2018 Nissan Leaf Review
Paul Horrell’s 2018 Nissan leaf Review with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL: A cautious if effective evolution of the trailblazing EV. Still affordable, and now has a usefully longer range. Improved as a car, too: quicker, more comfortable, and better to drive.
2018 Nissan Leaf
Pricing $NA (likely approx $50,000)+ORC Warranty three years, 100,000km, eight years battery Engine Electric motor Power 150kW at 3280-9800rpm Torque 320Nm at 0-3280rpm Transmission single-speed, no shifts Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4490mm (L); 1788/2030mm (Without/with mirrors); 1540mm (H) Turning Circle 10.60m Seats 5 Weight 1525kg Towing capacity NAkg (braked) NAkg (unbraked) Battery capacity 40kWh Energy consumption 14.6kWh/100km (combined Australian cycle) Range 270km WLTP/378 (combined cycle) Fuel none Spare No
NISSAN’S FIRST LEAF was the first proper purpose-built electric car (EV). It wasn’t a regular car with the engine hauled out. It was designed and packaged for the job, with a big under-floor battery and low-drag aerodynamics. Seven years on, while many of the world’s biggest car companies are mucking about at the concept-car stage with their own first attempts, Nissan has a fully reshaped and revised Leaf.
The three main changes are a modernised and less gawky look, advanced driver-assist tech in some models, and a much better electric performance – both in acceleration and range.
The Leaf is now credited with 376km range in the combined cycle. But that’s as unrealistic for an electric car as for a combustion-powered one. So Nissan has also run the Leaf through the new WLTP cycle (you’ll be seeing those initials a lot soon as it’s a new global test standard) and got a figure of 269km.
For an affordable EV that’s very good but not great – America’s Chevrolet Bolt is well ahead, because it has a 60kWh battery against the Leaf’s 40kWh one. The capacity, measured in kWh, in a battery is the amount of energy it’ll hold, as opposed to the instantaneous power measured in kW. Nissan by the way talks about a 55 or 60kWh version of their car that’ll launch in a year or so.
That’s about the time the first Leafs will be coming to Australia anyway. The Bolt? Not at all, because there’s no prospect of RHD. And we all know how Tesla Model 3 deliveries are endlessly slipping away over the horizon. And it’s a more expensive car anyway. So is the BMW i3, and it has less range than the new Leaf.
Can you live with an electric car?
The fearful image of the Leaf is of a pointlessly expensive car that’ll leave you stranded at the side of a highway, or kicking your heels while it takes hours to recharge.
But on the contrary, imagine a car that’s quietly topped up to 250km range every night as you sleep at home, so you never needed to stop for fuel on your commute. And on the rare occasions that you do a long trip, you can acquire another 200km range, using a rapid Chademo DC charger, in the 40 minutes you take to have a quick lunch stop. A car that costs hardly anything to charge. A car with a smooth, silent powertrain that needs barely any maintenance.
Beyond commuting and local family-car duty, what can you do with a Leaf? For well-planned medium-distances along some one or two of Australia’s major coastal arteries, it’s tenable. See the interactive maps on plugshare.com, where you can use the filters to find the Chademo quick-chargers a Leaf uses, plus other slower chargers.
Cairns to Brisbane is easy, thanks to the Electric Highway that puts nine fast-charge stations fairly evenly spaced along the route. Brisbane to Sydney not so, as there are, as yet, no quick-chargers in the 750km between Byron Bay and Sydney’s Olympic Park. Sydney to Canberra – yup, that’s OK, with top-up chargers en route of you need them. On to Melbourne isn’t really a goer. Adelaide? Not doable either yet. On the west, the 300km south of Perth is excellently served with quick chargers.
Plus, all these cities themselves have several chargers. So, you could live 200-plus km away, come visit and be OK to get home.
