Restart for the EV Volume Leader
The Nissan Leaf, introduced in 2010 as a 2011 model, is the world’s most popular mass-production electric car. But, with an expanding EV market, it was time for an upgrade.
While the original car was a study in soft curves, the 2018 Nissan Leaf is edgier, and looks more like a regular car, with a traditional face on the outside and a more upright and structured dash panel inside. The body shape remains a four-door hatchback with room for five and generous cargo space.
While the similarly sized and shaped Chevrolet Bolt EV gets 238 miles of range from its 60-kWh lithium-ion battery, the Leaf pulls just 150 from its 40-kWh one. Nissan says a 60-kWh, 200+ mile-range battery is coming, but my Deep Blue Pearl test car had the 40.
The Mid-Range Conundrum
Why would Nissan introduce a brand-new Leaf with significantly less range than the Bolt EV, its most direct competitor? One reason is that 150 miles is a lot more than the previous model’s 107 (from a 30-kW battery), and it may be enough for most uses.
The other reason is price. While the lower-level Bolt LT stickers at $36,620, the base S model Leaf starts at just $29,990. The mid-level SV begins at $32,490, while the upper-level Leaf SL, with leather seating (blended smooth hide and suede), power adjustment (unavailable in any Bolt) and more, lists at $36,200—nearly identical to the base Bolt. My SL tester came to $38,115, including a few options and an $885 destination charge. For comparison, a fully configured Bolt EV runs just under $44,000.
The 2018 Nissan Leaf’s 110-kW AC synchronous electric motor is good for 147 horsepower (hp) and a potent 236 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. You can really feel it as you zoom ahead in normal driving; the Eco setting makes acceleration more lethargic, but still adequate, moving the 3,508-pound car down the road competently. For comparison, the Bolt EV is more powerful, with a 150 kW, 200-hp motor, with 266 lb.-ft. of torque.
The 2018 Nissan Leaf offers e-Pedal, which lets you use your right foot to press on the accelerator to move forward and ease up on the pedal to slow down—even to a stop. This is possible with electric motors, not gas engines. The e-Pedal works almost exactly like L (Low) in the Bolt, but once you set it, it stays on until you turn it off, while the Bolt defaults to normal D (Drive) and needs an extra flick of the lever to engage.
Nissan offers ProPILOT Assist Technology on the Leaf, meant to reduce driver fatigue. While it’s not autonomous driving—you must keep your hands on the wheel—you can set a following distance from the car in front while steering assist keeps you in the center of the lane automatically. It’s is a toe in the water of autonomy.
The Leaf’s electric port remains in its nose. You need to pop it open using a button on the dash, unlike the Bolt’s left-fender-mounted door. In there, two sockets sit side by side, since the Leaf uses the J1772 connector for Level 1 and 2 charging and the big round CHAdeMo socket for quick charging.
You can add up to 111 miles to the battery charge in five hours on Level 2 (240-volt) charging. Home charging on 120-volt household current is much slower, but you can add around 50 miles of range overnight. At public quick-charge stations you can add 90 miles in 30 minutes, so a 45-minute lunch stop should get you on your way.
I like the Bolt’s 238 miles, but for my 18 miles each way of commuting, and running around the San Francisco Bay Area on weekends, 150 miles is actually plenty. The official EPA stats are 125 MPGe city/100 highway/112 combined. Compare these numbers to other battery-electric vehicles. Naturally, the Smog and Greenhouse gas numbers are perfect 10s.
Time in the Leaf is very pleasant, with supportive bucket seats and padded door panels that feel more luxurious than the more utilitarian Bolt. The screen in the center of the dash is much smaller then the generous 10.2-inch one in the Bolt. Climate controls sit in a low-mounted but easy to decipher bow tie. The steering wheel is adjustable for height but does not telescope. The little, round, blue-illuminated shift knob remains and is easier to use than the Bolt’s.
The new 2018 Nissan Leaf is much improved, both for its increased range and its style. But looking carefully, I realized that much of it is actually carried over. The distinctive windshield pillars remain, as do the front doors—inside and outside—and the interior and exterior door handles! With the changes, though, the car looks current and matches better with its fellow Nissans in the showroom.
(Ed note2: One of our other regular contributors, Gary Lieber, did a head-to-head test of the 2018 Bolt and Leaf here.)
Lead photo by Lex Adams
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