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Driven: Nissan Leaf. Image by Nissan.

Driven: Nissan Leaf
The new Leaf adds range and refinement, and aims to be the best mainstream electric car on sale.

   



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Nissan Leaf

4 4 4 4 4

The Nissan Leaf's driving range has gone up significantly, quality has improved, and if the styling is a touch less distinctive, then it's probably easier on the eye for most. This is one EV that moves electric motoring firmly into the mainstream.

Test Car Specifications

Nissan Leaf 40kWh Tekna
Pricing: 27,490 as tested, Leaf range starts from 21,990*
Engine: 110kW electric motor
Transmission: single-speed reduction gear automatic, front wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (Road tax 0)
Claimed range: 167-miles**
Top speed: 90mph
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Power: 150hp at 3,283rpm to 9,795rpm
Torque: 320Nm from 1rpm
Boot space: 435 litres
Euro NCAP rating: Not yet tested

*includes 4,500 Government Plug-in Car Grant
**under new WLTP test cycle

What's this?

It's not a facelifted Nissan Pulsar - it's the all-new Nissan Leaf. Far more conventional, and arguably much more handsome in its styling than the original, deliberately oddball, model. Is that a good thing? We'll leave it up to you to decide, but there's no denying that while it's far from the most adventurous looking car ever made, it does have some nice detailing. Have a look around the back at the black panel that bisects the rear hatch, and those boomerang-shaped tail-lights, for instance.

Besides, the more restrained styling is all part of the new Leaf's mission. The original car looked unusual so that early adopters, keen to make a very visible statement about their choice of an electric car, would have something that stood out in a crowd. The new Leaf's job is to move electric motoring much closer to the mainstream, and to compete with not just the Volkswagen e-Golf and Hyundai Ioniq electric cars, but also run-of-the-mill petrol and diesel models, too.

You'll find a similar outlook on the inside. The cabin is plain, simple and just a touch bland. Certainly it lacks the striking qualities of the original Leaf's beige-and-off-white interior, although we're pleased to report that the stubby, lozenge-shaped gear selector is retained. The rest is generically Nissan, from the touchscreen and switchgear borrowed from the Qashqai to the unadventurous, rather square-set, shape of the facia. Again, there's method in Nissan's blandness; not only is a plain and simple cabin more in keeping with a broadening of the customer base, there's also a significant improvement in build quality. The new Leaf's cabin has the solidity and tactility appropriate to the interior of a car starting from around 25k.

It isn't perfect, though. The steering wheel adjusts for rake only, not reach; the front seats feel rather flat and perched-up, and don't have enough cushion support for taller drivers; and the control layout has apparently been decided upon by letting a toddler fling spaghetti at a damp wall. Buttons and functions are scattered all over the place.

Mind you, some of that is down to the sheer number of the Leaf's functions. Even basic Visia-spec cars include LED running lights, heated door mirrors, an instrument panel with a mix of analogue speedo and seven-inch digital TFT screen, air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, autonomous emergency braking, high-beam assist, lane departure warning and steering assist and blind spot warning.

The range-topping Tekna tested here adds full LED headlights, heated leather seats, electronic parking brake, a Bose stereo, a seven-inch infotainment screen with DAB, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Nissan's Connect EV software, a surround-view camera system, and Nissan's ProPilot lane guidance system and active cruise control. This is a very good system, a long way from full autonomy of course, but certainly helpful when it comes to helping you keep in lane and a safe distance from the vehicle in front on the motorway. It will also creep in stop-start traffic for you, and Nissan is refreshingly keen to state that it wants to keep the driver at the centre of things, using technology simply to improve safety and take the strain out of boring, congested commutes.

Being a compact hatchback, and therefore needing to compete with the likes of the Golf, Focus, Astra and so on, the Leaf's cabin is competitive in space terms, but no more. Actually, it's a touch disappointing that Nissan hasn't made more of the packaging opportunities that surely come with the lack of an engine and mounting the batteries under the floor. There's reasonable room in the back (nowhere near as good as what you get in a Honda Civic, though) and a roomy 435-litre boot (which loses a little if you select the optional Bose stereo, as the amplifier is stored back there.

There's also the possibility of owners being able to run the Leaf for free. Nissan is already running trials of a new fast-charging wallbox for your driveway that's smart enough to be able to sell excess battery charge in the car back to the national grid at peak times. For example, come home and plug in at 6pm, when everyone else is switching on their kettles, ovens and TVs, and your energy supplier can buy spare charge left in the Leaf's battery at the peak demand rate, then sell it back to you again overnight on the cheap rate. You could even, just maybe, turn a profit on your running costs. Pilot schemes are already in place in Japan and Denmark, and will be coming to the UK shortly.

How does it drive?