So, decide how often you do those road trips, or jaunts into the interior. If very seldom, then hire regular car when you do. It could still be cheaper than burning petroleum all the rest of the year. If you already have another car, then no probs of course. Most people who can drop $50k on new wheels will be two-car households anyway. For them, the long-distance issue is already solved.
One myth about EVs: that they’re cars for city-dwellers. Not really. In cities where you park on the street, you can’t exactly trail a cable out of your window. EVs are for people who live in the suburbs: they’ll have their own drive where they can instal the 7kW box that can charge the Leaf in eight hours, as opposed to the day-and-a-night a domestic socket would need.
Used Leaf values started scarily low in some places. But Nisan has now sold almost 300,000 of them worldwide and there have been effectively no battery failures, and it has an eight-year warranty. At the end of the car’s life, the battery is actually an asset, as Nissan will buy it back to use in solar-energy storage units. So, the residual strength of the Leaf is climbing healthily.
Around the world, EVs do well in places where environmental pressure combines with potentially huge tax credits and subsidies – up to 20 percent of the car price at purchase, and swerving of ownership taxes too. Other incentives apply too: EVs can use bus lanes, get free parking, and swerve some of the increasingly strict city prohibitions on certain kinds of combustion cars, especially diesels. But in Oz, none of that applies.
We looked at prices of the first-generation Leaf which arrived here in 2012, and you’ll pay anywhere between $13,000-$19,000.
So, is the new Leaf good enough survive on its own merits? Both as an electric car, and as a car.
What’s the interior like?
Just as Nissan spiffed up the outside of the Leaf – the front end is like the new Qashqai’s – so the inside has become more normal.
The first Leaf relied entirely on pulsating blue lights for its instruments. All a bit early-’90s game console. The new one has an actual real speedometer with a needle that goes round a dial. Then there are two decent-res screens. One in the cluster, for the driver’s display of energy or navigation or driver-assist. The other, reachable by the passenger too, covers off the infotainment.
The front seats are soft, if slightly odd-shaped, and the steering wheel won’t adjust for reach. So, the driving position might take a little getting used to.
The quality of the materials is mostly pretty decent, with some nice soft stuff on the dash and doors. On a par with say a Hyundai i30 if not a VW Golf.
In front, USB and power sockets are easily reachable. A reasonable range of cubbies too, but they’re not soft-lined so anything hard you out in there will rattle. You might not mind but it’s a pet peeve of mine.
Nissan avoided the temptation to put too much onto the screen – the climate control is by a proper set of buttons. Other ergonomics are a bit of a scatter the button to switch on eco mode, which you might want to find as you drive on the highway, is hard to see down by your knee – adjacent to the one that opens the charge door hatch.
The rear is OK for leg and headroom. When you’re back there it’s hard to tuck your feet under the front chairs. That’s because of the thickness of the under-floor battery. Despite all the electricity in the car, Nissan didn’t supply the back seaters with 12V sockets or USBs.
The boot’s big enough for a mid-size hatch. The seat folds in a simple one-movement flop, which means the floor in full-cargo mode has a considerable step.
What’s the infotainment like?
The base model has a fairly simple setup. Once you ascend the range to the Leafs people will actually but, there’s decent built-in navigation, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you have the choice of what you find easiest.
It’s on a touchscreen, big enough but not generous, with decent but not delightful graphics. A twist knob lets you zoom without touching the screen, and other hardware buttons give useful shortcuts.
Upper grades have a Bose stereo. Its subwoofer takes up a little boot space, but that’s easily worth the grocery-getting sacrifice.
Several built-in apps serve the info you want in an EV – monitoring energy use, diverting to a charge point, that sort of business.
A reversing camera is the jumping-off point, leading up via surround-view manoeuvring cams, to a full self-parking system that works both hands-off and feet-off.
