► 239-mile WLTP range for e+ version
► Chassis mods for Europe, but still dull
► Keen pricing and kit – strong value
Ask someone not especially into cars to namecheck an EV and the chances are that 'Nissan Leaf' will be the most frequent response. And for good reason. After all, Nissan's already on its Mk2 Leaf - albeit a clever reworking of the original, rather than a ground-up redesign - at a time when many other car makers are yet to get around to launching their first electric cars.
You'd be forgiven for assuming, then, that today's Leaf, now available with a longer-range 62kWh battery pack in e+ guise, would be at the scalpel's extremities when it comes to electrically powered mainstream mobility. Spoiler alert: it's not.
Rather than replacing the early versions of the second-generation Leaf, the 239-mile range version sits atop the line-up, with the 168-mile 40kWh battery models offering a cheaper alternative for those who don't frequently have such long journeys.
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As such, we'll cover both versions of the 2020 model in this Nissan Leaf review, as they share more similarities than differences.
Second-gen Nissan Leaf: what’s different?
European versions get a different chassis tune to suit our ‘more dynamic’ driving tastes. So the bumph says, anyway. In truth the Leaf is appliance-like in its engagement levels - read 'not very'.
Compared with Japanese-market models, the springs on a Euro Nissan Leaf are softer, the dampers are harder, the anti-roll bars stiffer (albeit by only 8 per cent) and there is extra structural reinforcement to help all other suspension stuff work more effectively. While all this undoubtedly makes the car feel less odd to European tastes, an alternative such as the now-discontinued Volkswagen e-Golf feels altogether more conventional. And satisfying.
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Euro-spec Leafs also get steering with 2.6 turns lock-to-lock rather than 3.2, which makes it more manoeuvrable around urban confines, but even with the revised steering weighting there's precious little feel through the wheel itself.
Nevertheless, bodyroll is largely kept successfully in check, it’s grippy and it keeps much of the ride comfort of the Japanese-market cars, providing the surface isn't too pock-marked. Together with the extra performance now available from the e+ version's motor (a sub-seven second 0-62mph time ain't shabby), we’d go so far as to say it’s modestly fun in a straight-line, eco-conscious sort of way.
There's little visual differentiation between the smaller- and larger-capacity battery models. The e+ has a Metallic Blue front bumper trim, though you’ll need to look very hard to spot anything else. Inside, the infotainment system has had a minor upgrade, including a new head unit and TomTom Live premium traffic and route optimisation features. Aside from that the major changes are under the bonnet – well, more specifically, nestled under the car – in the form of a larger battery; but more on that later.
A bigger battery means a heavier weight - a chunky 2140kg - and a 7 per cent stiffer suspension set-up on the e+ to compensate. It’s not a huge increase, but the longer-range Leaf remains flat enough in the corners with respectable body control for a compact family hatch.
Tackle a British B-road and you’ll definitely feel the bumps, though not uncomfortably so, but a series of high-frequency undulations can become tiresome as the Nissan struggles to maintain its equlibrium.
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Nissan Leaf: extra performance
With 40kWh of battery power to play with, Nissan has also increased the output from the standard motor – to 146bhp and 236lb ft. Those are upgrades of 38 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively, compared with the original Leaf.
That’s enough extra juice to drop the 0-62mph time from 11.5sec to just 7.9sec. Eat that, poisonous diesels. Top speed hits a modest 90mph to restrict the battery being sapped unnecessarily – more than enough for a motorway, at least.
With a larger 62kWh battery, the latest Nissan Leaf e+ kicks out 214bhp and 251 lb ft, cutting the 0-62mph sprint to 6.9 seconds. That’s around warm-hatch performance and means the Leaf e+ is reasonably quick off the line and tops out at a reasonable 98mph.
Both the Leaf and the e+ run out of puff far more noticeably at higher speeds than a combustion engine. But the delivery of instant torque you get with EVs like this remains massively entertaining. Step-off is nice and positive, too, making it a usefully thrusting companion in competitive urban dicing and much less buttock-clenching when overtaking slower countryside traffic.
