Can you believe that the Nissan Leaf has been around since 2010? Back then, Elon Musk was still struggling to build up Tesla into a motor vehicle company, but yet Nissan was already quietly promising to provide clean EV motoring for the masses.
Today, the Nissan Leaf is in its second generation, and the world’s all-time best selling highway-capable electric car with global sales totaling well over 400,000 Leafs.
The first-generation Nissan Leaf made its debut to the masses with a winning formula – Nissan’s rock solid reputation for quality and reliability, a relatively affordable price, a highway-capable top speed, and national availability through Nissan’s dealer network.
Sure it only had about a 117 kilometre range in the best conditions, but nonetheless, Nissan proved that the Leaf’s familiar five-door family hatchback appearance was appealing to mainstream buyers.
Over the years, Nissan brought out bigger batteries and increased the Leaf’s range, allowing it to compete with newer rivals. However, times are different now and there is tremendously more competition in the marketplace.
Today, Nissan hopes to continue to tap into and expand its customer database of amazingly loyal and satisfied customers with the second-generation Leaf. The new car is further-reaching between charges – with up to 241 kilometres of range, better-looking, and with more driver assistance.
Surprisingly, the motor is the same as before. However, the new heavy-duty inverter – which supplies and controls the electricity going around the car – is significantly more powerful, allowing the same motor to develop much more power. Horsepower is now rated at 148hp, and 236 lb-fts of torque, effectively from rest.
The battery is also roughly the same physical size as the first-generation Leaf, however, new battery management technology and new internal chemistry results in a higher capacity of 40 kWh. An even newer Leaf, called the Leaf Plus, has a more powerful electric motor and 40 per cent better range than the standard Leaf, providing up to 363 kilometres of range.
For the purposes of this review, I tested the less expensive standard range 2019 Nissan Leaf.
The first Nissan Leaf was an electric vehicle pioneer and the second generation vehicle builds on this with improved range, a better price, and the latest in technology.
Structurally, the Leaf is fairly conventional. However, there are a couple of stand-out technological features which make the Leaf’s driving experience rather unique compared to a regular ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) car.
There is a chance that some first-generation Leaf owners may be unhappy to see just how “normal” this new model is, despite its Nissan Z-car inspired tail lamps.
Although the car has some high-tech body lines, the Leaf could be a normal gas powered family hatch. There are a few tell-tale signs, of course, like the slightly awkward-looking hood flap, which lifts to reveal the charging sockets.
Nonetheless they should be quick impressed by how much more improved the vehicle now is in pretty much every area. It is truly a car that you can own as your only vehicle. Indeed, I have a neighbour that uses his Leaf as his sole vehicle for transporting around his young family.
The car is easy to drive, particularly around town with the e-Pedal system, has decent range, and a very impressive amount of tech on offer considering its price. Moreover, it has enough space for the whole family.
What is the ePedal system you might ask? If you’re used to driving an electric golf cart, you’ll understand the concept of driving with just the accelerator pedal. Similarly, with ePedal activated, the vehicle’s regeneration system is dialed up to the maximum aggressiveness and therefore the Leaf starts slowing down immediately as you lift off the pedal.
With practice, the system allows you to drive essentially just using the accelerator without the need to press on the brake pedal till the very last moment. Nissan says that once you get the hang of it, it’s actually possible to boost your electric driving range by being as smooth as possible with the e-Pedal system.
Yes, BMW’s i3 has really strong regeneration as well as do Tesla’s vehicles (which are adjustable), but Nissan’s version goes further by engaging the brake if it needs to when the car comes to a complete stop. On the road, you can instantly feel e-Pedal in action when you turn the system on.
The accelerator pedal immediately has more resistance, forcing you to be firmer with your inputs to maintain rapid progress. Lift off, though, and the speed washes away smoothly but strongly.
Most drivers new to the Leaf will take half hour or so to learn where and when to lift off to come to a halt at traffic lights and junctions. In fact, the braking effect is so strong that, to start with, you’ll stop short of where you’re meant to. But once you’ve adapted to the system, you’ll wonder why more electric vehicles aren’t equipped with something similar.
Although the Leaf’s ride is firm, only really sharp imperfections punch through to the cabin. The firm set-up is probably because anything with such a big and heavy battery pack requires that approach to keep body control in-check. Consequently though, the Leaf doesn’t roll too much in bends.
It’s not difficult to see why so many electric vehicle owners never go back to ICE. Aside from a bit of tire noise, the Leaf is immensely quiet. Nissan actually claims that it’s 30 per cent more hushed than similar sized vehicles with conventional engines, and it’s not difficult to see and hear why.
My top-trim Leaf was also equipped with Nissan’s latest Pro-Pilot Assist system which bundles together a whole suite of semi-autonomous and active safety systems. The cruise control button on the Leaf is labeled with blue, offset concentric circles, using Nissan’s Pro-Pilot Assist logo. Turning it on automatically activates the full suite of Pro-Pilot assist functions, dynamic cruise control and lane guidance.
I should note that forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking is always on. However, you can de-activate the steering assistance using another button low on the left side of the dashboard.