Because the Leaf is permanently net-connected, on cold mornings you can pre-warm the cabin remotely via a phone app while the car’s plugged in, to save draining the battery on the road. The same app lets you monitor the state of the battery and switch charging on and off to catch off-peak electricity prices.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s tempting to drive the Leaf like a warmish hatch. From zero to close to the legal limit, the powertrain isn’t only instant to respond, it actually delivers handy force. The 0-100km/h time is 7.9 seconds. Above that speed, the acceleration tails away, and top speed is pretty low.
Anyway, drive that and the range gets eroded pretty scarily. Instead be smooth, and enjoy the silence, smoothness and the precision at the behest of your right foot. No thumps of shifting gear ratios, no vibrations. Just one progressive surge.
The fun to be had is in driving with anticipation. The new Leaf has an accelerator called e-Pedal. When you lift off the accelerator it becomes a brake. Mostly that’s braking by regeneration: the motor becomes a generator, and pours energy back into the battery.
The e-Pedal also summons the normal wheel brakes, progressively pushing them on as the speed falls off. Regeneration is weak at low speed, see. This blended brake-by-wire idea has been tried ina few hybrids, but few get it as progressive and natural as the Leaf.
So you use the brake pedal only when you need a real sharp stop, and soon you find yourself avoiding it, in the knowledge you’re wasting precious electrical energy.
This simple up-down speed control and delightful absence of engine vibrations make it an utterly superb town car.
For cruising, Australia’s enforced limits do the Leaf a favour. Drive at the 140km/h that European motoring hacks habitually use, and you’ll be out of range in 150km or less. A steady 95 stretches you to the WLTP rated range.
Want an example of regeneration? I drive down 2200m of elevation in 20km. In doing so, by avoiding the wheel brake pedal and using the e-Pedal only, I gained 11 percent of the battery’s charge, worth at least 30km driving on the level. Of course, I’d used about 35 percent of the battery on the way up.
Coming down the mountain also exaggerates an odd characteristic of driving the Leaf. You brake and accelerate gently, but go round bends as fast and hard as you possibly can, desperately clinging on to every last km/h.
Luckily the chassis can cope. The steering is progressive (if entirely devoid of road feel) and there’s little roll and limited understeer.
It’s also rides acceptably on most road surfaces. It’s taut but not harsh, with just a little vertical jostling on some surfaces to show it’s not got the most sophisticated layout or expensive dampers.
What about safety features?
There’s no crash-test result for the Leaf yet. But Nissan claims its own tests show it’ll get five stars.
The crash-avoidance suite is strong. The front sensors look for pedestrians and cyclists as well as vehicles. Rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot warning are also standard.
The top version has a driver-assist system called ProPilot. It’s basically an active cruise control system with assisted steering to keep you following the lane. It works all the way down to stopped, so it’ll pretty much drive the ar for you in jams. But you need to be aware of what’s going on, and keep your hands on the wheel.
For instance, if the car in front stops for less than three seconds, and then moves off, the Leaf will follow it. But what if the car in front moves just as a traffic light turns red? It’s your job to hit the Leaf’s brake. In other words, it takes much of the load off you and cuts fatigue, but it’s not an autonomous driving system. Lots of posh cars have this kind of equipment as an option of in Volvos case standard, but the Leaf is one of the few middle-size hatchbacks to be kitted out with it.
So, what do we think?
First with the Leaf, look at your driving habits and work out if the EV range and charge limitations rule it out or in. These limits are less restrictive than they were: early Leafs would do only about 150km, and the chargers were much further apart in those days. Now the Leaf goes further and there are more places to recharge.
Even so, whether it makes sense depends in where you live: can you charge at home or at work, and are there chargers in the places where you do long trips?
That sorted, the Leaf can make financial sense, as the energy is cheap and servicing costs a fraction of a normal car’s. But in Australia the fiscal incentives don’t favour it. So you’ve got to want one. You might be driven by the green imperative. You might have a solar system at home and want to put it to good use.
But you might just want a perfectly nice and well-kitted hatchback with the USP of uncannily smooth quiet power. People who’ve gone electric, wherever they are in the world, very seldom go back.