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Mk2 Nissan Leaf: driving range
As with all EVs, you must be realistic about how far you’re likely to want to drive on a single charge, but the upgrade would appear to make the latest Leaf a much more viable EV for many people.
How close you’ll get to the standard car’s 168-mile claim depends entirely on how and where you drive it. Give it a kicking and the range will descend very quickly; take a more measured approach, make the most of the Leaf’s various eco-assistance systems and you’ll rarely experience much range anxiety.
The Leaf e+ builds upon its predecessor’s range, tapping into a battery that offers a 55 per cent hike in capacity and around a 25 per cent improvement in energy density.
That translates to a ‘combined’ range of 239 miles, a 40 per cent increase over the smaller-batteried Leaf. Take it easy on the accelerator and Nissan reckons ‘city’ driving could yield up to 319 miles, which seems a tad ambitious.
A lot of the experience of Leaf driving, for both models, involves learning and practising how to get the best range out of the cars without plodding along at a dawdling pace.
People with a heavy right foot will feel the range decreases noticeably, but for those with more patience, there’s a genuine satisfaction to be had from figuring out how to eke out more range from the Leaf. All it really takes is practice. Only you know whether you’ve got the patience. Given driving the Leaf is a generally relaxing experience, there’s genuinely some satisfaction to be had from figuring out how to make it go further.
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What are these eco-assistance systems?
Unsurprisingly, there's an Eco driving mode, which reduces performance and other losses to maximise the battery range, plus a B - for Braking - transmission setting that carries over from the original Leaf. This increases the amount of regeneration you get from the motor when slowing down compared with the regular Drive mode.
What was new for the Mk2 Leaf should now be familiar with followers of Nissan’s EV range, with the e-Pedal taking care of acceleration and braking most of the time. Press down on the e-Pedal accelerator, and surprise, surprise, both Leafs pick up speed. Ease off and regenerative braking is applied, sending charge back to the battery while slowing the car down. This works very well at speed, but when shuffling around car parks at pedestrian speeds it becomes very jerky.
Similarly, when you barrel into a corner, you’ll still need to hit the brake pedal, as the e-Pedal isn’t quite snappy enough to apply the anchors at the drop of a hat. You'll also be reminded about how lacking in feel the brakes are.
Given enough notice – which actually isn’t that much – the system will bring you to a complete halt, with the drag from the electric motor seamlessly blending with electronic activation of the old-school friction brakes as speeds decrease. For the same reason it even works when the batteries are completely full (which would make conventional regen-braking impossible).
We like it. It’s fun. But it’s also not that different to all those regen modes available using the paddleshifters in some rivals, and they give you more variable control.
Having the e-Pedal switched on all the time won’t allow you to make the most of momentum, which is another way of making the battery energy go further. But it’s so easy to use that lazy drivers will find it a boon. For the very best eco-progress you really need to juggle all the available settings. Something Nissan’s scattershot button approach doesn’t easily allow you to do.
Scattershot button approach..?
Those four things – Eco, D, B and e-Pedal – essentially represent four driving modes. Yet they’re activated by three different controls, only two of which are in the same place on the centre console. The third is on the far side of the steering wheel.
We counted over 50 buttons in total scattered around the Nissan Leaf interior. And this isn’t the only problem with the cabin.
What's up with the Nissan Leaf interior?
It's very different from the old one - less distinctive and divisive, as with the exterior. You’ll still find some hard plastics if you hunt for them, but overall the quality is higher, and the more ‘ordinary car’ design is less likely to alienate more conservative buyers.
There are still a lot of buttons, though, and the 7.0-inch infotainment screen is tiny compared to that found in the VW e-Golf; the new head unit boosts that to an 8.0-inch touchscreen in the Leaf e+, but the graphics remain grainy. It’s also rather laggy to respond at times – switching between the map and the main menu, there’s a notable pause that we timed at over a second.
