2018 NIS­SAN LEAF Re­designed Nis­san Leaf gets more of ev­ery­thing: more range, more power, more space, and more tech

24 Hours Toronto - - Driving - DEREK MCNAUGHTON DRIV­ING.CA

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.

DEREK MCNAUGHTON/DRIV­ING

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