2018 Nissan Leaf Review
Practical Motoring’s 2018 Nissan Leaf Review with performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The new Leaf is a fine successor to the first generation. With a useful – and genuine – jump in range as well as a less awkward look, it’s an electric car that looks past the hype and is designed by a proper car company. With a badge like Nissan’s on the front, the Leaf will appeal to fleet owners and those looking to get on with life without all the attention of dinner party buttonholers demanding to know all about your electric car.
2018 Nissan Leaf
Pricing: Around $50,000 Warranty: 3 year/100,000 Engine: 40kW/h Electric Power: 110kW at 0rpm Torque: 320Nm at 0rpm Transmission: 1-speed manual Drive: front wheel drive Dimensions: 4481mm (L); 1791mm (W); 1561mm (H) Kerb weight: 1500kg (approx) Fuel tank: 0 Seats: 5 Range: 400km (claimed) Spare: none/space-saver
THE NISSAN LEAF was the butt of many jokes on blokey motoring shows, but the fact is, nobody else has done mass market electric the way Nissan (and alliance partner Renault) has. The first Leaf may have been underwhelming to the enthusiast, but that wasn’t the target market. The Leaf was the classic early-adopter car but without the idiotic Silicon Valley swagger of Tesla, the vapourware of every other start-up electric car company, or the failed strategy of GM. The only other car that comes close is the rather more expensive BMW i3.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that Nissan didn’t drop the ball. Little tweaks improved the Leaf as the years went on, with a bump in range not long after its initial launch. The first Leaf’s fleet covered an estimated 3.5 billion kilometres and you can bet your bottom dollar every one of them was useful for Nissan’s engineers to hone the new car.
What’s the interior like?
If I led you blindfolded to the Leaf, sat you in any of the seats and then whipped off the blindfold, you’d swear you were sitting in an updated Pulsar or Qashqai. It has the same steering wheel and general feel of the compact SUV, a similarly high-set driving position (more of that later) and an almost entirely conventional feel. Only the blue starter button and whacky drive selector is much of a giveaway, followed by the curious ePedal button.
Otherwise, it’s pretty normal in here, which is entirely the point. The new Leaf is meant to be even less scary than the old one. It’s just a hatchback inside, with cupholders, a glovebox and a normal entertainment screen which, in the Leaf, doesn’t suck. There’s a new guy in charge of Nissan’s in-car systems and he’s as mystified as we are as to why every car in the range doesn’t already have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Leaf sets us straight, with both of those along for the ride and, in the Japanese-spec cars we drove, sat-nav as well.
What’s it like on the road?
At the Leaf’s blaze-of-light-and-glory launch in Tokyo over a month ago, the man in charge of the electric business, Daniele Schillachi, assured us all that the “more than an EV” Leaf was a hoot to drive. He told of how customers who drove electric didn’t want to go back. The seamless power and torque delivery along with the snappy performance off the line, made instant converts.
We were also assured that the ePedal would transform our understanding of driving, which was a bit of a stretch given BMW’s rather effective implementation of a similar idea, which Munich calls “one pedal operation”, has been around for a while and we love it.
The time finally came to test the Leaf and the same bold assurances were repeated, some more detail on the ePedal was forthcoming (in summary, you can switch it off and it uses both electric engine drag and the brakes to slow you down) and out we went.
It’s not a hoot to drive in the conventional sense, but you probably already guessed that. It is, however, a very good electric car. While I’m fond of the Tesla driving experience, even with that colossal power at your disposal, you never get away from the feeling that it’s really heavy. Like, really heavy. With light steering, diesel-like torque and some canny software to keep things smooth and predictable, the Leaf is almost as good a city car as the i3 and doesn’t have the baggage of a Tesla (to be fair to Tesla, I haven’t driven the Model 3).
Get out on to the freeway and it continues to impress. Our test cars had the much-vaunted ProPilot installed which will drive the car in a freeway lane, steer it and brake it. Think active cruise control with a active lane-keeping.
In my hands it behaved perfectly well, but it’s not exactly semi-autonomous in a practical sense. Take away the legal restrictions and it will probably steer you quite happily as long as you’re happy, but if you take your hands off the wheel for five seconds, it will start demanding you put them back. If you don’t, it will eventually pull the car to a stop.
We didn’t have a lot of corners to throw the Leaf around so we can’t report on its overall handling credentials, but with a fairly soft set-up, we doubt it’s a corner-carver. So as long as you’re happy to cruise, you’ll love the Leaf. It’s quiet, low fuss and with a range that seemed much improved (a 60km round trip used about 15 percent of the battery) less of a drama. The only frowny moment was that it said the remaining range was 250km, but Nissan engineers assured us that the cars were box fresh and had been spending a lot of time on freeways, the software still “learning” what was possible.
The brow furrowing was lessened somewhat as the day progressed. When we left the halfway mark stopping point, the range never dropped below 230km remaining. Nissan reckons a real world range of between 300 and 350km, and I reckon that’s not far off the mark. Which means it’s pretty good.
ProPilot Park was also fitted. The system, when activated, helps you find a park if you’re happy to tootle along at under 10km/h. You can choose which side of the car to find the park and whether it’s nose-in or tail-in when you’ve found on (or it will parallel park). When it has found a spot, hold down the button and it will show you on the screen what it’s up to and slowly – soooo slowly – drive itself in. Nissan’s Europe team is working to speed it up, so by the time the Leaf gets to Australia in late 2018, it should result in fewer flipped birds or shouts of “Pensioner!” from fellow road users.
What about the safety features?
The Leaf comes with the requisite safety systems of six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera and parking sensors. Pro Pilot comes with various advanced safety features, such as AEB, reverse cross traffic alert, reverse cross traffic alert, lane departure warning and lane keep assist.
So, what do we think about the Nissan Leaf?
The new car has more than double the real-world range without having to hyper-mile, a spacious interior that was designed and assembled by professionals – heck, it’s made on the same factory floor as the Note and the Cube at Oppama (it will also be made at Nissan UK’s Sunderland plant) – and looks like a grown-up automobile. Nissan has done exactly what it needed to: brought electric to the masses, hasn’t over-promised, hasn’t under-delivered.