Toby Hagon’s first drive of the 2019 Nissan Leaf on Aussie roads With Price, Specs, Performance, Ride And Handling, Ownership, Safety, Verdict And Score.
In a nutshell: It’s claimed to be the top-selling electric car in the world, and while the second generation of the Nissan Leaf still comes with a premium price tag, it’s now a far more convincing proposition with some impressive charging smarts.
2019 Nissan Leaf Specifications
Price $49,990+ORC Warranty 3 years, 100,000km Service Intervals 12 months, 10,000km Safety 5 star (EuroNCAP) Drivetrain Electric motor Power 110kW Torque 320Nm Transmission Single speed Drive Front-wheel drive Dimensions 4480mm (L), 1790mm (W), 1540mm (H), 2700mm (WB) Kerb Weight 1490-1520kg Towing N/A GVM 1765-1795kg Boot Space 435L Spare Space saver Battery Capacity 40kWh Thirst 14.8kWh/100km
Watch our first drive review of the 2019 Nissan Leaf
It’s not due in dealerships until August 2019, but we’ve spent some time with the second-generation Nissan Leaf to see if its all-electric promise lives up to the hype.
While the basic premise of the Leaf hasn’t changed from the original launched in 2010, the substance has. The new car has a larger battery pack, more powerful electric motor, more space and a new body.
What’s in the range and how much does it cost? There is only one Leaf model priced from $49,990. While it’s well specified, it’s still $10-15K above what you’d pay for a similarly sized car powered by conventional petrol technology.
Still, Nissan offsets some of that with a long list of kit, including satellite-navigation, digital radio tuning, 17-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows, parking sensors front and rear, radar cruise control, heated front seats, auto headlights and wipers, smart key entry and start, heated steering wheel and a seven-speaker Bose sound system.
Connectivity is taken care of with an 8.0-inch central touchscreen incorporating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are also partial leather seats with fake suede inserts.
Active safety is taken care of with auto emergency braking (AEB), blind spot warning, a tyre pressure monitoring system and 360-degree camera. There are some notable omissions, including electrically adjustable seats and a head-up display.
Overseas there’s a more powerful model called the Leaf e+. It gets a 160kW/340Nm electric motor fed by a 62kWh battery. Not only is performance improved but the range improves to about 385km. Also only available overseas is a Nismo version that focuses on sportier cornering dynamics courtesy of unique suspension, as well as styling enhancements.
Whereas the original Leaf was only sold at 12 Nissan dealerships, the new one is available at most of them, 89 in total.
What’s it like on the inside? There’s a formality to the interior thanks to its quite dark plastics and materials. But it works with some silver touches to liven things. There’s also plenty of space for trinkets between the cupholders, small centre console and other compact binnacles.
What are the front seats like? Blue stitching on the seats, dash and steering wheel nicely complements the blue “zero emissions” highlighting elsewhere. The seats are quite plush but provide good upper back support. Additional firmness down low would be nice, although they’re comfy enough.
What are the back seats like? Seatback pockets and small door pockets promise to look after the kids’ goodies out back. Whereas head room is great up front, it’s less convincing in the rear. That’s partly because of the higher floor in the back, a result of batteries packed beneath it. It means the seat also has to be higher, something that means six-foot-plussers will just be grazing their heads. Otherwise rear space is good, although there are no rear air vents and no folding arm rest. Which is a shame, because the prominent tunnel in the middle of the floor means it’s best suited to two in the rear.
What’s the boot space like? Another thing that will limit how much you can carry is the claimed load capacity. The Leaf’s gross vehicle weight – an upper limit on how much the car and everything in it weighs – allows for just 275kg of people and luggage.
It’s worth keeping in mind if you plan on using all five seats, especially if you’re planning for a car load of adults; it’s unlikely you’ll find five adults each weighing 55kg or less.
All of which potentially makes the surprisingly sizeable boot potentially less useful. It’s respectably wide and very deep, making it good for swallowing suitcases or other large items – provided they’re not too heavy…
There’s also 60/40 split-fold functionality for the rear seats, although when folded they’re a lot higher than the boot floor, limiting the usefulness of opening things up.
What are the controls and infotainment like? Despite its electric drivetrain the Leaf is very normal inside, with one exception – the gear selector. It’s a stubby round clump that needs to be shuffled across to electronically select gears, the instrument cluster informing you what you’ve (hopefully) just chosen.
Forward of that is the e-Pedal selector and an Eco button, each to tweak the way the drivetrain operates. Buttons take care of ventilation in a simple but effective layout while.
Towards the top of the dash is a 8.0-inch touchscreen that presents things with logical but uninspiring virtual buttons, at least once you’ve selected the terms and conditions every time you start the car (surely a once-off agreement would suffice…). Knobs to adjust tuning and volume are also handy, as are some buttons to select commonly used functions.
Those into their audio will like the clarity of the Bose sound system, which includes an odd-looking bass box bolted to the boot floor. It’s not as good as some top end systems but is better than your average mainstream car for audio quality.
The instrument cluster includes an analogue speedo alongside a digital display that can be tailored between various functions. The car we’re driving was from the UK, so it prioritised miles per hour over kilometres per hour, something that will obviously change with cars to be sold here.
What’s the performance like? The Leaf has a 110kW electric motor, which is about as much as many small cars produce. However, it’s heavier than your average Corolla or Mazda3, something that dulls performance.
However, a full 320Nm of torque takes care of that. That’s about as much torque as a hot hatch, something that makes for thoroughly acceptable acceleration, the Leaf jumping smartly when you first hit the accelerator and maintaining its enthusiasm up to 60km/h.
