New Tech, Styling, More Range Added to the World-Leading EV
The Nissan Leaf is the first and most successful mass market all-electric car, with more than 300,000 sold worldwide. Introduced in 2010 as a 2011 model, it was a pioneer, won the 2011 World Green Car award, and just repeated that feat for 2018. However, with much more competition today, it needed a major update. The 2018 model is the result, as validated by the World Green Car award and our early drive.
A Pair of Aces
I sampled two models of the new Leaf at the recent Western Automotive Journalists Media Days event. I grabbed it for the first drive of the day, 23+ miles that included some freeway, some in-town, and some open road travel, including the climbing the winding Laureles Grade in Monterey County.
The car is all new, but contains some remnants of the old model, including its hatchback shape. However, all the rounded shapes of the original Leaf are tightened up and the nose wears a much more conventional grill and headlamps, in Nissan’s corporate V shape. The rear pillar is partially blacked out to give the impression of a floating roof panel, just like the competing BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV (and several other models like the Lexus RX).
New Inside & Out
The new interior, like the outside, is more restrained than the exuberantly flowing original. The steering wheel looks very traditional and the instruments ahead are clear and easy to understand. The rectangular center panel gives you access to the entertainment, information, apps and provides knobs for volume and tuning. The shapes are gently curved, but overall sensible and familiar. Nearly all surfaces are at least slightly padded, creating a comfortable and slightly more upscale feel.
I dropped into the seat and was pleased at how comfortable it felt. The Chevrolet Bolt EV, a leader in the category now, has firm, narrow chairs that work for me, but have generated complaints from some drivers.
On the road, the Leaf starts out smartly, with a 147-horsepower motor pulling smoothly and silently. While no rocket, it feels completely, well, normal. Handling is predictable and pleasant. The ride is firm, but not harsh.
The new Leaf offers e-Pedal, which provides stronger regenerative braking. Much like the L setting in a Bolt EV or the default setting in a Tesla, this means you can use one-pedal driving, pressing your right foot down to move forward and lifting it to slow down. Like the Bolt EV, the Leaf can come to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal (the Tesla cuts the regen at a few mph). You can drive the Leaf like a regular car by turning e-Pedal off.
The New Tech
The new ProPilot Assist feature allows you to choose one of three following distances and set a speed on the highway. Your Leaf will follow the car in front at the set distance, and brake and accelerate to retain that distance—as you’d expect with adaptive cruise control. But it also gently stations you in the center of the lane. You must keep your hands on the wheel—this is low-level autonomy—but it is more relaxing when traveling on the freeway and busy roads. It worked perfectly when I tested it on Monterey County highways in the second Leaf.
The new Leaf has significantly improved battery range. It’s up to 150 miles now, much better than the 2017 model’s 107, but still well below the Chevy Bolt EV’s 238 miles. Nissan says a 200+ mile range battery is coming, but for now, is 150 miles enough for most drivers’ needs?
Why did Nissan go with the 40-kWh lithium-ion battery instead of a 60 kWh one like the Bolt EV uses? It’s about value, says Paul Minahan, Jr., Sr. Manager, Electric Vehicle Fleet Operations. Leaf customers wanted a lower price—and batteries are still expensive. The new Leaf starts at $29,999 for the S model, before federal and state rebates and tax breaks. The SV and SL add more to the price, but also to the features list. I tested the better-equipped SV and SL. The SL’s price of $36,200 still undercuts the $37,500 base price of the Bolt LT, while offering more features, including leather seats. Other EVs, such as the Tesla Model 3 and BMW i3, are simply more expensive.
Nissan has a huge base of existing customers; some will trade up for this significantly better car. More people may be willing to consider the new Leaf with its less controversial styling and overall improvement in everything it is and does.
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