Car Reviews

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

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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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

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.

2018 Nissan Leaf Review by Practical Motoring

Editor's Rating

What's the interior like?
What's it like to drive?
What about safety features?
Practical Motoring Says: In many ways this is an average hatchback: average room, average cabin materials, average ride and handling. But the electric drivetrain's wonderful responsiveness, and smooth silence, are like nothing else in this sector. Not as exhilarating as a pulsing combustion engine, but most buyers don't want exhilaration do they? The main issue is, does its electric range, and the available of away-from-home charging, suit your needs?

  • Monty

    People complain that EV’s are not subsided in Australia. That is not true. Every km driven is at the expense of the taxes levied on petrol and diesel. I am not saying that it is wrong, but we surely don’t need to bleed more taxpayers to promote what should be a decision based on the benefit the individual receives, not some kind of misty eyed “save the world” imposition by governments. In the case of the Leaf, it seems like a decent option, as a car, for many people. A bit pricey? Maybe but running costs are low. I love the idea of electric. It is by far the best option for powering vehicles. It is still not quite there as a direct equivalent to IC cars. But it is getting closer. The other aspect rarely raised is how governments are going to compensate for the lost revenue as fuel excise drops. I doubt that the EV will be as cheap to run when it become mainstream. Enjoy it while you can.

  • Peter Gaskin

    If you want an electric car for long distance interstate driving, you cant go past a Tesla! Interesting approach – they have helped esrablish a charging network that allows you to travel from Adelaide to Brisbane via Melbourne. Yet there are so few Teslas available for sale in Australia.
    My big query – why havent they come up with a global charging standard for evs. Europe are working on one. Tesla have gone on their own. Who knows what USA and Japan are doing. We seem to be moving towards a VHS versus Betamax situation.
    Monty – dont worry, the fed govt has a 10-15 year plan to charge drivers on distance covered to replace fuel taxes.

    • Alan

      Agreed – you can take any car to the servo and fill with petrol or diesel (though I’ve noticed LPG is disappearing from some now). A universal EV standard should be being insisted on – maybe in time.

      With TESLA, they’re out of the range of most buyers – plus, the Aust Govt still hits it with a Luxury Car Tax, to make it even dearer.

      • Peter Gaskin

        if ev are classified, then lct only applies to the gst exclusive price – threshold of 75500 with a rate of 33% on the difference. this provides almost 3500 subsidy to evs. I doubt removing the lct would make a Tesla or BMW ev any more affordable!

        • Alan

          Yes, I asked the question 2 yrs ago – and was told there was the higher threshold.

          You’re right, $15,000 LCT doesn’t make much difference on a car of $140,000+ (to me at least – removing it would take it from un-affordable to um-un-affordable).

    • Paul Horrell

      The Tesla is of course better for long distances, but then that’s why it’s more expensive. The battery is the most expensive part of an EV and the Tesla has twice the capacity of the Leaf, so naturally the price is higher.

      The business of the charge plug is interesting, There are three main DC fast-charge standards: Chedemo, used by the Japanese, Tesla used by Tesla, and CCS, used by the Europeans. The Tesla can use Chademo plug with an adapter. The killer advantage of Chademo is that it’s two-way: you can use your car to feed into the grid. In some countries you get paid well to do that. So charge by solar in the day, and feed the grid off your car by night. Anyway, the expensive part of a charger is the rectifier, which is common to all three standards, so it’s likely before long you’ll see chargers with all three wires coming off them.

      • Peter Gaskin

        Thanks for the tech details Paul. This information is not readily available. Do you know if there are agreements that restrict Tesla fast chargers from adding the other 2 types of plugs?

        • Paul Horrell

          Well, Tesla owns the Superchargers, which is why it seems unlikely it will open the network to other cars, unless eventually (and I’m speculating here) there’s a reciprocal arrangement.

          • Peter Gaskin

            Why would they? They have the infrastructure. Why make it easier for the competition?

          • Paul Horrell

            Well, Tesla always said its mission wasn’t simply profit, but to encourage a worldwide shift to electric vehicles. That’s why, they said, they open-sourced all their engineering. Except in effect they didn’t do that, and remain very secretive and operate as a closed system. The only sense in which Tesla operates as a non-profit is by, er, not actually making any profit.

  • Alan

    With range is only a problem with vehicles going longer distances. A lot of people/families I know have 2 (or more) cars – most cases, 2 very different types of cars. Maybe they have an SUV plus a Corolla/Camry or i30. And they decide on who takes which car, based on the “work” it’s doing that day – and the same if they’re doing a long holiday drive.

    I can’t think of one of them who couldn’t successfully live with a LEAF and another petrol/diesel vehicle. Oh, and at least half of them have SOLAR panels on the roof.

  • cannot wait for my Leaf!

  • MK74

    Back in 2008 I bought myself my last small ICE car, circa $28 000. Projections then were that in 10 years time EVs will cost less than a similar size petrol car because of the “new developments” in battery technologies. Alias, 2018 here we are and it is still $ 50 000 plus

  • BEN TATE

    The Nissan Leaf might be of interest to me if it cost around $30k. A Hyundai i30 is circa $20k. That means I pay an extra $30k for the Leaf if its $50k. And that means it would take me over 13 years just to break even – assuming the i30 annual fuel bill is $1500. As the Chinese start making electric cars, I guess prices will drop.

    If the objective is to keep city air clean then there might be a reason for greenies to drive Leafs. And if they do they’re putting their money where their mouths are. Probably enough money to stop them crowing about other hobby-horses?

    Are electric cars emmissions free? Don’t they just shift the polution to the power stations? If most of one’s house roof is covered with solar panels then an electric car could be charged without burning coal. I wonder if the average home is capable of housing enough solar panels to charge the home power storage battery (that many are thinking of buying) and the electric car battery too?

  • BEN TATE

    I think that the most practical way to reduce my carbon footprint is to drive the most fuel efficent petrol powered buzz box. Some of the small cars are almost as frugal as diesels? And I think theyre around $20k – $25k? Failing that, the Kawasaki ZX14 looks nice . . . and it’s legal to use it in bus lanes too! 😉

  • Farr-King Elle

    A good car and Kudos to Nissan for being gutsy in offering an ‘affordable’ EV. Once solid state batteries become available and affordable, you are looking at a likely EV range of 600+ Kms, the ability to fast charge in 30 minutes or even less and the fast charge does not reduce battery life. Once batteries get to this point I really believe that ICE cars will go into decline. As it stands, for me, this car still offers insufficient range, charging still takes too long and the purchase price is still prohibitive.

  • Jay Banyer

    This article mentions charging stations between Sydney and Canberra. Where are they? Are they fast chargers? The only fast chargers I’m aware of between Sydney and Canberra are the Tesla superchargers in Goulburn, and they can’t be used by a non-Tesla car.

Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.