► 235-mile NEDC range for standard model
► Euro chassis changes make it a good steer
► Keen pricing and kit – strong value
Listen to a Nissan exec and you’d be led to believe the Leaf is the lynchpin of an all-singing, all-dancing world centred around renewable electric systems derived from the EV’s battery; after all the company did manage to take a recording studio in Scotland off the grid thanks to a Leaf battery.
But when we got behind the wheel of the 2018 Leaf we couldn’t quite see the future Nissan wanted us to envision, though for a pure EV, even while winding its way up a volcano in Tenerife, the new Leaf went some went some way to lay the groundwork for Nissan’s lofty ambitions.
Some eight months later and Nissan has a tweaked version of the Leaf to showcase in the Summer of ‘19. Sporting a bigger 62kWh battery promising more power and range, the new Leaf e+ is basically the same as the 2018 model with kick in the powerplant.
As such, well cover the 2018 Leaf and Leaf e+ in the review as they share more similarities than differences.
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.
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.
Much of this is carried over for the Leaf e+. There’s a new ‘Metallic Blue’ front bumper finish, though you’ll need to look very hard to spot any differences, and 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, nestled at the bottom of the car technically – in the form of a larger battery; but more on that later.
A bigger battery means a heavier weight - 2,140kg - and thus 7% stiffer suspension to compensate. It’s not a huge increase, but the Leaf e+ remains flat enough in the corners with respectable bodyroll in this sort of car.
Tackle a British B-road and you’ll definitely feel the bumps, though not uncomfortably so. Sadly stiffer springs didn’t result in a great deal of feedback up to the steering wheel, so it doesn’t quite offer a revolution in driving dynamics.
New 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, upgrades of 38% and 26% respectively.
That’s enough extra juice to drop the 0-62mph time from 11.5sec to just 7.9. Eat that, poisonous diesels. Top speed hits a modest 89mph – more than enough for a motorway, at least.
With a bigger 62kWh battery the 2019 Leaf e+ kicks out 214bhp and 251 lb ft, resulting in it making the 0-62mph sprint in 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 2018 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.
New Nissan Leaf: and driving range?
Will 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 2018 Leaf a much more viable EV for many people.
How close you’ll get to the standard car’s 168mile 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.
The Leaf e+ builds upon its predecessor’s range, tapping into a battery that offers a 55% hike in capacity and around a 25% improvement in energy density.
That translates to a ‘combined’ range of 239 miles, a 40% increase over the 2018 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 practicing 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 eek 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.
New Nissan Leaf: what are these eco-assistance systems?
There’s the obviously 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 same can be said for Leaf e+, which also sees the return of the headline-grabbing e-Pedal.
What was new for the Leaf 2018 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, 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.
Aorund 90% of the time, this zen-like ‘one pedal’ green driving works like a dream. It’s surprisingly intuitive and allows modulation of braking in a way that feels natural and not too far from managing engine braking.
But barrel into a corner and 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.
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. 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. And yes it’s the same story here for the Leaf e+.
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; the new head unit boosts that to an 8-inch touchscreen in the Leaf e+. 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 for some.
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 for the 2018 Leaf and a hefty 32 hours for the 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, 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+, 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% top-up in 40 minutes for the 2018 Leaf. On the Leaf e+ the 50kWh rapid charging means the battery can be taken from 20% to 80% charge in around 90 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 £1,500 cheaper than before.
With prices starting at £21,990 (including the £4,500 government electric car grant) it’s very good 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 EVs, 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?
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
For a mass market EV, the Nissan Leaf was already a strong car; 2018’s 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.
The 2019 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, as claimed a 94% satisfaction rating among Leaf owners – higher than any of its other models – shows the old car was extremely reliable, and customer loyalty is very strong. And nothing about the 2018 Leaf and Leaf e+ gives us any reason to doubt that.
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.
Specs are for the 2018 model.
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