The EV gets a timely upgrade but needs more work to take class honours in the UK
First taste of new EV in Japanese spec
The Nissan Leaf is a world leader in terms of electric vehicle sales. A total of 280,000 of Nissan’s ‘Leading Electric Affordable Family’ cars have amassed 3.5 billion miles between them since the model first went on sale in 2011.
This second-generation version has got the sharp looks of the IDS concept seen at the 2015 Tokyo motor show, a driving range of 235 miles from a full battery, a power boost of almost 40bhp over its forebear and more efficient charging capability. Other significant technology upgrades include the ability to drive semi-autonomously in a single motorway lane (although this feature won’t be available on every variant.
Our test car was to Japanese specification and significantly different to what we’ll get in the UK. The suspension will be stiffer in the British car, the e-pedal smart regenerative braking system gentler and the dashboard more Micra-like, plus it won’t get the clever camera and display in the rear-view mirror.
The UK car will benefit from that upgraded dashboard from the Micra because the interior of the Leaf isn’t exactly inspiring in Japanese spec. There’s a lot of grey plastic.
The e-pedal in the Japanese car is a little aggressive and Nissan expects UK customers to prefer a gentler deceleration when easing off the throttle. Nissan couldn’t say by how much it will be reined in, but there should be less head-bobbing from passengers when the driver’s foot comes off the accelerator. When you’re on the accelerator, this new Leaf has got a real lump of torque to fire it down the road – 20% more than before, in fact.
Stiffer suspension might not be such a welcome tweak for the UK, though. The Leaf is slightly firm already. Bumpier surfaces make themselves known at low speeds, with a little more shake than you would hope. Nissan promises that cornering ability will be improved, although there’s nothing noticeably wrong with that.
Although the new car is slightly squatter than the first-generation Leaf, headroom inside is excellent. Its exterior dimensions make it almost as wide as a Ford Focus and larger than one in every other direction.
A seating position that’s slightly too high compared with the shallow windscreen makes the interior feel a little less spacious than it deserves, though. Otherwise, the dashboard has the perfect button-to-screen ratio. Important functions aren’t relegated to a sub-menu in the infotainment, but the dashboard is uncluttered.
The blue button on the right-hand side of the steering wheel unlocks a key feature of the new Leaf: Propilot, Nissan’s semi-autonomous driving system. It’s as easy to operate as adaptive cruise control: just set the speed, wait for the system to confirm that it’s ready and relax. Let go of the wheel, though, and a reminder tells you politely to keep your hands on it. The reminder is less polite the second time around. Propilot Park makes light work of automated parking, albeit slowly. Luckily, Nissan will also be updating that for the UK market.
Steering is where this Japanese Leaf loses a sizable chunk of driver appeal. It feels numb and not all that direct, either. But guess what? That’s also getting updated.
Pricing will remain similar to the current range: £26,490 for the first UK cars in a special launch spec. The Leaf was ripe for a refresh, and this new version addresses some of the areas in which the outgoing car was beginning to lag behind rivals. If Nissan carries out all of the changes as promised to the cars heading for the UK, the new Leaf will be not just a formidable electric vehicle but a thoroughly decent car full stop.
Blue button on the right of wheel triggers autonomous mode, including parking assistance