The key to any electric car, at the moment, is its range, and with the new 40kWh battery (which takes up the same physical space as the old car's 30kWh battery) Nissan is certainly stretching the Leaf's one-charge cruising capability. In fact, it's the first car maker to quote an electric range under the new World Light Duty Vehicle Testing Procedure, or WLTP. This is the new official government fuel economy and emissions test that replaces the old NEDC system, and is reckoned to be more reflective of real-world driving. The results speak for themselves. On the old NEDC test, the new Leaf has a claimed one-charge range of 234 miles. Under WLTP, that falls to 167 miles, but it's a more realistic figure. If you were to test an original Leaf under WLTP, for example, Nissan says that it would achieve a mere 75-mile range.

Clearly that's going to be affected by how you drive, where you drive and such imponderables as altitude, ambient temperature and more. Using the Nissan Connect EV app, you can pre-heat or pre-cool the interior of the Leaf while it's still charging, but inevitably out on the road you're going to want to use air conditioning on a warm day, or the heater on a cold one. It's a little tricky for us to accurately asses the Leaf's true range capability based on our Tenerife-based test drive, but for what it's worth, here's how it panned out.

We started with a fully-charged battery and an indicated range just shy of that 167-mile claim. A short hop on a mix of rural, motorway and urban roads didn't seem to knock that back too badly, but then we got into the mountains. You wouldn't think that the Leaf's natural home would be the mountain roads behind Santa Cruz, and you'd be right - it's no rally car. That said, the weightier steering, stiffer structure and revised suspension all helped the Leaf at least feel sure-footed and responsive, if rather short of entertaining and engaging.

The constant uphill stints, climbing to some 1,500-feet above sea level, wore out the battery though, and we reached the top with just shy of 50-miles range left showing. Engaging Eco mode and using the regenerative braking as much as possible on the way down, we made it to the bottom of the mountain with... 65 miles left in the battery. Another short burst on the motorway followed, where we managed to lose no range at all, thanks to a little coasting and some slipstreaming behind a friendly lorry, and eventually we got back to our starting point, having covered 101 miles, with 38 miles still remaining in the battery.

All told, that's not bad considering we kept the Leaf well outside its comfort zone for much of the drive. It's even quite brisk - with 150hp and 320Nm on tap from the electric motor, the Leaf lunges ahead when you floor the throttle, and more than once we woke up the traction control pulling hard out of uphill hairpins. It's all quite unlike what you expect of an eco-sensitive electric car.

Keep it in its urban and intra-urban home, and it's really hugely effective. Around town, the WLTP test suggests that you could put as much as 257-miles between charges, and helping you do that is the new E-Pedal system. This is essentially a bit of a crib from the BMW i3, and it involves the car triggering maximum regenerative braking as soon as you lift off the accelerator (slowing you at 0.7G - rather like very strong engine braking). It mixes both regeneration and use of the actual, physical brakes to bring you to a complete stop, even on a hill. With a bit of practice, and some anticipation of traffic flow, you really can guide the Leaf around on one pedal, with almost no use of the actual brake itself, constantly clawing back battery charge and range every time you lift off.

Combine that with truly exceptional cabin refinement and you have a near-ideal urban car. Nissan has put more than a little work into isolating the cabin from exterior noises and it's really very impressive just how quiet it is inside. Even at a motorway cruise on a breezy day, you can chat with your front-seat passenger at barely above a whisper. The only fly in the Leaf's urban ointment is a ride quality that's just too stiff on anything less than a perfectly smooth surface - a downside of having to keep 1,500kg of car and batteries under control when manoeuvring.

So, dynamically, the Leaf breaks little or no new ground. It's better to drive than the last one, but still a long way short of the likes of a Focus, Golf, Astra or Civic when it comes to driving engagement. The Leaf's trump card is its refinement - no engine noise beyond an occasional distant whine, exceptional silence in the cabin and that smoothly elastic feeling of a high-torque electric motor, which is just so well suited to cutting through urban and suburban traffic.

Verdict

There are a lot of debates still to be had, when it comes to electric cars. Range, residual values, the green-ness or otherwise of where you're sourcing your electricity from. The new Leaf, though, does manage to circumvent some of that, simply by being roundly impressive. Its range isn't yet enough to be considering a long journey in one, but it's significantly improved over the old Leaf, and that of most major EV rivals. The Leaf Mk2 is conventional enough in its styling and refined enough in use that you suspect it will indeed appeal to more buyers, those for whom an electric car would previously simply not have been on their radar.

It also benefits from being on sale now. Nissan made a pointed reference to rival's promises of electric cars on sale by 2020, saying that the Leaf is the most advanced EV on sale today, not in two years' time. It's not as groundbreaking as the original, and not a big enough advance to change the nature of the electric car debate, but it's a definite and decisive move onwards. The electric car is going mainstream.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

2 2 2 2 2 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 17 Jan 2018



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2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.

2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.2018 Nissan Leaf first drive. Image by Nissan.








 

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