Worse than this for us is the driving position. The front seats are very high (due to the battery pack under the floor), which is good for visibility, but little else. Unfortunately, the steering wheel only adjusts for rake, so you can’t bring it closer to you – making it rather a challenge to get comfortable for some.
Still, the boot (above) is now 435 litres with the rear seats in place – larger than before and well ahead of most plug-in hybrid (PHEV) alternatives. But again, because of the battery pack, you don’t get a continuous flat load floor when you fold the rear seats down, and if you go for the Bose hi-fi system you’ll find a large box of electronics taking up some of it.
Charging the Nissan Leaf
Only got access to three-pin plug? Then you’ll need 21 hours to charge up the 40kWh Leaf and a hefty 32 hours for the 62kWh Leaf e+; be prepared to plan ahead.
Thankfully, all UK customers get a 7kW wallbox as part of standard equipment; assuming you’ve got somewhere to install it at home, this will do the same job in 7.5 hours. Plug the Leaf in overnight. Done.
You’ll need to be prepared for a later start with the Leaf e+ though, as charging to full using the 6.6kW onboard charger or the wallbox will take 11.3 hours.
If you need to get going in a hurry then you’ll want a quick charger, which will give you an 80 percent top-up in 40 minutes for the Leaf. On the Leaf e+ the 50kWh rapid charging means the battery can be taken from 20 to 80 per cent charge in around 90 minutes.
Nissan Leaf: pricing and value
Currently, the smaller battery Leaf comes in three trim levels: Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna. A Visia entry-level model was dropped in 2019. With UK prices starting at £26,345 (including the £3500 government electric car grant) it’s reasonable value.
The Leaf e+ only comes in the Tekna trim and will cost you in excess of £36,000 on the road if you want it kitted out with the ProPILOT autonomous tech. That’s up there with the aforementioned BMW and VW electric car rivals, as well as the larger Kia E-Niro, so you’ll have to weigh up whether the extra range and performance is worth the premium.
Anything else I should know?
The Nissan Leaf will park itself with a single button press if you spec the ProPilot Park system. This is only available as an option on the top-spec Tekna trim level, but it is quite clever – using Nissan’s familiar 360-degree camera system, it can even cope with unusually sized and positioned parking spaces.
Tekna is also the only model that gets the new ProPilot ‘semi-autonomous’ driving system as standard (it is also optional on the N-Connecta). A fairly straightforward combo of active cruise control and lane-keeping assist, this is designed to make driving on the motorway easier.
There are considerably more sophisticated systems on the market already from other manufacturers, so we wouldn’t get too excited about that one.
Nissan Leaf: verdict
For a mass-market EV, the Nissan Leaf was already a strong car; this second-generation Leaf is a fairly impressive step up, particularly when you consider that many rival manufacturers are still rushing to build their first dedicated electric cars.
Leaf e+ adds more range and power into the mix, if perhaps not enough overall to make it much of a particularly worthy upgrade over its older sibling.
Nevertheless, both Leafs undoubtedly have far wider-reaching appeal than the first-generation car. We're still not sold on whether those more reserved looks deliver much in the way of personality when compared to an i3 or Renault Zoe; then some might prefer understated looks to more in-your-face EVs.
Either way, the additional performance and the critical extension in driving range is sure to attract fans; at least on paper.
But we can see plenty of areas, including the control logic, interior design and ease of use, where there is plenty of room for improvement. And those chinks in the Leaf’s armour are likely to be taken advantage of by the next EVs rival manufacturers have in the works.
Nissan doesn’t appear worried though, claiming a 94 per cent satisfaction rating among Leaf owners – higher than any of its other models – is proof this electric car is extremely reliable, and customer loyalty is strong.
However, the Leaf is no longer one of the few all-electric cars around. In the face of increasing competition, we’ll have to see if it can maintain its success without releasing a radically different third-generation model; as ever, time will tell.
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