As you drive, you can feel the system tugging at the wheel should you stray too far towards the lane markers. Pro-Pilot Assist does a better job than most at keeping the car between the lines without weaving down the lane like a bowling ball between kiddie bumpers. Particularly in stop-and-go traffic, Pro-Pilot Assist helps to keep the driving experience relaxing by taking over a significant amount of steering and throttle pedal action. It works marvelously and the system can impressively negotiate some of the more aggressive curves unlike many others on the market.
But keep your hands on the wheel though. If you keep too light a touch on the steering wheel, it will trigger an alert and eventually shut off the steering assist, thinking your hands aren’t on the wheel—its interpretation that you aren’t paying attention.
If you leave your hands off for too long of a duration, the system will even resort to aggressively vibrating the steering wheel, followed by stabbing the brakes to jolt you back to attention. If all else fails, the four way blinkers are turned on and the car will gradually slow down to a complete stop.
Even if you don’t opt for the Plus version, there are plenty of good reasons to consider the standard Leaf. 240+ kilometres is plenty of range and I didn’t have any problems meeting the demands of any of my commutes for daily errands, as well as to and from work.
BC Hydro continues to expand their Level 3 High Speed DC charging network in the province, making it easier than ever before for electric vehicle owners to quickly top up their vehicles. Many existing stations have been upgraded to support both CHAdeMO and CCS plugs. The CHAdeMO plug design was introduced by the Japanese way back in 2010, whereas the North American high speed level 3 charge plug design is known as SAE Combo (aka CCS). CCS plugs can be found on plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles including BMW and VW.
Charging times vary, of course, and if you are just charging using a domestic household plug, a close to flat battery will take a grueling 21 hours to recharge for just the standard range Leaf. At the other end of the spectrum, a 50 kW DC fast charger will get the same battery from 20 to 80 per cent charge in about an hour.
As with other electric vehicles,I found that keeping the battery topped up every time I parked ensured that range anxiety truly is a moot point for most of the time.
Interior design and technology
As with the inside, Nissan’s engineers have tried to make it as easy as possible for new owners to seamlessly transition to the electric vehicle life.
Apart from the odd flash of backlit blue, the layout, plastics and finish are as they’d be in any contemporary mid-sized hatch. But, there are still some familiar sights, such as the gear selector from the original Leaf between the front seats, and Nissan’s regular infotainment system in the centre of the fascia.
Quality is a mixed bag. The plastics across the top of the dash and door are a bit cheap and some of the switches aren’t exactly premium-looking. This is perhaps my only real disappointment with the vehicle, that from a quality and style point of view, it’s not as appealing as a Volkswagen e-Golf.
Every Leaf comes standard with a touchscreen infotainment system as well as a customizable 7-inch driver display screen next to the traditional analog speedometer. Nissan’s smart ConnectEV system links your Leaf to the internet, allowing you to remotely control your vehicle via your smartphone. Unfortunately I found the system rather slow to react at times, probably because it runs off a 3G cellular connection.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity are available, and Nissan’s built-in navigation system can help to plan your EV journey, even showing places where you can charge up if need be.
My Leaf was also fitted with a premium Bose sound system with seven speaker. However, it should be noted that the Bose amplifier is stashed behind the 2nd row seats, obstructing an otherwise relatively low (but not flat) load floor when the seats are folded down. The load floor and 2nd row seatbacks are not flush either, so some space for longer objects is restricted.
The one thing you might experience if you’re in the back, is that you sit a little higher than you might expect. So, rear-seat passengers do sit with their knees a little tucked up, but the car will take four six-footers with no problems.
With a generous cargo, the Leaf continues to be one of the most practical cars of its size and type. Indeed at 435 litres, it’s way bigger than what you’ll find in electric versions of the Golf or Focus.
As a result, there is more than enough room for a couple of suitcases for the family vacation. There’s certainly space for the thick charging cables EV drivers store in their trunk, and Nissan even provides a couple of nets on either side of the cargo area to tidy those cables away.
Hop into a Leaf and you’ll quickly discover that this is not a car designed for the enthusiast driver. The driving position is set high, the seat cushions are relatively flat, and some drivers may struggle for the perfect driving position due to the steering wheel adjusting for rake alone.
However, spend some more time behind the wheel and you’ll discover that the upright driving position is actually fairly comfortable and the cabin layout throws up no surprises. Despite what I just wrote above, I dare say that the Leaf is fun in its own right. With oodles of instant torque, improved steering responsiveness, and excellent visibility all around, there is little to fault as a commuter car.
It’s not a particularly exciting cabin and it’s less distinctive than the old car, but at this stage in the lifecycle of electric vehicles, customers seem keen to play it safe. You can see Nissan Canada’s thinking here.
Therefore, the second-gen Leaf is a substantial improvement in most areas. It’s easy to drive, easy to live with, and comfortable to commute in daily. For many people, having only two-thirds of the Chevy Bolt’s range may not cut it. However, with the addition of the longer range Leaf Plus, you can now have your cake and eat it too.