Beyond that things aren’t quite as lively, but there’s still more than enough poke to get you up to freeway speeds, some left in reserve for overtaking. It’s also super quiet, some mild electrical noise only drowned out as speed increases by more dominant tyre noise.
The Leaf also has a unique feature called e-Pedal. Engage it and there’s noticeably more regenerative braking when you lift off the accelerator. It’s like you’re leaning on the brakes gently, although in reality it’s the electric motor reversing its flow and feeding electricity back into the batteries. That side of the e-Pedal functionality is the same as any other electric car.
However, with the Nissan it’ll actually continue its braking all the way to a standstill. It means for a lot of driving you don’t need to touch the brake pedal, instead leaving it to the regenerative braking to slow you as required. It becomes a bit of a game to see if you can judge it perfectly to pull up at the right spot.
But it’s a game I got a bit bored of, so eventually reverted to driving it in normal mode, where you have to hit the brakes yourself. Even when you’re braking it’ll still capture some of that kinetic energy and convert it back to electricity for use later. You can achieve similar changes to the throttle response and performance by mucking around with the various drive modes.
D Mode, for example, is focused on performance, the most noticeable difference being sharper response to throttle inputs. Given things are already pretty sharp we didn’t end up using it much. Eco mode pulls power back slightly to help conserve energy, although you’ve still got plenty for zipping around town. Then there’s B mode, the B denoting braking. As it suggests, there’s more regenerative braking, which means you don’t have to touch the brakes as much. However, in B mode the car requires you to hit the brake pedal if you want it to come to a complete stop.
What’s it like on the road? Like all electric cars the batteries are in the floor of the car, helping keep the centre of gravity quite low. So, even though it’s quite tall, the Leaf sits respectably flat in corners.
Soupy steering is nothing special in terms of feedback, with a general numbness, although it’s light and accurate. The suspension is also relatively compliant, dealing admirably with mid-sized bumps to ensure comfortable progress.
The Leaf runs on Dunlop Enasave tyres with a focus on low rolling resistance to reduce energy use. As such if you push too hard they will start to yelp, descending into predictable understeer, where the front wheels don’t turn as much as you’re telling them to with the steering wheel. It’s more pronounced in the wet.
How do you charge it? Car makers have finally settled on a charging standard for Australia, which is the Type 2 plug European car makers have long used. So the Leaf has a Type 2 input under a stubby bonnet at the front of the car. While you can plug it into a regular powerpoint, it’ll take about 16 hours to fully charge.
Most people will use a home wallbox charger with about 7.5kW power output, completing the charge in more like seven hours. Alongside that Type 2 plug is a second plug that accepts Chademo connections, one of the higher-output DC chargers available in public locations.
That plug is for fast charging and allows the car to be accept up to 50kW of power. That means an 80 percent charge will take about an hour, with trickle charging for the remaining 20 percent.
In terms of charging costs, the Leaf has a 40kWh battery and an average electricity cost is about 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. So it would cost around $12 for a full charger, which will easily take you 250km. That’s about $5 per 100km, or around half a similarly sized petrol car.
The Leaf will also have another trick that no other electric car currently on sale does: It can send electricity back to your home or grid. That means you can charge during off-peak times then feed power to your house during peak times, lowering your bill.
Better still, you can charge off solar during the day and use the car to power the house at night, assuming you don’t need a full charge for driving the next day. It’s clever stuff, although there is a catch… for now, the tech isn’t enabled in Australia. It’s still awaiting regulatory approval, but Nissan is confident that’s only a matter of time.
Does it have a spare? There’s a skinny space saver spare tyre. Rather than under the boot floor, it’s tucked under the floor of the car, so you have to get underneath the car to remove it. As with all such spare wheels, it limits the recommended top speed to 80km/h.
Can you tow with it? No, the Leaf is not designed to tow. That’s not the end of the world; it’s likely many owners would have a second car in the garage, one that can take care of the boats or camper trailers.
What about ownership? Nissan’s three-year, 100,000km warranty coverage is at least two years short of its rivals. However, don’t be surprised to see Nissan increase that warranty coverage at some point during 2019; given the competition at the moment it’s the sort of thing the company can’t ignore.
In the meantime, when negotiating it’d be worth asking the dealer if they could extend the factory warranty protection to gain your business. The Leaf makes up marks elsewhere.
One of the beauties of electric cars is that there is generally a lot less in the way of regular maintenance, so servicing costs are typically lower. Nissan hasn’t confirmed the cost of servicing Leafs yet, but they will have to be done every 12 months or 10,000km. With the previous Leaf each service averaged about $200 and it’s difficult to see it straying far from that.
Also, with the Leaf now being available through 89 Nissan dealerships (previously just 16 dealerships serviced it) covering most of the country it means servicing is far easier.
What safety features does it have? There’s a solid suite of safety kit that starts with front, side and curtain airbags, offering protection for frontal and side impacts. Active safety gear is also solid, with radar and camera-activated auto emergency braking; Nissan is yet to confirm what speed it operates up to.
That said, it’s sometimes overly sensitive, flashing warnings and dabbing the brakes to warn the driver before it’s required. There’s also blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, although there’s no braking in reverse as in some other Nissans. The system also beeps to prompt you if you’re parked and another car approaches from the rear or sides.
Seeing what’s happening is also easy thanks to the 360-degree camera that gives a virtual overhead view. A tyre pressure monitoring system can provide and early warning of a loss of pressure.
Less impressive is the space invaders-like buzzing that occurs as part of the lane departure warning; it’s too noisy and prompts you to turn the system off. For those outside the car, the Leaf emits a gentle sound below at low speeds to provide extra notice for pedestrians.