► 235-mile NEDC range
► Euro chassis changes make it a good steer
► Keen pricing and kit – strong value
The new Nissan Leaf promises not just a greater driving range – now up to a claimed 235 miles NEDC – but also a much more engaging driving experience. It’s also intended to be the lynchpin of what Nissan calls a new electric eco system, where renewable energy systems all come together to power your house and save the world.
We can’t tell you how that’s going to pan out, but we have now driven the 2018 Leaf in European specification. Up a volcano in Tenerife to test out its increased performance, and then down again to test its energy conservation capabilities.
Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK
New Nissan Leaf: what’s different?
The European version – which for these purposes does still include the UK – gets a special chassis tune to suit our ‘more dynamic’ driving tastes.
Compared to the Japanese version the springs are softer, the dampers are harder, the anti-roll bars stiffer (albeit by only 8%) and there is extra structural reinforcement to help all other suspension stuff work more effectively. Nerdy detail alert, but we particularly like that the European cars get stiffer bumpstops on the boot lid to make that a more strength-enhancing part.
We also get steering with 2.6 turns lock-to-lock rather than 3.2, which together with revised steering weighting gives the Leaf a moderate sense of enthusiasm about corners.
It’s a likeable package. Bodyroll is largely kept successfully in check, it’s grippy and it keeps much of the ride comfort of the Japanese car. Together with the extra performance now available from the motor, we’d even go so far as to say it’s fun – in a modest, eco-conscious sort of way.
New Nissan Leaf: extra performance
With 40kWh of battery power to play with now, Nissan has also increased the output from the motor – to 148hp and 236lb ft, upgrades of 38% and 26% respectively.
This is enough extra juice to drop the 0-62mph time from 11.5sec to just 7.9. Eat that, poisonous diesels.
It still runs out of puff more noticeably than a combustion engine at higher speeds – full whack is just 89mph – but with the whole bundle of torque available instantly, step-off is nice and positive, making it a usefully thrusting companion in competitive urban dicing and much less buttock-clenching when overtaking slower countryside traffic.
New Nissan Leaf: and driving range?
You’ve got to be realistic about how far you’re likely to want to drive on a single charge, but the upgrade would appear to make the new Leaf much more viable for many people.
How close you’ll get to that 235-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 never experience any anxiety.
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.
New Nissan Leaf: what are these eco-assistance systems?
There’s the obvious Eco mode – which reduces performance and other losses to maximise the battery – plus a B transmission setting that carries over from the old Leaf. This increases the amount of regeneration you get from the motor when slowing down compared to the regular D driving mode.
The headline grabber for Leak Mk2, however, is the new e-Pedal.
This is like B-mode, only even more so. To the extent that Nissan reckons that with this engaged you can drive 90% of the time without touching the brake pedal. Instead you simply modulate the accelerator to achieve zen-like ‘one pedal’ green driving god status.
Given enough notice – which actually isn’t that much – the system will even bring you to a complete halt, 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 having the paddleshifters gives you more variable control. For having the e-Pedal switched on all the time won’t allow you make the most of momentum, which is another way of making the battery energy go further.
So 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. Nissan doesn’t put it that way, but they do. 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 inside in total. And this isn’t the only problem with the interior.
NewNissan Leaf: how's the new interior?
It’s a significant improvement over the old one. You’ll still find some hard plastics if you hunt for them, but overall the quality is much 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 likes of that found in the Mk7.5 VW Golf. It’s also rather slow 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), good for visibility. 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.
Still, the boot is now 435 litres big – larger than before and well ahead of most 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 hifi system you’ll find a large box of electronics taking up some of it.
New Nissan Leaf: charging
Only got access to three-pin plug? Then you’ll need 21 hours. See ya.
Gladly, all UK customers get a 7kW Wallbox as part of standard equipment; assuming you’ve got somewhere to install it, this will do the same job in 7.5 hours. Plug the Leaf in overnight. Done.
In a bigger hurry? Then you’ll need a Quick Charger – which will give you an 80% top-up in 40 minutes.
New Nissan Leaf: pricing and value
The 2018 Leaf comes in four trim levels – Visia, Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna – plus a special 2.Zero launch edition, which sits between the upper two; equipment is generous across the range, and pricing is competitive versus the old one, let alone more premium rivals such as the VW e-Golf and BMW i3. In fact, the Acenta works out £1500 cheaper than before.
With prices starting at £21,990 (including the £4,500 government electric car grant) it’s very good value.
Anything else I should know?
Well, it 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 straight-forward 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.
New Nissan Leaf: verdict
A great evolution of an already strong product; that Nissan is already onto its second-generation Leaf when so many rival manufacturers are still rushing to build their first dedicated electric cars deserves every plaudit.
The model also undoubtedly has far wider-reaching appeal than its predecessor, but we're not sure if those more reserved looks, channel as much personality. Either way, the additional performance and the critical extension in driving range is sure to attract fans – on paper anyway.
But we can see plenty of areas – including the control logic, interior design and ease of use – where there are chinks in the Leaf’s armour. And we strongly suspect that forthcoming competitors will look to take full advantage.
Currently Nissan claims a 94% satisfaction rating among Leaf owners – higher than any of its other models – the old car was extremely reliable, and customer loyalty is very strong. How long that will last when the Leaf is no longer operating in almost a market of one, given those areas of weakness, is something its creators should perhaps ponder on.
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