has a range of 201 km from its 35.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, while the Tesla Model 3 ranges from 350 to 500 km — but the Model 3 is still a long way from reality and will cost more than $45,000 in Canada.
On a short drive around Las Vegas in 37 C heat, with the A/C blasting, the 2018 Leaf started with a range of 168 km with a 70-per cent charge. After 30 minutes of highway and city driving with four adults aboard, the range had dropped to 138 kilometres at a 53-per cent charge. The actual distance covered was 29 km, so the 30 used up in the battery metering is very close to real-world driving.
On the drive, the serenity of an EV is hard to beat, and the new Leaf has been made quieter. Only some wind noise around the rear windows could be detected. It feels exceptionally smooth, but the electric power steering is lighter than it needs to be. Power feels adequate for normal city driving. The front tires chirped on a full-throttle take off.
So, for a base price of $35,998 plus taxes and freight ($3 more than the e-Golf) minus government incentives, Leaf buyers get a car that doesn’t use any gasoline, produces zero emissions, and glides along peacefully. They will consume approximately $75 per month in electricity, based on average commute and electricity figures. That’s less money per year than the average compact hybrid, which typically run about $1,300 per year, but there is still the business of plugging the car in each day. Handily, the new Leaf comes standard with a (120v/240v) charger cable in the snout. Also standard are heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel and battery heater.
Available in three trims — S, SV and SL — the 2018 Leaf heralds the introduction of Nissan’s ProPilot Assist in North America. Unlike the steering assist in other luxury cars, Nissan’s technology keeps the car centred in its lane. Controlled by a forward-facing camera near the rear-view mirror, it works well, almost invisibly. If the car in front stops, ProPilot automatically applies the brakes and will bring the vehicle to a full stop if necessary.
After coming to a full stop, the vehicle will stay stopped even if the driver’s foot is off the brake. When traffic restarts, the car will start moving again when the driver touches a switch or lightly presses the accelerator. That could be a blessing to harried commuters habitually stuck in traffic. It’s not a hands-off system — the car will remind you to take hold of the wheel if you’ve let go — but rather an intelligent aid in making driving less taxing.
Nissan is also introducing its “e-Pedal” as standard equipment on all trim levels. While there is still a normal brake pedal, the new accelerator pedal does all the traditional work of speeding up the car — but also decelerating and stopping it. By simply releasing the accelerator, the car will come to a smooth and complete stop without the need to press the brake pedal. It feels strange at first, almost like driving with the parking brake applied; but for EV enthusiasts and less-thansmooth drivers, this e-Pedal is — dare we say it? — kind of cool. It can be shut off with a touch of the button.
Inside, the old five-inch screen is replaced by an attractive, seven-inch colour touch screen on all models and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with clear instrumentation. Blue stitching in the seats emphasizes the EVness of the car, as does the button-like shifter and push-button start. Back-seat room is adequate and there’s 668 litres (23.6 cubic feet) of cargo space with the 60/40-split rear seats up. Visibility is good.
While the old Leaf certainly made its mark on the world, the new Leaf is poised to make a much bigger impression. It’s fun, efficient, emissions-free and affordable, and goes on sale early in the new year.