Nis­san Leaf

MEAN­ING­FUL MAKEOVER FOR MOTHER OF MOD­EST EVS

Wheels (Australia) - - CAR OF THE YEAR 2020 - BYRON MATHIOUDAK­IS

IS THE LEAF the most sig­nif­i­cant new model at COTY?

Maybe. Though the ZE0 orig­i­nal barely made a blip in Aus­tralia, and Tesla and oth­ers have since of­fered speed­ier and more stylish EVs, only the plucky Nis­san has been around long enough to now be into its se­cond gen­er­a­tion. With nearly half a mil­lion sold since 2010, no other EV series in history has been more suc­cess­ful.

And that’s the whole point. The Leaf is an easy and rel­a­tively af­ford­able en­try into the brave, un­cer­tain world of elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. With its ap­proach­ably dorky de­sign, comfy in­te­rior and sim­ple con­trols, Nis­san’s mas­ter­stroke was to make the un­usual seem nor­mal for the main­stream while still ap­peal­ing to early adopters.

The brand is still at­tempt­ing to please both, though the new ZE1’s toned-down, squared-off styling – on es­sen­tially the same plat­form and body struc­ture as be­fore – and far­more con­ven­tional dash­board pre­sen­ta­tion sug­gests that gain­ing the pop­u­lar rather than the pro­gres­sive vote is now the greater pri­or­ity.

That said, it ad­vances in some vi­tal ar­eas, start­ing with a big­ger bat­tery of­fer­ing es­sen­tially twice the range. Thus, the Leaf is far less limited by dis­tance, broad­en­ing its scope for sin­gle-car house­holds. That’s huge. As is ‘ve­hi­cle-to-build­ing’ bi-di­rec­tional charg­ing ca­pa­bil­ity that can power a home for days. Charge ports con­tinue with the AC Type-2 (24 hours via three-pin 15-amp or eight hours with a $2K wall­box) and DC 50kWh CHAdeMO/CCS (80 per­cent in 60 min­utes) set-ups.

Aid­ing range is a new two-mode brak­ing re­gen­er­a­tion sys­tem. Dubbed e-Pedal, it brings 0.2 G-force re­sis­tance when de-throt­tling, re­coup­ing other­wise wasted en­ergy. It works, too, as sin­gle-pedal ac­cel­er­a­tion/de­cel­er­a­tion quickly be­comes se­cond na­ture.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there’s now more zest from an up­graded AC syn­chro­nous mo­tor, de­liv­er­ing 38 and 14 per­cent more power and torque re­spec­tively – and that’s im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent in the Leaf’s in­stant, healthy and hushed off-the-line urge, trans­lat­ing to a re­spectable 8.0sec to 100km/h.

Even bet­ter is how much less re­mote the ZE1’s steer­ing is, while the car now handles with greater con­vic­tion and con­trol – though the up­shot is a firmer (but suf­fi­ciently comfy) ride. Equip­ment lev­els in­clude leather, seat heaters, Ap­ple CarPlay/An­droid Auto, sat-nav, dig­i­tal ra­dio, AEB, lane-de­par­ture warn­ing/keep, rear cross-traf­fic alert, auto high beam, adap­tive cruise and a sur­round-view cam­era.

But the Leaf still lacks in some ar­eas. Wet-road brak­ing is poor and the sta­bil­ity con­trol in­ter­feres abruptly (though ef­fec­tively) on gravel or dur­ing sud­den di­rec­tion changes. Steer­ing reach ad­just­ment would ad­dress an odd driv­ing po­si­tion. The dash seems wil­fully dull and down­mar­ket for a $50K ma­chine and a switch from an elec­tric park-brake to a foot-op­er­ated anachro­nism doesn’t help. And re­tain­ing air rather than wa­ter cool­ing for the bat­tery pack might raise long-term dura­bil­ity con­cerns.

Ul­ti­mately, though bet­ter than ever, the Leaf feels what it is – a re­vamp of a game-changer launched nearly a decade ago. The pi­o­neer­ing Nis­san de­serves its place in history, but the se­cond round at COTY? That proves a step too far.

“Ar­guably the most en­ergy-ef­fi­cient car at COTY 2020” JOHN CAREY

A Leaf run­ning on GMH’s juice. The great­est Nis­san/Holden col­lab­o­ra­tion since the VL Turbo?

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